The knowledge of what is happening and the ability to assess its impact on the future of course of actions has an important safety relevance in maritime operations. In this second of a two-part story, SCT’s Mario Pierobon considers situation awareness as contributory factor to safety events and as a system property, as well as the role of modern technology to improve situation awareness in the maritime sector.

Contributory Factors

There are many factors that contribute to marine accidents, incidents, and errors. Most problems are caused by a combination of several different factors, ranging from purely technical failures to environmental, systemic, procedural, capability and behavioural factors, MGN 520 (M) affirms[i].

Indeed, poor situational awareness has been a contributory factor in many maritime incidents. Loss of effective situational awareness is often due to the lack of up to date information, the situation changing too quickly to be understood, new and novel problems that are not understood, insufficient capability and experience of those involved, distractions, interruptions, complacency, and fatigue, MGN 520 (M) says.

According to Sætrevik & Hystad[ii], situation awareness develops as a result of a recurrent assessment of and interaction with one’s surrounding, and feeds into the decision-making.

To solidify situational awareness, seafarers should understand the value and importance of being alert when problems are identified, raise concerns in a positive and constructive manner, and offer proposed solutions where possible, according to MGN 520 (M).

System Property

According to Paul M. Salmon, Neville A. Stanton, Guy H. Walker, and Daniel P. Jenkins in a 2012 book entitled ‘Distributed Situation Awareness’[iii], situation awareness can be treated a system property, whereby situation awareness related information is distributed among different agents (human and non-human) in a cooperative system. In this perspective, the focus is on the interactions between the agents comprising the system, and a central aim is to understand how situation awareness related information is transferred between different agents in day-to-day operations, they affirm.

Situation awareness is often described as involving three different levels of information: the perception of elements in the environment (level 1), the comprehension of the situation (level 2), and the projection of the situation into the near future (level 3), affirms Mica R. Endsley in a 1995 paper entitled ‘Toward a theory of situation awareness in dynamic systems’ [iv].

At the first level, the duty officer perceives the status and dynamics of relevant elements in his/her environment. At the second level, the duty officer integrates and evaluates the information available. S/he is required to understand the perceived information in relation to the relevant goals and objectives. At the third level, the duty officer uses his/her perception and comprehension of the current situation to estimate what will happen in the near future, Endsley states.

Modern Technology

Modern maritime technology is helping to improve situation awareness, but its use also requires some precautions. According to Hrvoje Jaram, Pero Vidan, Srđan Vukša, Ivan Pavić in a 2021 academic article entitled ‘Situational Awareness – Key Safety Factor For The Officer Of The Watch’[v], technology has had a major impact on today’s maritime industry. In order to reduce man-made accidents at sea, technical solutions such as integrated navigation system, central alarm management human-machine interface, and integrated bridge systems have been introduced. Naval officers often need to monitor and understand the data collected by equipment. “It is necessary to understand the maritime work environment in order to design the necessary equipment that is suitable for the ship's crew in all situations. If the equipment is poorly designed, e.g., controls and user interfaces are inadequately set, brightness is poor, alarms are too loud or too quiet, all this can seriously reduce crew working efficiency and cause undesirable factors such as stress and fatigue. In addition, technological solutions require a high level of knowledge, skills and training to operate”, they affirm.

The officer of the watch needs to understand all the advantages and limitations of each piece of equipment and systems, which is very difficult as new technological solutions are introduced relatively quickly. It is worth mentioning the problem of excessive reliance on technical means of bridge navigation and low habit of visual observation and surveillance, especially when navigating in coastal areas. Simulators represent one of the best technological solutions to improve situational awareness, according to Jaram et al.

Summing Up

There is no question that situation awareness is essential and an important safety factor in the maritime world. In this second and last part on the situation awareness of maritime crews we have considered situation awareness as a contributory factor to safety events and as a system property, and the role of modern technology to improve situation awareness in the maritime sector.


[i] Marine guidance note (MGN) 520 in a part entitled ‘Human element guidance’.
[ii] Bjørn Sætrevik and Sigurd W. Hystad, ‘Situation awareness as a determinant for unsafe actions and subjective risk assessment on offshore attendant vessels’, December 2016 Elsevier Inc.
[iii] Paul M. Salmon, Neville A. Stanton, Guy H. Walker, and Daniel P. Jenkins, 2012. Distributed Situation Awareness: Theory, Measurement and Application to Teamwork. Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, UK.
[iv] Endsley, M.R., 1995. Toward a theory of situation awareness in dynamic systems. Human Factors: J. Human Factors Ergonom. Soc. 37, 32–64. 10.1518/001872095779049543.
[v] Hrvoje Jaram, Pero Vidan, Srđan Vukša, Ivan Pavić, article ‘Situational Awareness – Key Safety Factor For The Officer Of The Watch’, 2021.