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Crew Resource Management

Life, as I am sure you will agree has been traumatic recently. As someone who works in the emergency services, I understand how crisis events alter people’s lives. From out of the blue, an external event, something off the radar, creates havoc and what was once normal suddenly becomes unfamiliar.

Understandably, we build defences to protect ourselves from these events. We might appoint blame. We may distance ourselves. We try to forget.

I know I do these things. But are we doing the best we can to help ourselves?

My focus with the next few essays is to suggest that we can do more, and that crew resource management (CRM) provides this opportunity.

So, what is CRM, why would someone choose to adopt it, and more importantly does it work?

The “What?”

In a nutshell, CRM concerns how you arrive at the decisions you choose to make (discussed further in a separate essay), the way you communicate to others, understanding your teams needs and the equipment you have at your disposal. Call it Leadership if you will (discussed further later on).

CRM is an evolving topic and it has been called many things over the years: Cockpit Resource Management; Threat and Error Management; Surprise and Startle, etc. however the principle remains the same.

Over the years other high-risk organisations such as the military, emergency services, hospitals and slightly later to the party the marine industry have incorporated aspects of CRM into formal courses {ex. Bridge and Engine Room Resource Management}, focusing on aspects of interest particular to the way they operate.

The “Why?”

Developed over the last 50 years or so in response to a series of accidents primarily in the aviation industry that were attributed to “Human Error”, the intention of which was to build an awareness of the human risks surrounding certain activities and to try and manage them more successfully.

For commercial operators this decision has been taken away from them and it is mandatory, whereas for the recreational sailor it is very much discretional. However, here is the interesting part; for CRM to be effective it has to form part of the culture of the organisation and this may be a lot easier for the recreational sailor to achieve.

The reason for this is simply due to the fact that a commercial operator may well face competing financial hurdles that predicate a certain attitude towards safety. As well as this, they may also experience challenges communicating with crews from differing cultures with opposing values and suffer from a lack of oversight when operating remotely to reverse any unwanted traits.

So, for the recreational sailor the why then becomes a question of whether you choose to let CRM form part of the culture aboard your vessel.

The “Does it work?”

Humans are interesting. If things are going well we get complacent, we need a certain amount of adversity to stay engaged. We also have wonderful short-term memories that prevent us being trapped by bad experiences and that allow us to forge new horizons with the hope for a better outcome. Combined, the effect is that skills learnt are perishable and erode with time as our memory fades and the desire to refresh these skills is diminished as we sit in the sun or sail downwind in the tropics far from perceived harm.

Like any skills learnt, and CRM is a skill, the more often it is performed with the intention of improving decision making when you really need your smarts about you,

the more likely it is going to work.

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