How Isolated Decision-making Lead To Accidents?


According to an article published in Saftey4sea, it analyzes how teamwork and collaboration play a major role in the shipping industry.

Isolated decision-making – Summary

Gard reports that the isolated decision-making style leads to a gap between the one taking the decision and the rest of the team that has to follow.

Several flag state reports on navigational incidents support that a complete breakdown of communication between the master or the pilot and their bridge team may result in an accident.

Reasons for isolated decision making

The Club highlights that a breakdown in communication does not necessarily mean to communication at all, but also includes one-way communication.

One-way communication

One-way communication between those making the decision and those executing it is challenging and may lead to accidents.

For example, master’s expectations and the understanding of any team members is characteristic of a culture of high power distance. When decisions are made in isolation during critical operations, such as navigation, the consequences of improper execution can be dire.

High-power distance cultures

In addition, Gard states that in high-power distance cultures less powerful members accept the unequal power distribution, while this ‘culture’ isolates the leader from people thereby compromising the overall efficiency and safety of the operations and of the vessel.

Despite the fact that the impact of high power distance is mostly experienced in the junior ranks, the change will not come by educating them to ‘speak up’. The change will come when cultures are understood, measured and changed, provided that there is also a commitment from the top management ashore as well as on-board, Gard highlights.

Recommendation to close the gap

Need for consultation

The first step to be taken to close this gap is to consult those who execute the decisions made by the leaders.

For example, involving important team members like the chief engineer, officers of the watch, lookout and the helmsman on a briefing of the voyage plan is one way to allow them to communicate their issues and more importantly, encourage them to speak up during the execution stage of the voyage plan.

Collaborative decision-making

When a collaborative decision making is set, the next step would be to enable decision making by individuals that have the information at a time of crisis, for example, the crew should be allowed to respond without excessive interference from the office onshore, or in cases where there may be a conflict between safety and commercial matters, the ship’s staff should be empowered to decide that safety comes first.


By following the set of recommendations, ships can reduce the incidence of accidents and improve their skills simultaneously.

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Source: Safety4sea


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