Situational Awareness: Do you have it?


It’s likely you’ve heard the term situational awareness but…do you know what it means?

Situational awareness can be defined simply as “knowing what is going on around us” or more technically as “the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future”.

Situational Awareness: Do you have it?

Situational awareness is a major component of watchkeeping, and a lack of situational awareness is a major contributor to marine incidents!

Marine incidents that include minor to critical injury and loss of life, minor damage to or loss of your vessel, minor to major damage to infrastructure and/or minor to major environmental damage.

Take note that situational awareness is not just for the Master or watchkeepers it’s something all crew members MUST have to ensure the safety of the vessel and all persons onboard.

In maritime terms the following are what all crew members need to know to have good situational awareness:

  • Being aware of your environment, including:
    • other boats in the area
    • navigational hazards
    • communications between vessel traffic services and other boats
    • weather
    • sea state
    • depth of water
    • tide and current
  • Knowing your boat’s configuration, equipment and systems including auto pilot, radar, GPS, AIS, compass, propulsion and their engaged modes.
  • Being aware of the status of your boat’s systems.
  • Know the geographical position of the boat within the operational location.
  • Managing time for things like fuel status
  • Allowing time for unplanned events or emergencies.

Put simply, situational awareness means having an accurate understanding of what is happening around you and what is likely to happen. Around you doesn’t mean what’s happening in front of you, it means a full 360 degrees around you!

Situational Awareness: Do you have it?

At all times you must:

  1. Perceive what is happening.
  2. Understand what is happening.
  3. Use this to think ahead.

While you’re working it can be easy to be distracted and lose your situational awareness. No matter if you’re the Master, Engineer, watchkeeper or deckhand you must always be aware of potential distractions and how they impact on your situational awareness.

Failing to maintain situational awareness puts you, your crew and vessel in danger, a danger that can end up in loss of life and//or vessel!

Situational Awareness: Do you have it?

Very few people have situational awareness naturally, it’s something you learn and develop over time but, you have to work on it.

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Our recommendation is to either email this newsletter to all your crew or print it out and provide a copy to your crew members. In either case have them work on improving their situational awareness.

We can guarantee that when all crew members have good situational awareness the potential for incidents decreases significantly!


Something we do when we’re onboard a vessel doing training or when it’s working and it’s a good thing for you to do as well and that is ask different crew members if they know what’s going on around them, questions such as:

  • Which way are we heading; e.g., compass bearing, into the wind, with the sea, etc.
  • What are other crew members doing; e.g., are they all on deck working, are they in their bunks, etc.
  • Are there lines left on the deck

Try asking questions like these to assess the level of situational awareness of individual crew members. If their level of awareness help them to improve it for everyone’s safety!