The first parts of decision making

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 21, 2002

Have you ever drove by an auto accident, or heard about a

tragedy such as a plane crash

and asked yourself: What decision, or series of decisions, combined to have such a horrible result? Was there one point in the decision making process where, if viewed from a different perspective, or with less emotion, could have changed things? Would a decision to turn just a few seconds earlier have averted an injury?


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Would looking a little deeper at a problem have averted a mechanical disruption?

Understanding decision-making is critical. In fact, looking again to Team Coordination Training principals, which we have discussed the last two weeks, decision making is an integral part of safely operating, with application to either commercial or recreational mariners.

Using the references provided in the Coast Guard District Seven Auxiliary web site, (, the true importance of decision making

and the six strategies used in decision making are critical tools for a mariner to understand.

Everyone on board is responsible for safety. This includes the passengers, who might see something that the operator doesn’t.

The following actions have been observed in effective decision making: gathering information before making a decision, cross checking information sources for agreement, identifying alternatives/contingencies so that possible solutions can be explored, discussing consequences of decisions in an effort to enhance the decision making process, and providing the rationale for decisions.

These are the actions that help facilitate effective decision-making. The third action is especially important to a mariner. You always need a back-up plan, especially when on the water.

Team Coordination (TC) recommends that six decision strategies be used to enhance your decision-making. Believe it or not they can be used either unconsciously or consciously. The strategies form a foundation for approaching effective decision making which solves problems.

The six strategies are: Minimize, Moralize, Muddle, Scan, Deny, and Optimize

First, minimizing. What does this mean? According to District Seven’s Auxiliary Web site, it means &uot;Select a course of action based on a minimum set of requirements. Once the minimum requirements are establishes the mind searches for and selects the first course of action that satisfies the minimum requirement set.&uot;

For example: You may notice that your fuel tank is running low. Even though you are only a few miles from the dock you poor in the fuel and oil mixture without giving precise measurement a thought. It’s late and you want to get home.

The problem with the decision: Yes, in the short run you will make it home, and you may have no problem starting the engine in the few minutes beforehand. However, the long-term damage could be significant. For example, asking yourself how much gas you will need or having a &uot;back up supply&uot; all are better decisions that could avert the problem given in the example.

The second item is moralizing. According to the TC Web site, this strategy is based on perceived moral obligations. This may or may not have application to recreational boating depending on your vantagepoint. Specifically, it is a strategy based on issues of life or death where intervention might make a difference. An example is a recreational boater who makes the decision to assist another vessel in distress despite the challenges because it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately the problem with this decision is that you might now place two vessels into a difficult situation.

The third and final strategy I’ll review in this week’s column is muddling. Not &uot;muggle&uot; as in a Harry Potter novel but &uot;muddle&uot;. This is a great word to look up in a dictionary because it has multiple uses! For our purposes it involves a decision-maker who worries about little decisions without keeping a much bigger issue in mind when operating their vessel. An example is a vessel owner-operator who worries about their cold coffee while in a December fog bank, rather than concentrating on the much bigger issue of the buoy they will hit which is directly in front of them.

One accident I read about in the last few years was a classic. The person was talking on a cell phone, didn’t look at their electronic chart and guess what – they ran aground.

The danger in &uot;muddling&uot; is that you take &uot;safety shortcuts, &uot;when all are added up a problem occurs. There is a classic Navy training film called the &uot;Melbourne-Evans Incident&uot; in which two vessels collide. The classic comment by the Naval officer on watch is, &uot;The situation is to close for Maneuvering Board… we’ll need to eyeball it in.&uot; What results from this decision is a collision in which people died. The seriousness of the issue was not understood.

Think the strategies over to make good decisions while underway on your vessel. Next week we’ll look at the other strategies. Until then…Boat Safe, Boat Smart!

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