Teamwork in pilotage operations: Creating and maintaining a common frame of reference between pilots and masters

Empirical studies
By Christine Chauvin, Tabatha Thiébaut-Rizzoni, Jean-Pierre Clostermann, Philippe Rauffet, Nicole Geslin

Piloting a vessel is a highly cooperative activity in which communication between pilots and masters is an essential safety factor. This study uses the notion of common frame of reference (COFOR) to investigate cooperation between pilots and masters, using the verbal exchanges recorded on board 12 vessels navigating on the river Seine in 11 standard situations and 1 incident situation. These situations involved eight of the 53 pilots employed by the Seine pilotage station.
The recorded exchanges were broken down into “communication loops”. Each communication loop was coded in relation to four dimensions (sender, type and object of the first message, type of loop). The data analysis seeks to compare the prescribed task (i.e., the task as defined by International Maritime Organization resolutions) and the actual activity of pilots and masters.
We show that the pilot is the one who initiates the vast majority of the communication loops. Typically, the pilot provides information regarding the plan and the situation (traffic, visibility, current) and requests the information he needs and that is related to the vessel characteristics. Furthermore, the plan is shared only at a tactical level. In standard situations, the strategic elements of the plan (i.e., defined course and speed for each leg of the passage) are not shared.
This study draws attention to the asymmetrical cooperative activities in which pilots are the main initiators of communications. It calls into question the design of navigation tools for confined waters, which could facilitate the creation and the maintenance of a COFOR.

  • pilotage
  • cooperation
  • teamwork
  • Common Frame of Reference (COFOR)
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