When the STCW Conventions were amended in 2010 the foundation was laid for significant industry wide improvements for workers. Amendments to STCW cause a lot of controversy since the sweep across all business segments and directly impact every worker.
Globally, maritime workers are at risk because of the flexible labor laws of shipping in the developing world. Even the great industrial powers have exploitation of their workers since ship board work is out of sight and out of mind.
The Manila Amendments to STCW 2010 include many new training and certification guidelines. One of the minor directives aims to improve interpersonal communications skills for all crew and ground personnel.
Communications Directives in STCW
If the idea of sailors consulting a guide to etiquette is funny to you then you are not alone. This point of focus has the potential to be one of the richest sources of maritime humor in recent times.
There are many serious consequences when communication is vague or indecipherable. In many accident reports communication is cited as one of the main contributors in serious incidents. Everyone involved knows the dangers of work on the water so it's reasonable to expect a crew to show some respect towards the possibly deadly situation.
Some of the serious consequences take place over a longer span of time. Ongoing, consistently poor communication will whittle away at crew morale since it's difficult to do a job that is poorly defined. The same is true of crew members who cannot express concerns or improvements to a situation.
These are mostly face to face interactions we are talking about but it also includes written communications. These directives will impact everyone on crew from the Master who must now refine communications in the mountain of paperwork to the deckhand who is now expected to have training to resolve differences in fair and equitable manner.
There are some more realistic and productive parts of STCW Communications. The mentoring of crew by officers is likely to really tighten up working relationships and improve the workplace overall. This is closely tied to potions of the STCW Manila Amendments that require significantly more training and frequent re-certification.
Verbal aspects will be a larger part of testing so it's important we all start using industry standard language. There are still bit and pieces of industry and regional shipping language in use today. It will be hard to accept that a term used for generations might not be suitable for professional use in some cases. These terms will still survive but large operators with plenty of oversight might implement standard terminology to achieve best practices.
Over the Air
One of the biggest benefits will come from improved radio communications. The transition from analog electronics to digital has caused many problems because digital microphones commonly limit volume levels. This leads to an in and out transmission in noisy environments like a windy deck or in an open boat underway. Analog transmissions would simply distort so you heard something but it was unintelligible. Digital radios in the same situation sound like the microphone is being keyed during the transmission.
Annunciation and radio traffic etiquette can also use some improvement to improve safety. Some radio traffic is very cryptic when operators have been calling the same security zone for ten years and their annunciation is sloppy and nearly impossible for visiting vessels to understand.
The universal adoption of English as the operating language of choice for mariners worldwide is going to make the transition to the new standards more difficult. Many maritime schools worldwide offer excellent foreign language training. It will be a difficult task to retrain generations of mariners no matter what their native language.