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Murphy: Are you ready for the ‘hot seat’ in simulation or as mentor?

Jan 22, 2016 01:22 PM

The landscape of maritime education is changing fast. The way we learned our maritime skills way back when I was a kid is definitely not how things will be handled in our immediate future. Big changes are already in place, and more will be in place in the next few months — and your maritime life will never be the same. Are you ready?

Do you know that the “standard of the industry” has shifted to a simulator-based standard of achievement? Over the five years I have worked in my current job, there has been a steady shift from the traditional interview and resume review for new hires and advancement of officers to a simulator assessment. Have you had a simulator-based assessment yet? If not, you will soon.

I hear the whining out there right now. “So why should I (or my company) bother with these simulator assessments anyway?” The answer is simple. Besides the fact that they actually work, you need to consider the fact that very often your contracts from customers will depend on these assessments. Surprised? Just look around!

And then you have the insurance-dictated requirements. Do you want your insurance rates to go down? Then send your officers through one of these simulation assessment programs. Give your insurance company a call and see what they say.

Very experienced mariners may think, “State-of-the-art simulators, aren’t they for the younger guys? At my age, why would I want to inflict all this additional training and professional scrutiny upon myself?”

And, at my age, why would I want to be involved in simulation-based training? The answers are not simple at all, but the short version is that it enables me to give back some of my experience to a community that invested so much into me for so many years. I feel somewhat like it is my duty to help keep our maritime industry healthy and moving into the future. And I still love the maritime industry today just as much as I did when I first got into it.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. Why did I title this little article the “hot seat”? During my process of “stepping up,” there is a great deal of training required. This training is a series of peer-based, hands-on workshops. Yes, I have been successful in the maritime industry in my own little way. But I am definitely not the brightest bulb in the box. The only way I have gotten to the place that I am today is by working harder than the other guys. I had to really earn the “big seat.”

At one recent training session, it was my turn in the hot seat. Yes, more than a dozen of the most qualified, professional and successful mariners I have ever known all watching everything I did and every word I said. These are the leaders of our industry for sure. Wow, this might have been one of the hardest things I have ever done.

The people I work with at are top-of-the-line master mariners with backgrounds as senior Navy officers, senior Coast Guard officers, maritime pilots, maritime lawyers, school department heads and shipping industry professionals. And then there is me. What an act to follow! I am definitely a “small bush in a tall forest” around these folks.

So how did I do in the hot seat? The short answer is that I did OK. At least I lived through the experience. Certainly not in the same league as the “big guys” yet, but I’m working in that direction. And I have always lived by the idea that if you are not learning and trying to get better, then you are dying. 

What do I get out of all of this? It doesn’t mean more money, but it certainly does mean more work and more responsibility. I would have to say what I get out of it is personal and professional satisfaction. I get the fact that I made a little bit of difference in other mariners’ lives and livelihoods. I also get the satisfaction of the idea that the maritime industry is just that tiny little bit safer out there. And that’s enough for me.

Reflecting on the fact that no matter how long I want to stay in the maritime industry, I must admit to myself that time is limited. At my age I want to stay at a “full run” as long as I can. And helping others along the way is about the best thing I could possibly do with that time left.

What might you do to help the maritime industry in your own small way? You can take up mentoring a junior mariner. That can be your legacy, which is a great way to be remembered. And it always makes a difference.

Capt. Dennis Murphy, of Olympia, Wash., is a longtime shipmaster and is an instructor at Pacific Maritime Institute, where he splits his time between teaching classes and working in the simulation department. He also teaches at Fremont Maritime.

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