Navigation is an instinct in the animal kingdom...
In aviation, as well as when navigating the seas, we speak of “navigation,” which means moving smoothly from point A to point B in a sometimes hostile environment. Humans share this discipline with other animal species such as marine mammals, migratory birds, or certain fish like sea salmon, all guided by their instinct and likely by the Earth’s magnetic field.
The skipper or pilot must navigate the winds and currents, avoiding rough seas or skies and hazards. They set off on their “zinc” as they used to say in the time of Mermoz, Saint-Exupéry, and Aéropostale, or on their “creaky craft” as Aznavour sang, at the mercy of the forces of nature and their own limitations. Their objective is above all to arrive safely at their destination, regardless of their initial motivations, whether it be necessity or pleasure.
... and madness in humans, compensated by technology and self-knowledge.
For millennia, humans, whose instincts and physical abilities are limited, have relied on their ingenuity to move and navigate through space. Whether it is in the air, on the sea, on land, or underwater, their survival depends on their ability to anticipate the journey and react to unforeseen circumstances.
The technological advances of the 20th century have brought essential elements that have democratized and secured light aviation and coastal or offshore navigation, making them accessible pastimes for enthusiasts. These advancements include weather forecasts, GPS systems, the use of new materials, engine reliability, as well as the implementation of rescue systems and survival techniques, which have considerably reduced the risks of visual flight and boating.
Risk = probability x magnitude
As Nicholas Taleb reminds us in his landmark book “The Black Swan,” risk is not just about probability, it is a probability multiplied by a magnitude. It is understandable, then, why any even minimal chance of causing a crash had to be tracked by the aviation industry and the pilots themselves. Thus, minimizing the probability of pilot errors became a matter of life and death.
Aviation understood the importance of checklists to limit human errors as early as the 1930s. These compact and action-tested checklists allow for the accumulation of feedback and drastically reduce the likelihood of oversights or potentially fatal procedural errors.
Indeed, there are numerous limitations of the human machine. During the Private Pilot License training, we learn that “human factors,” in a chapter representing 20% of the theoretical knowledge to be validated, remain the source of 80% of accidents: cognitive biases, routine errors, stress, fatigue, alcohol consumption, poor teamwork or communication in the crew… All these are possible causes of incidents. Of course, the same applies at sea, and checklists are the simplest instrument to reduce these human risks.
Maritime safety, from superstition to checklists
At sea, there are just as many potentially dramatic outcomes as in the air: shipwreck, fire, collision, grounding, drowning, etc. However, a fatalism inherited from ancient navigation persisted until our era. The maritime world long valued oral transmission or personal experience acquired under the protection of gods or providence. Nevertheless, the nautical world long despised written transmission and pragmatic feedback. The Almanach du Marin Breton, launched in 1899 by Jacques de Thézac, was a true revolution in maritime safety, introducing a crucial written support for sailors.
The violence of the marine elements has always given a divine dimension to navigation at sea. The skipper or captain, described as the “sole master on board after God,” became solely responsible for the safety of their crew, and the belief in their infallibility became a condition for daring to embark. As a corollary, the captain’s ego could be boosted to a major risk, that of overconfidence. On the contrary, pilots’ mantra has long been marked by humility: “There are no good pilots, only old pilots.”
What is the purpose of a checklist at sea?
Checklists have multiple applications at sea depending on the situation, whether it’s coastal or offshore cruising or in distress:
1) Basic checks:
Ensuring that all safety procedures are followed, such as checking safety equipment, fire extinguishers, life jackets, etc.
2) Emergency situations
In case of emergencies or critical situations, checklists can serve as precise guides for actions to be taken quickly and in an orderly manner. They provide visual reminders for the skipper and their second-in-command to ensure that all steps are followed in the correct order and none are missed. They help them remain calm and focused, ensuring they follow proven emergency procedures. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel!
3) Onboard communication
Checklists ensure a consistent and uniform approach to procedures. This is particularly important when each crew member follows the same list and procedures, reducing the risk of confusion or inconsistency.
4) Information management
Checklists help the skipper and their second-in-command effectively manage the information necessary for safe navigation. They serve as visual reminders and guide them through the different phases of navigation, ensuring they consider all important variables.
5) Training and learning
They are valuable educational tools, especially for new crew members or people in training. They allow them to understand and memorize the various steps and procedures required for safe navigation by providing a clear and systematic structure.
They are used for regular boat maintenance. They help track maintenance tasks, such as checking engines, electrical systems, sails, etc., allowing potential problems to be detected and resolved before they become critical.
Why the Safetics project?
Safetics, derived from the words “Safety” and “Ethics” in English, aims to prevent pleasure boats from meeting the same fate as the Titanic, which was declared unsinkable but tragically sank. The absence of safety procedures, unnecessary risks, and lack of rescue means led to the loss of 1,520 out of 2,224 passengers aboard the Titanic. Safetics, through its illustrated check-lists, seeks to ensure that pleasure boats prioritize safety and avoid accidents caused by overconfidence or lack of knowledge. The brand was registered in 2012, coinciding with the centenary of the Titanic’s departure, highlighting its commitment to preventing maritime disasters.
In summary, ancient thinkers like Seneca in his Letters to Lucilius already alerted us to the necessity of preparing for events that have a major impact on our reality, even if their probability is low. They knew that the human mind tends to repeat the same mistakes. Boat checklists, synthesized from the experiences of thousands of sailors, are an essential tool for safety, accident prevention, procedural consistency, training, and maintenance.
They ensure that all necessary steps are performed reliably and systematically, thereby reducing risks and improving the efficiency and reliability of operations required for navigation. Since 2012, Safetics‘ mission has been to make the use of checklists an integral part of the boating culture, just as they are in aviation and the professional maritime industry.
Guillaume de Corbiac et l’équipe Safetics