Team control training: Part Two

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

Writing a weekly column can be an interesting experience for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is trying to figure out, ahead of schedule, what columns will generate responses from the general public, and which will not.

Last week’s column is a classic example. I addressed some aspects of Team Coordination Training TCT) and the way this approach could be used by a recreational boater. (I’ll address more ideas later in this column.) The reaction however, from as far away as Florida was not anticipated. It proves how powerful the Internet is and how the News-Herald’s web site is visited from all over the United States.

With all the above said, lets continue looking at TCT, specifically how the idea of how sensory perceptions apply to recreational boaters. I will again look to Coast Guard District Seven’s Auxiliary web site as my reference for this critical issue.

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The one thing that every recreational boater needs to agree on is that despite the best made plans of even the most experienced skipper the unexpected does happen. A freak storm, greater concentrations of marine traffic or engine problems, a recreational boater needs to expect the unexpected. The sea environment is ever changing. This constant change needs to become part of a recreational skippers thought process. What do I mean?

The District Seven web site recommends the following view, &uot;Our effectiveness in processing information (i.e. making sense of it) and taking action is affected by our ability to adapt and be flexible under different levels of stress. By effectively processing information we can:

Better understand the present situation.

Quick recognize changes in the situation that will affect the team (and by team I mean a recreational boater skipper, and those aboard that are helping him or her operate the vessel)

Trap errors to minimize decision based on bad information.

To effectively process information we must become more aware of how we respond to stimuli and how often we respond to stimuli and how often we filter information or subconsciously chose not to act.&uot;

In the past few years I have been amazed by some of the maritime accidents involving recreational boating that I have read about. Most of these can relate, at least in part, back to a recreational boater not understanding the situation or reacting to bad information. For example, within the last year a recreational boater ran over a water skier who had fallen. The offending skipper had simply lost situational awareness and didn’t understand how close he was operating to a skier who had fallen. Fortunately the skier survived. The same goes for reacting to bad information. I once read about a search in rescue case in which a very large sailboat ran aground because the operator had misread, several times, a fathometer and then incorrectly correlated his position on a chart. In both of these cases, perhaps with the correct application of some of the ideas which are part of TCT the accidents might have been avoided.

District Seven’s Auxiliary Web site explains perceptions and threshold by asking a question. &uot;How much information can we perceive or be aware of at one time?&uot;

If you think about it people are not very conscious of all the things going on around us. Doesn’t matter if you are at home, at the office or on the road. For example, how often have you driven down a road and a passenger asks if you saw a deer along the side of the road, or specific sign? It happens more than you think. People &uot;zone out&uot; and often miss critical points.

Why does this occur? Well, our mind makes decisions for us and certain information is not important &uot;enough to get to the perceptual level. To get to the perceptual level information needs to considered important or the stimulus intensity needs to be higher.&uot;

So how can we improve our sensory perception? Consider the following ideas:

Decrease stress – Stress is the great zapper of energy on the body. It can make you feel tired, and decrease perception. A good way to combat this problem is making sure you are well rested before you get your vessel under way, ensure you are hydrated and make sure your vessel is in top condition with all &uot;pre-under way&uot; checks done. The Auxiliary web site states simply, &uot;trust your body and nap when possible.&uot; Good advice!

Be Vigilant – While you are operating a vessel all your concentration should be on your vessel, your environment and those operating vessels around you. You need to expect the unexpected as a normal course of events. You need to make sure that everyone on board shares information. If for example, while you are scanning the horizon a guest notices a vessel has just turned towards you they need to communicate this as soon as possible.

Strategically use caffeine – Like many other people I love a great cup of coffee in the morning. It is part of my daily routine. Along the same lines an operator of a vessel, sail or power, needs to use caffeine strategically. For example, if you drink a lot of coffee the ability to help alertness is compromised. In addition, eating or drinking substances before bed can effect the quality of your sleep, which again could effect sensory perception.

Decease Distraction – I have often wondered how any operating a car, with the volume and base turned up so loud that the car I am driving in shakes from the vibration can ever concentrate on their driving. The distraction from a zillion decibel stereo output has got to effect concentration. The same idea applies to a vessel.

For example, having a guest on the bridge, who wants to chat, while you are maneuvering other vessels is not a good idea. Playing the radio loudly is also not smart. You may miss a radio transmission or attempts to coordinate passages from other vessels. Bottom line to improve your sensory perception decrease activities that can distract you. Next week, we’ll continue discussions of various aspects of TCT by looking at decision making. Until next week, boat safe and boat smart!

LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular columnist for the News-Herald.