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Navigational Risk Assessment - Guidance to Operators and Owners

Introductory Note

The advice contained in this section is intended to provide vessel owners, operators and masters with an overview of the risk assessment process and examples of how such risk assessments can be undertaken.

In addition the PLA, through the District Harbour Master or the Deputy Harbour Master (SMS), is able to provide guidance and advice in respect of the risk assessment process.

Email SafetyManagement@pla.co.uk in the first instance with your enquiry and contact details and the person best suited to help you will be in contact.

1. Introduction

The Port Marine Safety Code (the Code) requires that all ports must base their management of marine operations (i.e. their powers, policies, plans and procedures) on a formal assessment of the hazards and risks to navigation within the port.  Furthermore, port authorities must maintain a formal navigational Safety Management System (SMS) developed from that risk assessment.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) maintains such a navigational SMS.

It is important therefore, that where there are particular marine operations, such as specialist one-off towage, vessel movements or new trades, which fall outside the scope of the PLA SMS, those operations are assessed to determine the likely risk to navigational safety.  Also to establish what, if any, additional or new risk control measures are required to reduce that risk to an acceptable level. The district Harbour Master will advise operators if any such operation or trade falls in that category.  It is logical, and not unreasonable, that the approach to and method of risk assessment undertaken by owners/operators in such circumstances is the same or similar to that employed by the PLA.  The result of this specific risk assessment can then interface seamlessly with the wider port SMS.

2. The Risk Assessment Process

For those embarking on this process, it is important to recognise that an effective and comprehensive risk assessment, and indeed the resultant safety management system, can only be achieved with the total commitment of both senior management and those staff involved. There has to be a ‘buy-in’ by all concerned. Communications (including bottom/up, top/down and where necessary external communication), and openness are vital.

The process must be seen for what it is – of benefit to the whole organisation, and in this case the wider port.  It is important therefore for management to involve vessel masters and crews, as well as potentially the PLA, at an early stage and keep the relevant Harbour Master appraised of progress and the outcome of the risk assessment and seek and take his advice when and where necessary. Safety is the business of all concerned, around which the entire operation must function.

Involving crews and staff, and where necessary external advice, in the risk assessment; and utilising specialist knowledge and skills is essential, especially in the identification of hazards and the development or refinement of procedures and defences to mitigate those risks.


Hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm.

Risk is a combination of frequency of occurrence and consequence (outcome).

The risk assessment will typically involve five stages:

1. Data Gathering and Familiarisation
2. Hazard Identification
3. Risk Analysis
4. Risk Assessment
5. Risk Control

1. Data Gathering and Familiarisation

This initial stage has two main objectives: to allow the team undertaking the risk assessment to become wholly familiar with the particular operation in question and also, where necessary; the organisation, its culture, policies, procedures, issues and priorities, and to assess the existing (vessel/organisational) safety management structure and identify any relevant hazards and risks.

The work should include, but not be limited to:

  • A review of current (and relevant) organisational and vessel management and operational procedures;
  • A thorough assessment of the operation(s) in question from a safety of navigation perspective;
  • Interviews with the vessel skipper, crew, management and where necessary contractors or principals;
  • Auditing of selected marine/navigational safety procedures;
  • A review of the requirements, limitations, and technical and contractual requirements of the operation/trade in question; and
  • A review of any relevant established incident database or similar records.


2. Hazard Identification 

This phase seeks to build on the work of Stage 1 and identify known hazards expected to be encountered because of the nature and/or area of the operation, and the existing risk control measures relating to those hazards. Equally importantly, it also seeks to identify any new hazards created as a result of the proposed service or operation. Structured Hazard Identification meetings (HAZIDs) should be held involving relevant marine staff, management, relevant customers or principals and potentially the PLA. The PLA can provide advice on the facilitation of such workshops.

Examples of hazards identified in the PLA SMS are:

  • Collision Collision – During Berthing / Un-berthing
  • Contact - Jetties, Berths, during passage
  • Contact - Bridge
  • Grounding
  • Swamping
  • Fire/Explosion
  • Wash - Passing Traffic
  • Loss of Hull Integrity

1. Contact means any vessel hitting a facility, bridge or other moored, anchored or fixed object.
2. Collision means two vessels colliding whilst underway.

3. Risk Analysis

Stage 3 introduces the concept of risk in a qualitative way in order to prioritise the hazards identified during Stage 2 and assess their impact on navigational safety. As shown above, risk is the combination of frequency and consequence. Prioritisation is an essential part of the process, as clearly, the greater the potential posed by a hazard, the greater the need to ensure that there are control measures, or defences, in place to mitigate that risk.

Sorting and ranking the HAZID output and adding the frequency component (i.e. how often such a hazard could happen – once a year, once every 10 years; 100 years 1000 years…) generates the risk profile. The frequency or likelihood of incidents can be established using professional advice, judgement or experience and, where appropriate, historical data identified in the first stage of the work. However, such historical information may not be available for new specialist trades or for one-off specialist operations.

Normally, risks are assessed in four ways against a common frequency scale:

  • consequence to life;
  • consequence to the environment;
  • consequence to port authority operations; and
  • consequence to port users.

Such an approach not only assesses the impact of hazards on port safety, but also their impact on other important areas of the port infrastructure.

4. Risk Assessment

This process compares existing operations and procedures supported by relevant control measures with the new risk profile created by the introduction of the new trade or operation. It identifies gaps, which will require the introduction of new or enhanced risk control measures to reduce the level of risk to an acceptable level.

5. Risk Control 

This stage identifies the specific control measures to be adopted.  Cost benefit analysis techniques are used at this stage to support the identification and choice of recommendations.

Again, Stages 3-5 are likely to be best achieved through dedicated workshop(s) attended by representatives of all those involved.

6. Linking to the PLA navigational Safety Management System

The scope of work addressed in Stages 1-5 will depend upon the nature of the operation being considered and how far removed it is from established port marine operations (already covered by the PLA’s navigational SMS).

In any event, the outcome of the risk assessment process will identify:

1. Whether the Harbour Master is able to approve the operation; and if so
2. What additional risk control measures, if any, are required to reduce the new risk to acceptable levels.

If the process has identified any new hazards to navigation, the hazard will be scored, and those details, together with information on associated risk control measures, will be incorporated into the PLA’s hazard management database.  Alternatively, the process may simply confirm that the proposed operation/trade relates directly to one or more existing hazards to navigation.  In such cases, any new risk control measures or changes to existing risk controls, will be incorporated into the hazard, which will be rescored accordingly.

7. Further Information

The PLA is happy to supply owners/operators with further information and advice on its approach to the risk assessment of navigational safety.

Either of the District Harbour Masters or Deputy Harbour Masters will be happy to answer any questions you may have.