The marine industry for many years has and remains one of the most unregulated areas of commerce and industry. The question to be asked is ‘can the marine industry afford to remain unregulated?’ in face of mounting pressure from; international markets, government, local market forces and recent courts decisions. And while there are many within the industry (and boating public) who hold high the values, ethics and principles of seamanship from yesteryear and apply those principles in conducting business, it can be argued that this self-regulated principled position is vulnerable to legal attack from an ever changing boating public.
A history of marine culture
Without wanting to seem too naive or remain stuck in the mythology of the past, speaking generally the marine industry and its mariners have a proud history of what is known in legal terms as ‘common law’. How its members conduct themselves, whether at sea or in business, maritime tradition and history has determined a conduct that is drawn from a healthy respect of the sea and provides the basis for common respect between mariners. Upon this backdrop of respect and most importantly a common interest in boating generally, the boating industry and the boating public have developed (without knowing) a set of principles of how to conduct oneself whether it be at sea, entering a port or contracting for a new boat or sail repairs. Put simply, the main underpinning principle is ‘the gentle man or woman’s handshake’ a principle I have referred to in previous publications as not providing the best form of evidence when it comes to litigation.
“For the marine industry the issue is how to reconcile this past business conduct with, what is fast becoming reality, the modern commercial and legal world?”
The inevitability of change
While, in the past there were some rotten eggs who absconded with their boats and failed to pay their bills, these individuals were far and few between and became known around the industry with names such as ‘Crime’ (crime does not pay). The industry self-regulated to control losses overtime and soon these eggs found it hard to get work on their boat completed or at the very least on stricter terms that formed part of the contract protecting against possible failure to pay. This process of being able to make changes to how business is conducted forms another integral part of the principles of common law practice. However, without wanting to over simply the state of commercial reality, the commercial world is changing faster than ever before and in different ways that provides the marine industry with a new set of rules and challenges previously not encountered. Therefore, I would argue that the marine industry and its representative bodies cannot afford to ignore the process of ‘Accreditation’. And while there may be some imposition with new requirements that have not previously been navigated, the process and flowing benefits (short and long term) of Accreditation will assist the marine business as a collective body to match the challenges of the future both known and unknown.
At this stage my readership has split into those who support my argument and those who will be asking what will Accreditation give me that my industry body membership does not already give me? To those not on board (yet) the issue is a question of ‘expectation’, where once upon a time when racing a yacht to Hobart you were lucky to have a communication system that worked all the way to Hobart today the expectation and requirement is to have the latest sat-nav system. And expectations have shifted in industry as once being a member of an industry body gave some legitimacy as certain criteria had to be met. In reality this membership in many cases does not go to the question of ongoing professional development ensuring continuity of standards. How Accreditation achieves its outcomes is through setting criteria for its members that is measured, controlled and accountable.
Accreditation looks and smells like…
What Accreditation provides is a standard against which the marine industry governing bodies such as the BIA can assess their own membership’s behaviour and performance and thereby improve the quality and service provided to the boating public.
Listed below are some suggestions how these benefits can be achieved by:-
- providing greater transparency in business and all other areas of practice;Transparency provides many benefits such as greater public confidence in the accredited body as processes and practices are able to be scrutinised. In an industry that is so specialised, with some customers who struggle to remember port from starboard let alone get their head around the jargon, greater transparency should have a benefit of instilling confidence in the customer especially when it comes to questioning and paying invoices.
- demonstrating to the boating public, government and all other relevant stakeholders that standards are adhered to;Standards can be set and adhered to through continued education programs whereby each member must complete a prerequisite number of hours or points to meet the required standard and training courses and trainers are recognised industry professionals. In some case certain parts of the industry have no formal requirement for training; or the trade requirements when it comes to providing expert evidence in court is questioned; or training beyond TAFE is not required leaving training to industry or the market place to dictate which service provider will succeed.
- enforcing standards forms a significant part of instilling confidence in the market place;This can be achieved through either positive enforcement whereby accredited member receive reduced insurance premiums as part of their compliance or negative enforcement resulting in non-complying members losing their membership in extreme case.
- promoting greater uniformity and consistency in each industry;Uniformity and Consistency is more likely to be achieved through an accredited system where all members are receiving the same standard of further education or of an industry specific standard specific to the special interest area. As previously stated training often stops with TAFE leaving it up to the individual to pursue further education, industry updates and maintain standards.
- the added benefits of sharing resources between either the controlling bodies or between members.Through the formal process of accreditation members may be given the chance to deliver education forums that brings those interested members up to speed with the latest processes thereby benefiting industry and its customers. Two main issues that I have come across in the marine industry is the isolation of its members in respect to resource sharing and missed opportunities from the benefit of resource sharing.
The Final Say
While standing on my soap-box and shouting the virtues of Accreditation it would be very naive to think that this process is the panacea to all industry woes. For costs and ability to meet criteria are very much at the fore front of the marine industry members. Therefore, to make the process work a balance has to be achieved between costs and ability to meet criteria on one hand verses making the Accreditation have teeth so that the public, government and even legal system recognises its legitimacy on the other. Further, that a carrot is used where benefits are maximised for its members and the use of a stick is limited so as to not turn industry members against their relevant governing body, remembering that membership and being accredited is not mandatory. Therefore, if this balance can be achieved the potential benefits for the industry as a whole should be immeasurable.