With more oceangoing tugs, workboats, offshore support and salvage vessels built with dynamic positioning (DP) on board, owners are encouraged to ensure operators (DPO) undertake type-specific familiarisation training to prevent incidents
It is uncommon for DP vessels to lose position, but when they do, incidents are rarely due to technical faults. Human error is often to blame, which is why familiarisation training is so important, said North P&I Club loss prevention executive John Southam.
“There have been several reports of incidents on DP vessels where control was lost because the DPO failed to correctly switch control between operating stations,” he explained.
“Investigations rarely find the cause to be a technical malfunction or an issue with the DP system set-up such as a network error. It is more often caused simply by the incorrect actions of the DPO.”
In some cases, incidents were due to a momentary lapse in concentration. To mitigate risk from this, bridge teams, including DPOs, should have redundancy. It is documented as best practice in the Oil Companies International Marine Forum DP Assurance Framework to have at least two DPOs on the bridge.
“With good communication and teamwork, potential mistakes can be spotted and avoided,” said Mr Southam.
All ship managers should check their DPOs are qualified and possess the suitable DP qualifications.
“Yet experience with the specific equipment to be used on the vessel – and in performing similar tasks to those required on board – is equally crucial,” said Mr Southam.
DPOs often demonstrate their experience by logging their hours operating DP systems. “However, there is a risk that these might be misleading, so references should be sought from their previous employment,” he continued.
“All joining DPOs should undergo a structured and thorough familiarisation course,” Mr Southam said. “This course should include reading and understanding all relevant operating manuals for the DP equipment on board and reports of any DP incidents that have occurred.”
Courses should also include understanding failure modes and effects analyses, DP trial reports and all related checklists.
The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) publication M 109 outlines all DP-related documentation that should be considered. Some of this can be studied before joining a vessel.
“Familiarisation should be vessel-specific and outlined in the vessel’s safety management system,” said Mr Southam. “Masters should ensure that it is carried out fully and the DPO understands the vessel’s requirements.”
A course should cover setting up in DP and, crucially, how to switch between control modes, which should be executed in full accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines and not based on personal experience.
“Switching modes can be practised prior to operation and under the strict supervision of the master or their deputy,” said Mr Southam.
Understanding location specifics
Since DP vessels can be engaged in a wide range of operations, DPOs should also familiarise themselves with activity-specific operating guidelines (ASOG).
ASOG will detail how operations should be carried out for that specific field or task and modes of control the vessel should operate in.
“This will show the DPO when they can and cannot switch control modes based on the risks involved,” said Mr Southam.
Training should not just be completed by the crew. Managers of DP vessels must ensure systems and procedures enable a thorough vessel-specific familiarisation for all DPOs that come on board.
“Thought must be given to the time they allow DPOs to gain familiarity not only with the vessel but also with the ASOG,” explained Mr Southam, “which will have an impact on how the vessel operates in the field. They should ensure their procedures tie in with the ASOG and are not simply generic to DP operations.”
Familiarisation becomes even more critical if deploying agency crew rather than direct employees.
Continuous professional development options should be considered to ensure DPOs do not lose their knowledge and are regularly reminded of best practice guidance and requirements.
Mr Southam encourages shipmanagers to follow IMCA M 117 – Guidelines for the Training and Experience of Key DP personnel. This contains guidance on crew familiarisation and training to assist in preventing loss of control on board.
IMCA technical adviser for marine Capt Andy Goldsmith will present the IMCA 2020 annual review of DP station keeping events at Riviera Maritime Media’s European Dynamic Positioning Virtual Conference, on 24 March 2021