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One area where management practices can have a significant impact on safety and high crew performance is the way in which they schedule and conduct crew reliefs. While recognising the economies available through transporting relief and off-going crews en-block, good management will weigh the potential gains of replacing the entire crew in one day against the possible losses caused by crew unfamiliarity with ship systems or conditions.

Even when the relieving personnel are familiar with the vessel, it is strongly recommended that the following crew relief guidelines be followed:

  • No more than one-half of the crew is relieved at any port call.

  • The top two personnel in each department are relieved on separate occasions, ie. if the chief engineer is to be relieved, the First-Assistant Engineer remains aboard.

  • If the vessel is preparing to carry, or is carrying special cargo, the chief officer and master are not relieved until the cargo discharge is completed.

  • Crew reliefs travelling more than six hours (door to gangway), to reach their ship are permitted eight hours of rest ashore or on board before relieving.

  • Officers are permitted six hours of handover time between the relieving officer reporting for duty and the departing officer surrendering his duties.

  • Unlicensed personnel are permitted two hours of turnover time.

  • Departing officers are strictly instructed to refuse to surrender their duties if they are not satisfied that their relief is competent and capable of assuming them.

  • The final point is closely linked with the concepts of effective followership and crew-management teamwork previously discussed. Unless the officer is convinced that management is depending on him to be the final guardian of the ship's safety, he will accept without demur the person sent to relieve him. 'The company picked this person, so it's their problem!' would be the attitude of many officers in a highly directive organization. Faced with handing over to a relief who clearly lacks the experience or confidence for the responsibilities of the job, they will do so. With today's manning procedures and problems, incompetent crew members will from time to time arrive at the top of the gangway to confront an unfamiliar ship or ship type. The master, department head and officer being relieved are the last line of defence against the ship sailing with this problem person on board.

    1.10.1 Inexperienced personnel
    On occasion, a shipping company knowingly hires inexperienced personnel. As one example, a major oil company ran a portion of its fleet from 1955 through 1968 without needing to hire a single officer. In 1967 the number of ships stabilised after years of reductions, several officers announced their retirements and the company found itself replacing men of 15 years experience with a dozen maritime school graduates who were absolutely unfamiliar with company procedures and in some cases had no experience on tankers. With some intelligence and foresight, the company assigned these officers to ships for as much as one month's training on watch with a senior, highly professional officer. Only after this officer was satisfied with their performance were the new employees allowed to stand watch unassisted.
    Even when the officer has considerable experience, if he is new to the company or ship-type and is relieving as a department head, he should complete one voyage or cargo cycle with the departing officer before relieving. The extra costs of this practice can be insignificant compared with the costs and penalties of a cargo contamination or ship casualty.
    The sign prominently displayed in a chemical tanker's cargo office applies: If you're not worried, it's because you don't understand what is going on here!
    An effective crew relief procedure ensures that there are always key people on board who know what is going on and who are concerned (rather than worried), about the safety of their ship and its crew.

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