Smile! The PSC Officer is here…

In a timely email, we just received some guidance from our company office about dealing with port state control (PSC) officers.  Having just left a port where we fully expected an inspection under the Paris MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), the next port or next time through that particular port, it’s a sure thing.  

Our quality manager put together a presentation that addressed some techniques to help such inspections go more smoothly.  Having a ship that is in good order is key, but there are times when interpersonal skills will make even a difficult inspection easier.

ENGAGEMENT INITIATIVES:

1.MAKE LIFE EASY FOR HIM

Make life easy for an inspector. Keep things ready and make things convenient for him

2.GANGWAY TO ACCOMMODATION

‘First impression is the best impression’

Most PSC officers have already made an opinion about your vessel from the time they step on your gangway till the time they enter the accommodation

3. LOOK YOUR BEST

‘First impression is the best impression’

It portrays professionalism, experience & knowledge – a clean boiler suit or uniform and people using proper PPE is pleasing to see

4. ENGAGE A SENIOR OFFICER

A senior officer should be along to escort & properly answer any questions the PSC officer may have, it is also human nature to feel special when given attention

5. STRIKE A CHORD

It is always a good idea to be friendly & strike a good chord, agreement in conversation is a way to “win a psychological point”

6. KNOW YOUR FACTS

Do not state that something is true unless you absolutely know it is – be prepared to prove it if necessary

7. STICK TO THE SUBJECT

When asked when the last time the boat was lowered was, give an answer to the point

8. BE RECEPTIVE

The PSC officer has been on many vessels of different companies, he may recommend good practices on your vessels based on his experience

9. DO NOT ATTACK

Do not be overly defensive or blatantly aggressive, try to voice any disagreements through objective counter points/discussion

AND, lastly, but should be the first thing you do when meeting the PSC officer,

10. SMILE!

That smile in greeting is a positive way to start your engagement.  Let’s face it, the poor PSC officer goes from vessel to vessel where they are seldom greeted with open arms and enthusiasm.  The intent of port state control inspections is increased safety and security for the crew and vessel.  However, PSC is normally viewed as the source of detentions, deficiencies and paperwork.  Building rapport with the inspector is one way to make the engagement more positive for both of you.

“Rapport is created by a feeling of commonality.” – Tony Robbins

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recognized that leadership skills were lacking in the maritime industry and required additional leadership and management courses.  Such so-called “soft” skills include subjects such as communication and building rapport (more likely discussed as team-building). 

Rapport usually exists between people who are alike – namely, we are most comfortable with people who have things in common with us and believe what we believe.  Unfortunately, a very small percentage of overall communication is spoken (10%) versus the unspoken (90%), so asking questions and exchanging ideas is a very small part of communicating  and gaining rapport.  So, let’s talk about some unspoken methods first….

And is starts with a smile.  First, a couple of facts : 1. Physically smiling, even if you are unhappy will lift your mood.  2. We tend to mirror those with whom we come in contact.  In other words, if you smile when you greet the PSC officer, they will tend to smile.  And if they smile, even if they are in a bad mood, their spirits should lift. 

And it continues with a handshake.  Why a handshake?  It comes down to biology as much as psychology.  When we have skin to skin contact, a brain chemical called oxytocin is released that aids in building bonds and trust.  As motivational speaker Simon Sinek puts it, “We shake hands in business. We do handshake deals without contracts, but not the other way around.”  Let’s be honest though, that handshake should be warm and firm.  We’ve all had that limp handshake that does nothing to build rapport.

Attempting to build rapport during an inspection or audit may not make the inspection go well – particularly if there are significant deficiencies on your vessel.  However, you and the PSC inspector are likely going to have a better day than if the relationship is contentious.

Additional Reading and Resources

UK P&I Club : Port State Control – A Guide for Members

ABS : Pre-port Arrival Quick Reference 

Lloyd’s Register : ISM & ISPS pocket checklist – Reducing the risk of Port State Control detentions

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