Situational awareness in the marine towing industry

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Title: Situational awareness in the marine towing industry
Author: Towns, Boris
Abstract: Loss of situational awareness has been cited as the most common cause of accidents in the maritime industry. However, current research has not proven beneficial in determining the factors that underpin situational awareness. This study examined situational awareness among licensed captains and pilots of the inland towing industry. Twenty towboat captains, who operate on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) from New Orleans, LA to Houston, TX and who represented 16 towing vessel companies, were interviewed and participated in an integrated survey that explored fatigue, communication, dangerous drugs and alcohol, social stress, and mental workload. These factors were believed to have a direct influence on situational awareness among towing vessel captains. These factors were compared and resulted in the identification of mental workload as the predominant factor affecting situational awareness. Upon further examination of mental workload, it was found that loss of situational awareness is likely to occur when a towing vessel captain is distracted by a cell phone conversation with their company or steers his or her tow in the vicinity of recreational vessels. In addition, the results also indicated complacency potential, a function of attitude toward automation and perception of mental workload. It was concluded that outreach and education to recreational boaters, establishing procedures for business conversations, navigation simulators, drills, and strategic thinking could be effective counter-measures against the loss of situational awareness induced by mental workload. Further research that measures the impact of those distractions or examines the effectiveness of such counter-measures in reducing the potential for loss of situational awareness is needed
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Date: 2007

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