Maritime Wellness Institute


Safety & Human Performance, Wellness - One

How is safety affected by wellness and human performance? In order to answer the question, we need to take an example.

“Imagine there was a seafarer who's been at sea for five years. The seafarer has got one month left on the contract before going home, when one day before stepping onto the bridge, before sitting down in the dynamic position desk, they have a telephone call from a wife, from a loved one saying, "I've had enough of your way of life. I've met someone else, and I want a divorce”

Freeze frame

What we know is going on inside that individual's head are one of three things. At the top of the brain we have what we call Master Mode, where we can make clear decisions, where we're the best form of ourselves. Where we can make strategic decisions without compromise.


Then we have what we call Autopilot Mode, where day to day action is the norm. Where we're continuing our daily routine as we have done for the last two months of the contract. This is where accidents start to happen, because people start to become complacent because it is the norm. It is day to day routine.


And then we have what we call our REPTILE brain, where fight or flight lies, where it's home to aggression. And this is where wellness and safety but human performance and safety start to go hand in hand, because when we unfreeze this situation and there's an individual who's just had a telephone call such as this, due to a perceived lack of option, in most instances they will revert to what we call Boxing Bag Mode, where we want to take our anger, our aggression out on the people around us. If I'm hurting, they need to be hurting too. I want to take the aggression, the upset, the frustration out on the vessel. So, when I'm sitting on the DP desk at the helm in the engine room, I am going to start to damage the vessel, putting myself at risk, putting other colleagues at risk, and most importantly, the vessel at risk.

When individuals are sidetracked due to scenarios like this, we have to put into place the infrastructure and the support systems to ensure that our seafarers have an option to step away from the task at hand.. Without risking losing their jobs because they said that they're not in a fit state to work. Unfortunately we have had reports of scenarios such as this happen where there's been a telephone call before stepping onto the desk and unfortunately the vessel has been damaged. Crews lives have been put at risk.

We don't need to look very far in other industries to see where mental health, human performance has directly affected the safe operation of an aircraft or a vehicle. When we start to focus on human performance, both physically and mentally, the side effects flow throughout an organization and lives of men and women at sea. We can directly start to see an increase in vessel performance by simply supporting and providing tools to improve human performance at sea. Safety standards will improve, risk factors will be reduced by simply focusing on human performance. To learn more, visit the

andrew cowderoy