What are Cognitive Skills and why are they important? - Safebridge
What are Cognitive Skills and why are they important?
Cognitive Skills, Resources

What are Cognitive Skills and why are they important?

Big data and the continually advancing IT systems in the deck and engine departments create a demand for modern-day seafarers to be capable of processing more complex information increasingly, on a daily basis. Their ability to do so has a direct impact on the safety and efficiency of the onboard operations and their capability to do it well, highly depends on their level of cognitive skills.

In this article, we are going to define cognitive skills and explain their importance and application in the maritime industry. We will also look at how focusing on and incorporating these skills into your crewing processes will help your organisation adapt to the modern, technologically advancing environment onboard.

What are cognitive skills?

In short, cognitive skills are the core skills our brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. They are what enables us to process information rather than possess the actual knowledge.

Cognitive skills are the vehicle for seafarers’ cognition, which refers to the various processes of their thinking. These consist of specific skills their brain uses to process stimuli.

Lead by the brain; cognition involves the way seafarers learn and understand, the way they perceive the onboard environment around them. Everything that has to do with their daily life such as words, visions or memories, how they process information on the simplest task or the most complex one, these are the skills that seafarers use continuously in order to perform their daily tasks.

Why are cognitive skills important?

The technological advancements in the maritime industry may have and will continue to reduce and automate a lot of the technical tasks a seafarer must perform onboard. However, at the same time, in order to adapt to these advancements, seafarers must now possess strong cognitive skills to enable them to think, remember and learn how to utilise the new technology, new processes and new information generated in the process.

The increasing complexity of the environment within which the seafarer must now operate in, requires a much greater level of situation awareness than before. Too many vessels are grounding, colliding or coming into close quarters with each other, simply because the crew were unable to register and act up all important aspects of the environment. Seafarers who possess high cognitive skills such as spatial orientation seem more aware of the environment around them and seem to know the geographical location of other vessels as well as potential threats that may compromise the vessel safety.

According to PWC, “the workforce of the future will be more adaptable, with higher cognitive skills, comfortable with complexity and ambiguity,…”. Moreover, a relevant research done by PWC concluded that amongst the eight skills found to be of critical importance to survive the automation market, is cognitive flexibility.

It is true that the technological evolution is actively creating a shift in job requirements, something that has remained unchanged for many years and is now becoming a challenge for crew operators in the maritime industry. The modern-day operating environment onboard demands a new breed of seafarers with strong cognitive and soft skills.

How can cognitive skills be embraced on the organisational level?

Embracing cognitive skills begins first in understanding the skills that your crew possesses and understanding them starts with assessments. The second step is actioning this data by incorporating it into your crew selection, promotion and training decisions.

Global leading experts in the field of crew competence management, Safebridge, have been working with industry partners and seafarers themselves to create assessments that address the soft and cognitive skills that are most important when it comes to living and working at sea. They have applied their findings to develop a digital crew assessment platform – SafeMetrix, which allows crew operators and seafarers to assess both soft and cognitive skills and take the first, but very crucial step towards building high performing and modern crews onboard.


It is becoming of utmost importance, that we begin to equip seafarers with the right set of skills and build crews capable of adapting to new and evolving environments. This is rapidly becoming the key to ensuring the safety of the crew and the effectiveness of the operations at sea.

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