Errors happen all the time. Course lines are mislabeled, current calculations are left uncorrected for Daylight Saving Time and vital information can be overlooked. It’s natural and human. The many things that make up a safe transit are predicated on competent voyage planning, execution, and attention to detail. These things are even more critical when the watch-stander is alone and conning the vessel while the rest of the crew is occupied with maintenance, cooking, cleaning or sleeping. The crew depends, and yes takes for granted, that the wheelhouse watch is taking every measure necessary to negotiate the transit in a safe and professional manner. So it would follow that it’s absolutely unacceptable to have one’s head buried in an internet search, texting frenzy, or passionate call to their significant other.
This “problem” is a progeny of the “digital age”. A quick look around will illustrate what I mean. We’re keenly aware (or should be) that texting, cell phones, and various other practices shouldn’t be part of the morning drive. It’s illegal in most states of the Union along with the a multitude of studies available as to why we should be at least “hands-free” while we’re behind the wheel. Yet, everywhere you look, the digital addiction is taking the eyes of drivers (on the interstate and waterways) when the focus should be on the road. Every other person seems to have an irresistible need to be “in touch” at all times.
Any error can ignite the lethal chain of failure and it’s increased exponentially when we allow ourselves to be distracted from the primary concern of getting from “point a” to “point b”. There’s no good reason for anyone to be checking their messages or email while underway. It can wait. Try this link to see how well you can do while engaged in a highway situation using your “Crackberry”.
Recent incidents have pointed out something all digital addicts should be aware of. The authorities are zeroing in on personal digital evidence as we fondle our IPhones and Crackberries. Of the first things being checked post-incident these days are the cell phone records and internet access logs of those unfortunate enough to have had any kind of incident and one can be sure it’s gonna be painful when you have to admit in front of an Administrative Law Judge that you were checking out your latest IPhone app or text from your mom when your tow went aground on a large rock and the pristine recreational waterway that once was, is now an oil-slicked Superfund candidate. All because you couldn’t wait until you were dockside to check in.
I marvel at the oblivious self-involved fog that people allow themselves to become blinded with as they try to stay in touch at every turn of the day and ringtone of their cellphone (If I hear “She’s A Brick-house” one more time I’ll scream). No one has that much to say and it’s dangerous to the rest of us while they say it. “Facebook”, “Twitter”, and “MySpace” have a place, after everything has been secured and long after the work is done.
I’ve said this before, if you’re off-watch you can talk, text, Skype, surf, and anything you’d like. But when you are in charge of the watch, your eyes should be scanning the world outside the windows and monitoring the radios and devices that will assist with the safe delivery of your charge. It’s derelict, irresponsible, and downright stupid to be anywhere but in the moment and on the job when you are the single watch-stander.
The cost of being so distracted could be more than just your career, it could be the lives of you and your crew. It’s not unreasonable to expect a watch-stander to be professional and focused. The job is challenging enough when one’s head is in the game, there’s little need to hobble your awareness with nonsense.