Training for the public’s strongest safety advocate



Kevin Gregory, vessel traffic services manager, Port of London Authority, London, United Kingdom


The increased perception of a VTS

The role, functions and benefits of a vessel traffic service (VTS) have evolved and grown exponentially over recent years with the advent of new technologies and processes and, as such, VTS is now widely recognised as a powerful risk mitigation tool that can help make waterways safer and more efficient. Such evolution and growth can be readily evidenced by the wide and varied work of groups such as the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) VTS committee, and the associated guidelines and recommendations produced that influence and shape the worldwide development of VTS.

Technology continues to be exploited with a range of high-tech and integrated sensors, systems and processes now available to support the core functions of a VTS. This has without doubt increased the capability of VTS Centres worldwide taking them to a new level in their ability to plan, manage and monitor a diverse range of vessels in what is also a rapidly developing and changing shipping industry.

An example of such enhanced recognition as a powerful risk mitigation tool has been the increased public perception of a VTS. This has become steadily more apparent in recent years as the role of a VTS has become clearly defined. As such VTS is, and rightly so, being judged against the guidelines and recommendations specified by IALA and others. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this was in the comments of Deborah A P Hersman, chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, who referred to the function of VTS as being “to protect the public interest by checking unsafe actions or unsafe operators” and further as a VTS being “the public’s strongest safety advocate”.

The increased role of the human

With this increased perception it is wholly reasonable that there is a focus on equipment and technology to assist a VTS in meeting its overarching goals. However, attention also has been paid to those people manning VTS centres worldwide. The Port of London Authority (PLA) operates one of the largest VTS areas in the UK covering some 600 square miles of waterway. Overseeing this is a team of 44 of which some 40 are, due to the nature of their role, trained to IALA recommendation V-103 (Standards for Training and Certification of VTS Personnel) as VTS professionals. With a relatively large contingent of VTS professionals, the PLA developed its own programmes of VTS training and achieved IALA and MCA accreditation in 2011 and is currently approved to deliver IALA V-103/1 VTS operator training and MCA VTS refresher training.

The changing nature of the worldwide maritime industry has resulted in challenges to the well-established recruiting pathways. It is no longer guaranteed to be possible to recruit a new VTS operator (VTSO) from a traditional International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) seagoing background. This makes the training process critical, particularly with a diverse range of learners as it is essential to meet the individual needs of each VTSO while providing a challenging learning experience for all members of the class.

Whilst it is essential for VTSOs from a non-seagoing background to attain an appropriate level of nautical knowledge, there are also benefits in recruiting such VTSOs. It could be suggested that while they would hold a level of nautical knowledge wholly relevant for their role, they would be free from some of the human-factor assumptions that inevitably exist in a hierarchical industry such as the seagoing sector. This, in many cases, results in the provision of VTSOs who are prepared to intervene and question vessels participating in a VTS area with little deference to rank or on board status which, it could be argued, further enhances the safety benefits of a VTS.

Theories and principles of learning

The emphasis of the training programmes is focussed primarily on the end result, being fully qualified, competent and professional VTS staff. This has been achieved through a process of extensive study in the theories and principles of learning and training development. It results in innovative training programmes that place the VTSO at the centre of all learning activity while embedding the core attributes of VTS professionals; commitment, courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity and loyalty.

To achieve this several overarching principles have been developed with regards to the development of VTSOcentred training. Wherever possible the sessions are related directly to real life VTS or maritime scenarios that the learners can readily relate to, the lessons are designed so as to be predominantly learner-led thereby fostering the sharing of professional knowledge and experience amongst the group. Importantly, the instructor acts as a facilitator leading and guiding the learners to bring their operational and professional experience to the forefront of the session.

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