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The Effective Crew Project was established to examine the benefits and challenges associated with the implementation of either a stable or a fluid crewing strategy on board merchant vessels. This three year project started in April 2017 and is kindly sponsored by the Lloyds Register Foundation and the TK Foundation.

The Effective Crew research develops findings from a pilot study conducted by the same research team and will draw upon best practice from stakeholders within the maritime industry. Data will also be examined from other industries, where currently more information exists, to see how certain practices may be implemented within the maritime industry to improve safety and efficiency at sea.

Project objectives

  • Examine a key variable that has a proven impact on safety and efficiency.
  • Provide new data in an area where the current information is primarily anecdotal.
  • Share best practice from other industries which apply stable and fluid teams.
  • Develop a best practice guide on crewing assignment for the shipping industry.
  • Develop recommendations for those in the shipping industry instrumental to crew assignment.
  • Produce high impact dissemination of the research findings.

The project will ultimately highlight the benefits and limitations of implementing either a fluid or a stable crewing strategy. Drawing on the research findings and best practice from other industries, recommendations will be made on the optimum implementation of these crewing strategies, for the merchant shipping industry.

Further information

The merchant shipping industry is constantly seeking to balance different elements of the crewing equation:

  • Safety - increasing evidence of the impact of the human element in safety.
  • Cost - crewing is commonly the largest element in vessel operating budget.
  • Efficiency – the drive to demonstrate increasing cost-effectiveness in a competitive marketplace.

One of the areas impacting on this equation is how crew are allocated to vessels and how long a senior team works together on the same vessel. Does maintaining a consistent senior team deliver benefits in safety, efficiency and cost?

In the merchant shipping industry there are companies operating a stable crewing strategy where the same senior officers (top four) operate on a back-to-back basis and return to the same vessel for several trips, with all four joining and leaving the vessel at the same time. Other companies operate a fluid system where senior officers are assigned to any appropriate vessel and will sail with different senior officers every trip.

Little literature exists regarding the benefits and challenges of these strategies within the shipping industry. Captain Kuba Szymanski, General Secretary of InterManager says:

We in the shipping industry are full of great examples, but majority of them are all anecdotal and what we are missing is good, hard scientific research which would form a basis for actions.

Evidence from other industries including healthcare, aviation and professional sports suggests the benefits of maintaining stable teams include: improved safety; building team identity; sharing skills; improved efficiency, motivation and morale. These could be of significant value to the shipping industry, particularly regarding safety performance and seafarers’ welfare.

Media and press releases

  • Linington, A., 2017. Researchers to further investigate pros and cons of different crewing practices. Nautilus Telegraph, 21 July.
  • Anon., 2017. Researchers look into optimum crew policy. Nautilus Telegraph, 2 June.
  • Southampton Solent University, 2017. Crew efficiency project awarded £175k funding, in: Official Southampton Solent University [online], 26 May. Available here.

Project dissemination

7 June 2017: International Conference on Maritime Policy, Technology and Education. Hosted by Southampton Solent University and Shanghai Maritime University in Southampton, UK.

3 May 2017: Research and Innovation Conference. Southampton Solent University, Southampton, UK.

Future activities

CrewConnect Global, 7-8 November 2017
Project members Dr Kate Pike and Chris Wincott will be presenting for the second time at CrewConnect Global in Manila. The international audience will hear about the project's progress and will be able to participate in the research and future data collection.

Current activities

Data is currently being collected through the online survey. The survey forms the first phase of data collection for the project and will collect maritime stakeholders' views, as well as examples of best practice surrounding crewing strategies and their implementation. The survey is aimed specifically at seafarers, insurers, recruiters, ship managers, and owners.

The team have been working on the project dissemination at various conferences and with the media.

Past activities

Team members attended two events held as part of London International Shipping Week in September 2017. The events provided the team with the opportunity to inform and engage with maritime stakeholders about the project.

Related reading

ALDERTON, T., 2004. The global seafarer: Living and working conditions in a globalized industry. International Labour Organization

BONEBRIGHT, D.A., 2010. 40 years of storming: a historical review of Tuckman's model of small group development. Human Resource Development International, 13(1), 111-120

BUSHE, G.R. and A. CHU, 2011. Fluid teams: solutions to the problems of unstable team membership. Organizational dynamics, 40(3), 181-188

DINEEN, B.R., 2005. TeamXchange: A team project experience involving virtual teams and fluid team membership. Journal of Management Education, 29(4), 593-616

EDMONDSON, A.C., 2003. Speaking Up in the Operating Room: How Team Leaders Promote Learning in Interdisciplinary Action Teams. Journal of Management Studies, 40(6), 1419-1452

FISHER, S.G., T.A. HUNTER and W. MACROSSON, 1998. The structure of Belbin's team roles. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 71(3), 283-288

GOODMAN, P.S. and D.P. LEYDEN, 1991. Familiarity and group productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76(4), 578

GLASSOP, L., 2002. The organizational benefit of teams. Human Relations, 55(2), 225-249

HELMS, C.P. and R.M. WYSKIDA, 1984. A study of temporary task teams. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, (2), 55-60

HUCKMAN, R.S. and B.R. STAATS, 2011. Fluid tasks and fluid teams: The impact of diversity in experience and team familiarity on team performance. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, 13(3), 310-328

HUCKMAN, R.S., B.R. STAATS and D.M. UPTON, 2009. Team familiarity, role experience, and performance: Evidence from Indian software services. Management science, 55(1), 85-100

KATZ, R., 1982. The effects of group longevity on project communication and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, , 81-104

MENDONA, D., J.D. BROOKS and M. GRABOWSKI, 2014. Linking team composition to team performance: an application to postdisaster debris removal operations. IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems, 44(3), 315-325

MICHAN, S. and S. RODGER, 2000. Characteristics of effective teams: a literature review. Australian Health Review, 23(3), 201-208

MITROPOULOS, P. and B. MEMARIAN, 2012. A Framework of Teamwork Attributes Affecting Workers' Safety. Construction Research Congress 2012: Construction Challenges in a Flat World. pp.1400-1409

PROGOULAKI, M. and M. ROE, 2011. Dealing with multicultural human resources in a socially responsible manner: a focus on the maritime industry. WMU journal of maritime affairs, 10(1), 7-23

TANGHE, J., B. WISSE and D.F. VAN, 2010. The Formation of Group Affect and Team Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Identification. British Journal of Management, 21(2), 340-358

TUCKMAN, B.W., 1965. Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63(6), 384

TUCKMAN, B.W. and M.A.C. JENSEN, 1977. Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427

WEGNER, D.M., 1987. Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. Theories of group behavior. Springer, pp.185-208


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