University of Tasmania

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Making the phantom real: A case of applied maritime human factors

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 09:24 authored by Petersen, ES, Dittmann, K, Lutzhoft, M
'Everybody is talking about the weather; but nobody is doing anything about it'. The quote is attributed to the Danish lay philosopher and cartoonist Robert Storm Petersen (1892-1949), and is probably meant to signify that humans are often talking about things they really cannot do anything about. Arguably, something similar could be said for the application of human factors in the maritime industry: 'Many talk about Maritime Human Factors, but few are doing anything about it' - at least, there are no accounts in literature of a systematic, industrial application of human factors in the commercial domain of shipping. This is worrying in the perspective of safety, effectiveness and efficiency at sea, since these elements, even by definition, are intimately linked to human factors. In a word, there is a potential, under-exploited benefit in maritime human factors at large. In the present case, the concern is focused on the electronic information systems that can be found on-board any vessel afloat, installed in wheel houses and engine control rooms, partly due to international rules and regulations, and partly to optimize crew size and crew composition, the latter with the aim of remaining or increasing competitiveness. There is however good room for improvement, but with little market demand and no strict rule requirements for human factors engineering in the maritime domain, the initiative remains with individual organizations, or even with individuals. The lack of human factors application in the maritime equipment industry may well be rooted in a corresponding lack of appreciation of human factors as a general discipline; perhaps in combination with a lack of operational knowledge about how electronic, computer-based systems are designed for usability. With no case stories being told, and without clearly visible usability champions, there might even be no inducement for change in the maritime equipment industry. This paper is intended to mitigate on some of these issues, first and foremost by telling the story of the user centred design process that was applied during the recent development of a new product line, which spans navigation and automation systems and applications, including radar, ECDIS, conning, alarm systems, remote control and automation. In this way, it is demonstrated that the design for good usability is indeed possible in the maritime industry, given the will to undertake the investment, combined with the determination to overcome the associated barriers - because acquiring the necessary knowledge, creating an effective, operational team with the necessary skills, and in general keeping the faith during the process is not without challenges. Some of these are caused by the epistemologically determined working differences between human factors and engineering, while others are caused by the iterative nature of human factors development, which contrasts to traditional software development methods. In terms of conclusion, the paper raises the central issue of change: It is suggested that if maritime human factors are to have a more widespread impact, Engineering needs to appreciate that the relevant social sciences are more than common sense, while Human Factors scientists must learn to appreciate the heuristic nature of Engineering.


Publication title

Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Ship Operations, Management and Economics 2011








Australian Maritime College


Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers

Place of publication


Event title

3rd International Symposium on Ship Operations, Management and Economics 2011

Event Venue

Athens, Greece

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Water safety