Angus Ferguson
Educational Technology
Material Type:
Module, Reading
Graduate / Professional
Creative Commons Attribution

Deck Officer Training and Technology: Developing a Critical Approach

Deck Officer Training and Technology: Developing a Critical Approach


This resource is for maritime education professionals. 

The purpose of this OER is to develop a critical approach to the role of the deck officer (OOW) and their relationship with technology. This OER will attempt to try and identify approaches or strategies we can use to enhance our teaching practice and ensure the training and skills delivered to the deck officer reflects their operating environment.

Understanding the Challenge


A ship has traditionally been structured in a hierarchical fashion. The Captain being the person responsible for ensuring the ship, the crew and the cargo reach its destination safely.

The Captain  enjoyed a great degree of autonomy in the way they organised and operated their vessel, with limited communication once away from the coast, they were solely responsible for making decisions.

Communication satellites, navigational system satellites and the internet of things has means that the position of the ship and its systems can be monitored from a shore based location 24 hours a day.

Decisions are made in an office based on the data feedback from shipboard sensors and the Captain is advised as to the optimum route and speed the vessel should take.

The video below, produced by the technology and engineering firm Wartsilla shows the evolution of the seafarer.

Our marine solutions connect the dots, now and in the future | Wärtsilä


The purpose of this OER is to encourage and develop a critical approach to how we, as education professionals, view the relationship between the  Officer of the Watch (OOW) and technology with a view to try and identify approaches or strategies we can use to enhance our teaching practice.

The Officer of the Watch is a key role in the safe navigation of a ship. They are responsible for monitoring the planned passage of the vessel and ensuring that the ship does not pose a risk of collision to other vessels or to the marine environment.

First though, let us be clear about what we mean by the term critical thinking and how we can develop this skill.

Activity: Watch the video below for an overview on what we mean by taking a critical approach.

1.1. CT - Essential Concepts for Critical Thinking

Source: Open Education Edinburgh

The Human - Computer Interface

Throughout this course we will look at theories and concepts from within and outwith the maritime context to develop our thinking on this topic.

How do you view the role of technology on the bridge of the ship?

Which of these statements do you agree with and why?

  1. Technology on the bridge of a ship supports the decision-making of the OOW
  2. Technology on the bridge of the ship influences the decision-making of the OOW

It's important we consider these statements as our answer will influence our teaching strtategies and approaches as maritime educational professionals. 


Read the paper below which highlights the role of technology in the distribution of cognitive load between the human the computer.

Click here to access the paper.

Which of the modes of cognitive distribution  (Dror & Mnookin, 2010 page 48)best describes the relationship between the OOW and technology on the bridge of a ship?

Post your comments on the padlet page link here.

In the next section we will look at the role of technology in our day-to-day tasks.


Dror, I. E. & Mnookin, J. L., 2010. The use of technology in human expert domains:challenges and risks arising from the use of automated fingerprint identification systems in forensic science. Law, Probability and Risk, Volume 9, pp. 47-67.

Eliopoulou, E., Papanikolaou, A. & Voulgarellis, M., 2016. Statistical analysis of ship accidents and review of safety level. Safety Science, Volume 85, pp. 282-292.


Technology and Routine Tasks

In this section we look at how the OOW interacts with technology on a daily basis and whether an understanding of these interactions can assist us in the design and delivery on training programmes for deck officers.

If you are unfamiliar with the equipment you will find on the bridge of a ship and the role of the OOW this video will give you an excellent overview. Episode 4: How I Sea It; How do you "drive" a mega cruise ship?

Much of the role of the Officer of the Watch involves routine interaction with the technological equipment and outside environment.

Developing a deeper understanding and creating awareness of everyday tasks and routines is important. In their paper, Bowo & Furusho (2019) analysed maritime accidents and the primary cause they concluded was that ‘a fairly simple task performed rapidly or with scant attention is the most common cause of maritime accidents’.

What can we learn from the behaviour of the OOW by analysing their routine interactions?

Can we change or influence their behaviour through these interactions to create an intervention which can prevent an accident or incident occuring?

This would require a shift in our relationship with technology and introduces us to the topic of actor network theory.

The OOW and Actor Network Theory

Watch the video below for an introduction on Actor Network Theory.

Actor Networks

What are the implications for the OOW if we consider their role as being linked and influenced by their interactions with the humans and technology they come into contact with in the course of their watchkeeping duties?

The image below is adapted from the the ‘Single action versus pattern of action’ diagram from (Pentland & Thorvald, 2015). On the left hand side we see the role of the OOW as the receiver of data and information from the navigational instruments and they will make a decision based on their interpretation of that information. On the left hand side we see the OOW as part of the network of navigational instruments. This change in view point has implications for how we teach and instruct the OOW in their role.

Diagram showing a comparison between the OOW as the sole actor and the OOW as part of a network.

Would viewing the OOW as part of an actor network theory, change our approach to training? 

Using Metrics to Understand Decision Making

In their paper researching the cause of Electronic Chart Display Information Systems (ECDIS) Car , et al. (2019) found that most ECDIS incidents were a result of the human-computer interface (p.83) as opposed to a technical failure or machine reliability issues. 


Read the paper from Car, et al (2019) below.

Car , M., Vujičić, S., Žuškin, S. & Brčić, D., 2019. Human Machine Interface: Interaction of OOW's with the ECDIS System (pages 74-86). Dubrovnik, University of Dubrovnik, Maritime Department.

