Nautical Institute works to enhance mariner safety, professionalism around the world

David Patraiko, the Nautical Institute’s director of projects, outside the group’s headquarters in a former elementary school in London.

The Nautical Institute is a kind of self-help organization created by mariners for mariners and dedicated to safety and professional development.

“Our entire ethos is about improving safety and commercial efficiency through education and professional development,†said David Patraiko, the Nautical Institute’s director of projects.

Based in London, the Nautical Institute was founded in 1971 in response to a great many changes that were transforming the industry. Containerization was revolutionizing the way cargo moved and the way ships were designed. Flags of convenience were on the rise, altering the relationship between owners and the countries that set the standards for their fleets and crews. And increasingly mariners could no longer expect to work for just one company in the course of their careers.

“Companies were no longer looking after your career with your best interests in mind,†said Patraiko. That climate of change and uncertainty prompted the need for a technical organization to assist mariners in their professional development.

The germ of an organization began to take shape in Liverpool, England, with a group of about 50 to 100 master mariners. They held their first meeting in 1969.

“Most of the early activity was to hold technical meetings,†said Patraiko, who is himself a master mariner and a 1985 graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Those meetings addressed such things as navigation techniques and containerization. But it was soon “recognized that holding meetings was not enough.â€

The crucial insight was that the information needed by mariners for their professional development had to be documented and disseminated. And that insight came to define the Nautical Institute as it exists today.

The institute still holds technical conferences. But it also publishes textbooks and operational guides and develops training and certification programs for professional mariners such as harbor masters and operators of dynamic positioning systems. Its monthly publication, Seaways, provides its members with a range of articles usually written by other mariners to help them operate more safely and to improve their operational and managerial efficiencies. Or as Patraiko put it, “sharing information among ourselves to decide on international best practices.â€

“We try hard not to be seen as academics,†he continued. “We write for the practitioners,†creating practical publications for professionals in the field.

Safety is a recurrent theme in the information disseminated by the institute. One of its most notable safety initiatives is the Mariners’ Alerting and Reporting Scheme, launched in 1992. MARS, as it commonly known, was created by the institute as a way for mariners to share information about dangerous incidents, even if they did not actually result in serious damage or injury. Without MARS, many near collisions or other serious incidents would go unreported and the lessons they contain would not be analyzed and shared. But for MARS, other mariners would be doomed to repeat the same mistakes or be undone by the same deficiencies in their equipment and procedures.

The MARS reports are published in Seaways and are available at Mariners and shipping companies report the incidents, which are then edited to ensure confidentiality and analyzed by MARS editor Capt. Shridhar Nivas. The reports typically summarize the events and identify the root causes and contributing factors, along with lessons learned and corrective and preventive actions. The reports are edited in such a way that the vessels, crews and companies involved cannot be identified. By assuring the confidentially of contributors, MARS protects them from repercussions and assures that others will feel safe in reporting potentially dangerous incidents.

The reports are “confidential but not anonymous,†Patraiko explained. “We can judge their authenticity.â€

The Nautical Institute knows who is submitting the material and what vessels and companies were involved. It simply does not report that information or anything else that would allow readers to infer it from the facts of the case. What results is an information service that makes a significant contribution to mariner safety.

“We have testimony to the fact that people have learned valuable lessons from our reports,†Patraiko said. “If you are going to make the industry safer, you have to start with learning from your mistakes.â€

Dissemination of information is at the heart of the institute’s mission. But so too is figuring out what information to disseminate. That aspect is evident in the institute’s development of training and certification programs. The dynamic positioning initiative is a good example.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago when DP first started to develop, there was no certification of DP operators. Anybody with a deck license could go and be a DP operator,†Patraiko said.

The complexity of DP systems made that situation unacceptably dangerous, so “the industry got together under the banner of the Nautical Institute. We developed a code of practice for DP,†Patraiko said.

The institute developed standards for operations, for individual competencies and for how they should be assessed. While the institute does not do the actual training, it created a syllabus followed by training centers around the world.

“We accredit the training centers to make sure they are complying with the standards,†Patraiko said.

The institute also issues and monitors logbooks used by mariners in the DP certification program.

“The master has to sign off. That’s how we certify the competence,†Patraiko said. “Not all DP operators are certified. If a company wants to show they have certified people, they have to come to us.â€

Working in cooperation with more than 50 training centers, the Nautical Institute has issued about 9,000 individual DP logbook certifications.

The Nautical Institute, a not-for-profit charitable organization, has its headquarters in a former working-class elementary school (Charlie Chaplin once attended) within hearing distance of the bells of Parliament just across the Thames River to the north. But the institute, like the industry it serves, knows no boundaries. Its 6,500 members come from around the world.

“The vast majority are either serving or qualified master mariners,†Patraiko said.

While almost all have strong connections to ship management, some are not actually mariners. “Grades of membership are open to all maritime professionals,†he said. “We have to work with all the stakeholders … under the neutral banner of professionalism to address critical issues.â€

About half the membership is in Europe. The organization has strong representation in India, and also has branches in Australia and North America.

“We are a grassroots organization. It is essential that we use that branch network to do what we do,†Patraiko said. “Our role is as the voice of the mariner.â€

By Professional Mariner Staff