A thesis (work in progress) inspired me to think about how onboard trainees (OTs) experience their learning onboard. I have recently used ‘reflecting aloud’ in a teaching situation, and the combination of these two above mentioned experiences guided my thoughts to an idea: what if the onboard training supervisors used thinking aloud as a supervising strategy?

When OTs come onboard, they experience a strong socialisation process, they learn the rules of the ship. The rules of the ship are part of the culture and, as we know, culture is like an iceberg, only 10% is visible. How then does this socialisation take place? “Too slowly” many experienced seafarers would say, maybe with a wink. Learning the onboard culture could be supported, and sped up, by thinking aloud.

Let me speculate a bit and give you an example. I have often heard it said that one difference between Group A seafarers and Group B seafarers is that A seafarers lack initiative and only do exactly what they have been told to do, and absolutely nothing more! This annoys Group B seafarers who value taking initiative. No valuation included in this example, by the way. The difference between A and B in this case is cultural, not genetic…how could the value (take initiative) then be transferred to Group A?

Let’s have a closer look. When a trainee comes onboard, they do not know the rules of the ship, they must be told. And telling is ‘verbalising one’s thoughts’, thinking aloud. So, when an ordinary AB works with a trainee, the AB could for example say:

“Yes, we have finished checking the life-raft securings on the port side as we were told, but we might as well do the starboard life rafts now as well. We have time, and it must be done anyway, sometimes”.

The trainee thus gets a first lesson in ‘taking initiative’. In this example, the AB was ‘thinking aloud’, in other words, verbalising thoughts and values. If, and this is important, the AB had not thought aloud, the trainee might very well have thought that the AB had received instructions from the bosun or chief officer, without the trainee hearing it. The thinking aloud exemplifies the 90% of the iceberg that is not visible.

‘The trainee must ask’ is advice often heard, but it is difficult to ask about something that you are not familiar with or about something you cannot see. It is difficult enough for all of us to reflect and ask about our own values and our own culture, thinking aloud is not easy. Thinking aloud is, however, a valuable means for communicating successfully. Writing a thesis is a possibility to think aloud, to bring forward own thoughts. A thesis is about thinking and verbalising thoughts.

When maritime students work with their final papers, theses, they often only have the future CoCs in mind. They are about to graduate. The importance and idea of doing a thesis is pushed aside, even though the thesis process is the first possibility for a student to have an impact on the industry, a small impact yes, but an impact, nevertheless. During the thesis process, the student can also network within the industry, a valuable opportunity. Having read students’ theses for more than 20 years, I have seen good ideas and bad ideas, and most have been honest attempts to improve the industry. These initiatives could be used to raise discussions and to bringing forward different points of view. When crews become more and more diverse, being able to see different ideas about work at sea becomes more and more important. I recommend thinking aloud, be it onboard, or in a thesis.