University of Tasmania
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Beyond teamwork : joint activity during the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters

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Version 2 2024-03-28, 01:01
Version 1 2023-05-27, 19:31
posted on 2024-03-28, 01:01 authored by Trygg Mansson, KJC

More than 90,000 merchant ships are plying the world’s seas, carrying more than 90% of all international trade. Each day, several thousand ships enter a port to load or discharge, then leave to continue their voyage to next port. Entering and leaving port is one of the most challenging parts of a voyage, as ships must be navigated through confined and congested waters, and they must be manoeuvred in and out of tight berths. The margins are small, and the stakes are high.

During the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters, a range of maritime professionals, located both onboard and ashore, are required to work together. Working together during the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters has, however, proven to be problematic. A ‘lack of teamwork’, ‘deficient communication’, ‘absence of a mutual understanding’ and ‘failure to monitor and challenge each other’s actions’, are frequently implicated in maritime accident investigations. At the core of these problems lies the ability—or inability—of maritime professionals to act in coordination with each other.

In addressing the problems with coordination, the maritime community has implemented measures such as Standard Marine Communication Phrases, mandatory information exchange and compulsory training in teamwork and leadership. However, despite these measures, the problems have persisted.

The persistence of the problems, despite the measures implemented, has highlighted a need to better understand the nature of coordination among maritime professionals during the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters. It was therefore the aim of this research project to gain such understanding and to translate the understanding into recommendations for improvement in practice.

An iterative research approach, drawing on hermeneutic principles, was adopted to grasp dimensions that are not readily apparent or easily measured. These dimensions relate, for example, to the personal experiences of maritime professionals and to the dynamic and complex context in which the navigation and manoeuvring takes place. Such dimensions are of vital importance for understanding performance that does not meet expectations.

Concepts from Herbert Clark’s work on joint activity were used to guide the collection and analysis of data. Qualitative research interviews and naturalistic observation were used as the primary means of data collection before data were analysed, mainly, using deductive qualitative analysis.

Results from this research project illustrate the need for coordination in many situations during the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters. However, the results also illustrate the challenges and costs associated with coordination, and how acting in coordination is sometimes at odds with the ability to achieve other goals of maritime professionals. Hence, under the current conditions, maritime professionals occasionally proceeded independently in situations where, in their view, coordination could not be justified. This led to a mismatch between expectations on performance and actual performance. While this mismatch is typically unnoticed as long as things go well, they are highlighted as serious errors when things occasionally go wrong.

From a practical perspective, the results suggest that a more flexible approach to coordination during the navigation and manoeuvring of a ship in port waters should be adopted. Such an approach should be based on an account of the shared goals and interdependencies among maritime professionals and how they vary throughout the activity. Unless the shared goals and interdependencies can be accounted for, coordination should not be expected.

Moreover, the results further suggest that the tools that maritime professionals use to establish shared information should be enhanced. Given the lag between commitment and action, some information needs to be made available at an early stage, and given the dynamic nature of the activity, some information must be continuously updated. This leads to needs that the existing tools cannot always meet.



  • PhD Thesis


xvi, 176 pages


Australian Maritime College


University of Tasmania

Publication status

  • Unpublished

Event title


Date of Event (Start Date)


Rights statement

Copyright 2022 the author.


Appendix A is the following conference paper: Mansson, J. K., Lützhöft, M., Brooks, B., (2016, 6–7 April). Balancing on the boundary: vessel traffic services in the maritime traffic system. Ergoship 2016, Melbourne, Australia. Appendix B appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Mansson, J. K., Lützhöft, M., Brooks, B., 2017. Joint activity in the maritime traffic system : perceptions of ship masters, maritime pilots, tug masters, and vessel traffic service operators,.Journal of navigation, 70(3), 547–560.

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