Trusting the data – what could possibly go wrong?

As I clung to the mast 90 feet above the heaving deck in the middle of the night, being subjected to the force 9 gale raging around me, I wondered what on earth possessed me to volunteer for this.

What has that statement got to do with technical data accuracy you may ask?

For some years I have been part of the volunteer crew for a 200-foot sailing brig run by the Tall Ships Youth Trust, an organisation that gives youngsters the opportunity to receive sail training. Sailing a tall ship develops leadership skills, teamwork and above all, trust in fellow ship trainees and crew to keep them safe.

A key aspect to keeping a large vessel safe is having access to accurate Admiralty charts, which contain necessary data like water depths, harbour locations and tidal information. Essentially, these charts enable a ship’s officers to navigate safe passage and ensure that the ship will never run aground.

Mariners trust the data because it is the result of surveys that accurately measure water depths at different times over several years and is continually updated to cater for changes due to erosion or silting.

The data is checked and can be relied on. The navigation officer trusts the data.

The same is true for service engineers. Having accurate, up to date information is vital to ensure that equipment is serviced or repaired correctly. Being able to identify the correct part and obtain it quickly means safe and cost effective repairs. No engineer wants to have multiple return visits to a customer because the wrong part has been ordered. Not only is it embarrassing and makes the engineer appear incompetent, but every return visit costs the company, both in monetary terms and reputation.

If a process is changed by a manufacturer or a piece of equipment is subject to a safety notice, then the engineer needs to know. If a part on an appliance has changed, then the engineer needs to know. It’s no good if the data is outdated. Or worse, if the available data is wrong. Having access to the full accurate data at the time of need is paramount.

When the data can be trusted, then the right decisions can be made. Whether that is servicing a piece of vital medical equipment, mending a boiler in a residential property or sailing a 200-foot ship into a small harbour, the same principle applies.

That element of trust is crucial in data, whether it be on the charts that keep ships safe or in the technical and parts manuals that assist service engineers on site.

More information on the Tall Ships Youth Trust and how you can get involved can be found on their website at www.tallships.org