Soundings - - Contents - BY MARIO VIT­TONE

Air­line pilots use check­lists to en­sure they get ev­ery­one to their des­ti­na­tion safely. Boaters can learn a thing or two from this prac­tice.

Ev­ery hour of ev­ery day, many thou­sands of air­line pilots sit­ting sideby- side in cock­pits do some­thing that, on the face of it, seems silly. Just be­fore land­ing, the fly­ing pi­lot low­ers the land­ing gear, and three bright- green lights il­lu­mi­nate. Both pilots see the lights, and then the non-fly­ing pi­lot asks: “Land­ing gear down?” The fly­ing pi­lot must, by law, re­spond: “Check — three down and green.”

They both know the land­ing gear is down the sec­ond the green lights go on, but one still has to ask the ques­tion, and the other has to an­swer. This is not just done for the land­ing gear. It is rare that a pi­lot makes a move that isn’t con­firmed by the co-pi­lot sit­ting next to him. Re­gard­less of ex­pe­ri­ence, com­mer­cial pilots can hardly flip a switch with­out con­firm­ing it with their (of­ten much ju­nior) part­ners.

These Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion rules are not ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment over­sight. They ex­ist be­cause pilots and the agency know some­thing most of us find hard to ad­mit: Ev­ery­one — even some­one with long ex­pe­ri­ence — is ca­pa­ble of mak­ing mis­takes. Ev­ery­one is ca­pa­ble of for­get­ting some­thing. And when for­get­ting just one thing can get peo­ple killed, you make a list and check it ev­ery time.

Hu­man Er­ror Is A Myth

To my way of think­ing, there is no more dan­ger­ous con­cept than the idea that hu­man er­ror has caused an ac­ci­dent. It’s dis­mis­sive. When we at­tribute a mishap to hu­man er­ror, we think some­one made a mis­take, and in some small part of our brains, we be­lieve I wouldn’t have done that.

It’s not an er­ror in your hu­man­ity that you for­get things or miss clues or make mis­takes; that is hu­man na­ture. It’s only when we do these things dur­ing high-risk ac­tiv­i­ties that they are mis­la­beled “hu­man er­ror.”

In any ac­tiv­ity, boat­ing in­cluded, we know go­ing into it that any hu­man in­volved will make mis­takes. This might be the most im­por­tant thing to un­der­stand in managing your own safety while boat­ing:

You are go­ing to screw up. You are def­i­nitely go­ing to make mis­takes. You are def­i­nitely go­ing to for­get some­thing im­por­tant.

Check­lists take the load off your hu­man­ity and can keep you from mak­ing a mis­take in an emer­gency.

Three Types of Lists

In com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, they break down check­lists into nor­mal and non-nor­mal op­er­a­tions. (Non-nor­mal is just an odd word for “emer­gency.”) In boat­ing, I like to make three types of lists: con­di­tion and pre­pared­ness, emer­gency, and post-dock­ing/an­chor­ing.

Put an­other way, these lists are for be­fore you leave, when things go side­ways, and when you get back.

Be­fore You Leave Lists

Ob­vi­ously, there are things you should check that are spe­cific to your ves­sel: These are man­u­fac­tur­ers’ sug­gested main­te­nance and ves­sel check­lists, of­ten pro­vided in the owner’s man­ual. They are what I call “gas and oil” check­lists, and they should not be ig­nored. If you haven’t read that man­ual from cover to cover, you are mak­ing your first mis­take.

How­ever, it’s the fi­nal pre-sail safety check that most boaters miss. This is the check­list that can pre­vent emer­gen­cies and im­proves your odds if they do oc­cur. While you don’t need to use the air­line pilots’ chal­lenge-an­dresponse for­mat, you should go through each item on the list, ev­ery time, be­fore head­ing out.

If you al­ready have a pre-sail safety check­list, con­grat­u­la­tions. If it is tougher than mine, I’d love to see a copy. Mine is at bit. ly/2vOdO6y. This check­list should feel at least

a lit­tle bur­den­some. Take mine and mod­ify it for your ves­sel. If you think I went too far, just re­mem­ber that in my last job I was a mar­itime ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor. Then, re­con­sider your stance.

Also vi­tal is the pre-sail safety brief. This is a list of things to dis­cuss with ev­ery­one on board be­fore leav­ing the dock. This check­list’s pur­pose is to en­sure you don’t for­get to con­sider any­thing im­por­tant prior to throw­ing off the lines. Again, use mine if you like.

When Things Go Side­ways

Pilots have a QRH, the Quick Ref­er­ence Hand­book. Smoke in the cabin? They break out the QRH. Engine stall? The QRH has a pro­ce­dure for that. When a prob­lem arises, they go through each item on the QRH in­struc­tion list — line by line — un­til it is (hope­fully) solved. I know what you are think­ing: I can make

a QRH for my boat. Yes, you can. Now get on it. Be­cause if for­get­ting un­der nor­mal con­di­tions falls some­where be­tween pos­si­ble and easy, then for­get­ting dur­ing an emer­gency is some­where be­tween likely and def­i­nite.

As a re­al­ity check, con­sider that I’ve never in­ves­ti­gated a man- over­board in­ci­dent in which the cap­tain of a ves­sel re­mem­bered to do ev­ery­thing from his own MOB pro­ce­dures. Never. Not once. While this for­get­ful­ness is usu­ally due to in­ad­e­quate prac­tice of emer­gency pro­ce­dures, you should def­i­nitely make a QRH for your­self and pull it out ev­ery time there is an emer­gency.

What is an emer­gency? If it’s some­thing you would call pan-pan for, then a pro­ce­dure for it should be in your QRH.

Af­ter-Dock­ing Lists

I’ve seen a lot of boaters who have af­ter-dock­ing lists. You love your boat, and you want it to be left in good con­di­tion, of course. But af­ter­dock­ing is also a good time to make sure all of your emer­gency gear is where you think it is, and in the con­di­tion you want it to be.

The rea­son you want to check your safety gear now — when you won’t need it — is be­cause you are hu­man. If some­thing went miss­ing dur­ing your trip and you don’t find out un­til next time, just be­fore throw­ing off the lines, you are less likely to han­dle that is­sue be­fore head­ing to sea again. If you find out the per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con in your life jacket is dam­aged dur­ing your af­ter-dock­ing check, you’ll buy a new one be­fore your next trip. Find out it’s bro­ken 10 min­utes be­fore you start the en­gines, and you’ll make an ex­cuse and prom­ise your­self to pick one up next week.

Get to Work

If it feels like I just as­signed you a lot of home­work, I’m sorry. But not re­ally.

This kind of work is what makes com­mer­cial air­lines as safe as they are. What check­lists do, for free, is take the bur­den off hu­man na­ture and help stop our mis­takes be­fore they can have an im­pact. One pi­lot will ask an­other if he sees the green lights be­cause he knows he is ca­pa­ble of fail­ing to no­tice that one is red.

If a pro­fes­sional air­line pi­lot with 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence has no prob­lem ask­ing some­one else to con­firm that he sees three green lights, who are we to think “I don’t need a check­list?” You do. Be­fore you leave the dock, sit down and make a list of all the things you should re­mem­ber. And make lists (when you are calm) of all the things you should do in an emer­gency.

Boat like an air­line pi­lot, and ac­knowl­edge that you are hu­man and fal­li­ble. Do­ing so will greatly in­crease the chances that you and your guests land safely at your next des­ti­na­tion.

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