Time To Rethink SOLAS? Why a behavioral economist may have the answer.

Nadiro Drop-In-Ball Lifeboat Davit System

What does behavioral economics have to do with lifeboat safety?

Lifeboat safety has been a major topic recently with davit related incidents and injuries hitting a fever pitch in recent months. In a recent interview with Tradewinds Ove Roessland , CEO of lifeboat manufacturer Schat Harding, was quoted as saying ““Schat Harding welcomes any initiative that improves safety at sea, and the safety of lifeboats in particular.” “With respect to hooks, all the evidence is that properly designed on-load release hooks, when correctly maintained, are safe and fulfill the function they were designed for – to get seafarers and the boat safely away.” (Via BR)

This statement was a reaction to problems experienced by Norwegian operators but may also have been targeted at a new lifeboat davit design supported by AP Moller. Tradewids continues: “A major player believes its new launch method is the future but others disagree. When AP Moller-Maersk senior manager Bent Nielsen finished a recent presentation of his company’s new lifeboat-launching system at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), by all accounts he received a rousing round of applause. For a moment it appeared delegates were convinced they had been shown a simple and unique solution to the failing hooks and winches that have injured or killed hundreds of seafarers during lifeboat-training exercises. The support was considerable but there is still a question over whether Maersk’s bright idea is a panacea for lifeboat-safety problems.” TRADEWINDS, 26 June 2009, p 39

The new system they are referring to is Nadiro’s “Lifesaving System” with particular interest given to the “Drop-In-Ball” mechanism pictured above.

I encourage everyone to visit Nadiro’s website and look at the design but the real excitement I have is not in not in the ball itself but in the funding of innovation and the resources being devoted to improving safety at sea. More specifically I am excited that perceptive reality has been challenged and the resultant work is likely to save lives.

To understand perceptive reality please spend a few moments watching the video of behavioral economist Dan Ariely below:

What does this have to do with lifeboats? In a recent post Kennebec Captain explains the problem behind Ove Roessland’s thinking by pointing out; “Most of the complaint about modern ship’s lifeboats focuses upon the dangerous on load release gear. This is the problem that has killed the most mariners. The real problem is that the sole purpose of these boat is to meet SOLAS requirements. It is not safe to use them to train the crew.”

Notice Roessland’s primary focus is “to get seafarers and the boat safely away” but reality is that in requiring lifeboats to be installed and training to occur aboard ship we are saving certain lives but risking many others. If, as an industry, we were able to identify errors in perception and put significant resources behind the task of keeping mariners safe in all lifeboat operations (emergency use, maintainable and testing) solutions could certainly be found.

Perceptive reality is a problem every profession faces but in ours it costs lives. I applaud Maersk and all of Nadiro’s partners for funding safety innovation but I implore them to begin funding studies that will look at identifying problems in our perception of marine safety.

In the mean time we can start here at gCaptain. I encourage all readers to start thinking about this problem and help us identify instances of ill perceived reality currently effecting our industry. Once the light-bulb goes on be sure to contact me or (better yet) return to this post and leave a comment

-John