A better understanding of how the OOW interacts with the ECDIS and other navigational equipment could lead to the development of more effective training. These everyday occurrences and engagements with digital technologies result in what (Pink, et al., 2017, p. 1) describe as ‘mundane data’.


Read this report on how surgeons are using simulators and wearable technology to better understand the decision making process and inform future actions.

Tracking the movements, minds of surgeons to improve performance

How could data obtained from the OOW be used to improve training ?

Identify some of the ethical issues related to obtaining and using personal data?

There are a number of questions that arise from this section. Click on the link HERE to share some of your thoughts on the Padlet page.


Bowo, L. & Furusho, M., 2019. A Comparison of the Common Causes of Maritime Accidents in Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and England. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, Volume 778, pp. 256-267.

Pink, S., Sumatojo, S. & Lupton, D., 2017. Mundane data: The routines, contingencies and accomplishments of digital living. Big Data & Society, pp. 1-12.

The Post-Humanist Seafarer

Making Sense of the World Around Us

Traditional training programmes and ship simulator courses for an officer of the watch take an anthropocentric view placing human activity at the centre of all operations (Maritime and Coastguard Agency, 2010).  As we have seen, digital technologies have an increasingly important role in the navigation of a ship and the relationship between these technologies and the OOW is an crucial one.

In this section we develop our thinking of the relationship of the OOW and technology.  Is an anthropocentric model still relevant for us as educators or should we recognise that we are now operating in a post-humanist environment?

Firstly, let's  be clear what we mean by the term post-humanist. Watch the video below.

The MAIN DIFFERENCE between Posthumanism and Transhumanism - Dr. Ferrando (NYU), Concept n. 2

Can we say that we are currently operating in post-humanist environment at sea?

We can certainly say we are moving closer towards it and if we want to ensure our training is relevant and that we prepare our OOW for the environment they will be working in, we need to recognise the skills they will be required to develop. This is because the  digital technologies that are common-place and mandatory on the bridge of a ship create and shape our understanding of the outside environment. Our physical interaction with these technologies form an embodied knowledge, the mind ‘cannot be seen as separate from the body or bodily experience.’ (Dufva & Dufva, 2019, p. 19).

While we still teach our deck officers about celestial navigation and the use of a sextant, skills such as 'digi-grasping' will become increasingly important. Digi-grasping is the ‘active and empowered sense-making and participation in an increasingly digitalised world' (Dufva & Dufva, 2019). The significance for education is that digi-grasping is more than a theoretical or technical understanding it reflects the qualities and skills required to operate in the physical and digital environment.

An example of this is the development of virtual reality training for the OOW.


Read the paper ' A ship driving teaching system based on multi-level virtual reality technology'. 

Cao, F.-h., 2016. A Ship Driving Teaching System Based on Multi-level Virtual Reality Technology. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 11(11).

This raises two questions that the maritime industry is facing.

How do you close the gap between the teaching methods and  technologies used in the classroom and what the OOW will be experiencing onboard their ship? 

What is the relevance in  training deck officers  'traditional' seamanship subjects, such as celestial navigation and the use of a sextant?

You can post some of your thoughts or comments HERE.


Dufva, T. & Dufva, M., 2019. Grasping the future of the digital society. Futures, Volume 107, pp. 17-28

Future Training Considerations

In the previous sections we have looked at some of the key issues regarding the current training of deck officers. How by developing a critical approach we can identify and develop teaching strategies to prepare them for their operating environment.

What is clear is that the traditional methods of training our seafarers is not meeting the requirements of the workplace. This is evidenced by the number of ‘human-element’ incidents involving ships. The challenge for traditional maritime educational training (MET)  institutes is that the skills and experience of the qualified lecturers do not reflect the skills required in the workplace (Emad, et al., 2020).

In this section we will look at current developments in the maritime industry and how that may further impact the training requirements of future OOW.

As an introduction, watch the video below.

Rolls Royce future shore control centre

The biggest impact on the shipping industry in the next 10-15 years will be the introduction of commercially operated Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). Four degrees of autonomy have been identified, shown in the table below.

Table 1-2: Degrees of Autonomy (IMO)


Ship with automated processes and decision support.

Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and at times be unsupervised but with seafarers on board ready to take control.


Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board.

The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and to operate the shipboard systems and functions.


Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board.

The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.


Fully autonomous ship. The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.


Autonomous ships are currently in operation in near-coastal waters around Sweden and Norway and in 2021 the first trans-Atlantic crossing is planned to take place using a fully autonomous vessel, the Mayflower

This creates another human-computer interaction which has not yet been encountered at sea. How will the crew of a manned vessel interact with a remotely operated or fully autonomous vessel?


Read the paper below to learn more about the planning of human - computer interactions on the high-seas.

Ahvenjärvi, S., 2016. The Human Element and Autonomous Ships. International Journal on Marine Navigation and Safety of Sea Transportation, 10(3).

The challenge for maritime educators is trying to envisage what the future may look like and, as was highlighted by Emasd et al. (2020) the experience of the qualified lecturers do not reflect the skills required in the workplace. 

We tend to focus our  attention on the skills required for the OOW in the future.

The paper above though highlights a problem in the experience and knowledge of those involved in education.

How do you think educators need to develop their skills and approach in order to remain relevant in a rapidly changing landscape? 

Post your thoughts in the Padlet HERE.


Emad, G. R., Khabir, M. & Shahbakhsh, M., 2020. Shipping 4.0 and Training Seafarers for the Future Autonomous and Unmanned Ships. Qeshm Island, s.n.

Maritime UK, 2019. Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) UK Industry Conduct Principles and Code of Practice. London: Maritime UK.