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Book Review: Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships The Watchkeeper’s Manual for Limited-Tonnage Vessels By Daniel S. Parrott

November 1, 2011

Book Review: Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships

The Watchkeeper’s Manual for Limited-Tonnage Vessels

By Daniel S. Parrott

You won’t learn the lessons contained in this book from any of the usual source of boating information. The power to control events on the water, as detailed by author Daniel Parrott, is not to be found among safe boating courses, sailing schools, or Coast Guard Auxiliary presentations. Sometimes it takes the unique perspective of a writer with an unorthodox approach to a basic topic, like safety at sea, to blow the roof off old ways of thinking. Such is the case with Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships.

If we are lucky we learn more about boating safety from mentors, teachers, and books than from our mistakes. We study basic navigation, learn to tie knots that hold and let go, make sure to leave red to right when returning, and follow the “Rules of the Road” in passing situations, etc. We rely on our knowledge and experience, and dazzling arrays of navigational electronics that we come to trust, to keep us safe on the water. That is, until something goes terribly wrong.


Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships is about the reasons things go wrong aboard ships, and how to keep things right in the first place. Author Daniel Parrott’s analyzes of maritime disasters make it clear that boating accidents are predictable despite the presence of a well-found vessel, a skilled and experienced crew, and a plethora of high-tech functioning equipment. His book is about identifying and preventing the factors that lead those of us who pilot boats to make bad decisions.

Parrott’s insights into the history, technology, and psychology of boating are impressive. He uses actual maritime disasters as examples to unearth truths that were incomprehensible to those onboard at the time. With each sinking, grounding, or horrific outcome, he teaches us the underpinnings of all boating accidents. The truth is that most are both predictable and preventable, if those onboard only know how to identify and manage potential causes in time.

The book discusses the importance of cross-referencing navigation data, a practice less common in todays high-tech chart plotter world. For those of us who have become complacent, and rely on electronic charts alone for guidance, Parrott shakes us with examples of charts, and ships, gone wrong.

This book is about people, and the skills and resources we need to run a safe ship. Even though Parrott discusses many types of safety gear and navigation hardware, the book is not about navigation technology, modern safety equipment or safety regulations. As Parrott points out, while knowledge of these is important, they are of no value if the captain fails to properly manage the resources at hand.

Parrott’s keen analysis of boating accidents reveals many predictable factors that can result in the loss of a vessel, and of lives. Among those he discusses in detail include the facts that:

  • We all make mistakes
  • We may take the wrong message from surviving our mistakes
  • Stressors like poor visibility, worsening weather, fatigue, and illness steal our situational awareness
  • Reliance on technology that worked in the past can breed complacency
  • Communications between crew members can be misunderstood
  • Distractions and boredom are part of life
  • Mistakes are increasingly likely at higher speed and
  • Decisions may be based on other than facts

Aside from the importance of his message and the thoroughness of its presentation, Parrott is a joy to read. He has the ability to distill complicated, sometimes vague, and often-contradictory facts, into one-line sentences that smack of the truth. His story flows naturally, as the errors of one crisis lead to an expanded understanding of the next.

Every boater who plans a cruise, steers at a helm, or is in a position of responsibility on a boat will benefit from reading Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships. While its title may not raise eyebrows, this book will entertain, educate and make the reader a safer boater who will, naturally, then have more fun on the water.

Bridge Resource Management for Small Ships is available from at a price of $31.50.

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