Encyclopedia of Ocean Engineering

Living Edition
| Editors: Weicheng Cui, Shixiao Fu, Zhiqiang Hu

Human Factors in Ship Design

  • Miao Chen
  • Ying-Fei Zan
  • Feng-Lei Han
  • Liang-Tian GaoEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-6963-5_324-1



Human factors is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes, and systems. The goals of human factors are to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety and comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between human and things of interest.

In the nineteenth century, Frederick Taylor pioneered the “scientific management” method, which proposed a way to find the optimum method of carrying out a given task. Frank and Lillian expanded Taylor's methods in the early 1900s to develop the “time and motion study.” They aimed to improve efficiency by eliminating unnecessary steps and actions.

Human factors is a broad-based discipline and has always played a role in the design and operation of ship. However, advancing and applying human factors has been an uneven and thorny process throughout history. Knowledge to be permanently embedded in practice has been commonly discarded and must be relearned, often at great human cost.

The dawn of the Information Age has resulted in the related field of human–computer interaction. Likewise, the growing demand for and competition among marine products have resulted in more companies and industries including human factors in their product design.

Scientific Fundamentals

Human factors is a combination of numerous disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology, anthropometry, interaction design, visual design, user experience, and user interface design (Mccormick and Sanders 2002). In essence, it is the study of designing equipment, devices, and processes that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities.

Human factors is employed to fulfill the goals of occupational health and safety and productivity. It is relevant in the design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces to machines and equipment.

Human factors is concerned with the “fit” between the user, equipment, and environment. It accounts for the user's capabilities and limitations in seeking to ensure those tasks, functions, information, and the environment that suit the user.

There are many specializations within these broad categories. Specializations in the field of physical ergonomics may include visual ergonomics. Specializations within the field of cognitive ergonomics may include usability, human–computer interaction, and user experience engineering.

Physical ergonomics is the science of designing user interaction with equipment and workplaces to fit the user. It is concerned with human anatomy and some of the anthropometric, physiological, and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity.

Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system.

Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of sociotechnical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Physical ergonomics: the science of designing user interaction with equipment and workplaces to fit the user (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_factors_and_ergonomics)

Key Applications

The primary consideration in the safe design and operation of ship is the "human factors," the detrimental impact on safety of the ship, its crew, cargo, and the maritime environment.

The ship architect, marine engineer, other design specialists, analysts, and operators have influence over a number of important design elements that can enhance human factors in a ship. Examples of these elements include the following: hull form (ship motions), structure, machinery (vibration, noise, condition), general arrangements (accommodation, life at the sea), etc.

Hull Form

Ship includes all ships and craft which move on, under or across the surface of the water. Certain hull types are by their nature more stable than others or more prone to produce motions that enhance operator performance and embarked personnel comfort.

At the design progresses, there are six disciplines that should be considered: avoid frequencies between 0.125 and 0.250 Hz; avoid high impact (shock); appropriate length, beam (hull and overall), and centers of gravity and rotation; sufficient wet deck clearance; appropriate for different operating configurations; and appropriate for expected sea conditions (Figs. 2 and 3).
Fig. 2

Ship’s six freedom motion: 1. heave, 2. sway, 3. surge, 4. yaw, 5. pitch, 6. roll (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship)

Fig. 3

Body plan of a ship showing the hull form (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship)


This section provides three guidance materials to help ensure continued consideration of human factors. Examples of these rules include the following: avoid frequencies between 4 and 0 Hz, maintain accelerations below 0.315 m/s2, survive worst-case loading.


In this part of work, approaches for enhancing human factors are listed below: decreased vibration and airborne noise isolation, condition monitoring, and hearing protection.

Airborne noise often begins as structural vibration caused by diesel engines, and is transmitted directly or through a combination of structure and air into surrounding compartments.

The vibration may be low frequency, such as when a vehicle meets waves, or high frequency, such as that driven by heavy rotating machinery (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4

A ship’s engine room: the main source of ship vibration and noise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship)

General Arrangement

Ship is limited in their capacity to carry weight or enclose volume and to generate propulsion and service power. Limitations and potential design responses are developed and compared during the early phases of a ship design. These "trade studies" or "analyses of alternatives" consider numerous technical requirements and recently have begun to consider human factors requirements as well.

Accommodations do not include machinery spaces or operational spaces. In designing accommodation spaces, consideration should be given to stateroom deck area, and the size, shape, and fittings associated with doors, stairs, furniture, and corridors. Stairs tend to be steeper, and there is more noise and vibration on ship. Other considerations with regard to accommodations include ship motion, lighting, temperature, ventilation, and colors (Fig. 5).
Fig. 5

Accommodations onboard (https://cn.bing.com/images)

Access refers to the means provided for people to move about the ship in vertical and horizontal directions. The designers make trade as whether to maintain watertight integrity with a high skilled, dogged steel door tithe weather deck or easy passage with a nontight swinging door. Safety against the sea, weather, hostile combat action, and the ability to move about the ship unhindered are all design considerations within the realm of access.

Safety at sea is always a concern; designers can enhance safety by numerous means including reinforced structural closures, additional handholds in showers and in dimly lit public areas, decreasing or eliminating deck height changes, marking leading edges of stair steps, ensuring life jackets are easily available, and including stateroom balconies in fire boundaries (Figs. 6 and 7).
Fig. 6

Evacuation onboard (https://cn.bing.com/images)

Fig. 7

Lifeboat onboard (http://image.baidu.com/)

Life at Sea is defined by routine. Training exercises encompass fire, flooding, and simulated combat. Some training is grueling and as close to the mental and physical rigors of combat as the instructors can simulate.

Symptomatic areas of concern are those events or conditions that affect a person’s comfort or performance and may be describable only by the person involved in symptomatic areas of concern. There are five symptomatic areas of concern relevant to the design and operation of marine vehicles: motion sickness, spite syndrome, fatigue, sleep loss, and human error.

Human stressors are physically measurable events or stimuli that affect the comfort or performance of a person.

Human–Machine Interface

The human–machine interface is where communication and physical interaction occur between the individual operator or embarked person and a particular component of the ship. Paying attention to the human–machine interface during the design process will enhance personnel comfort and operational effectiveness, information availability, safety, appropriate automation, and commonality of instruments and control commonality, and decrease fatigue, human error, duplication of effort among crew members, and training requirements (Fig. 8).
Fig. 8

The human–machine interface (http://image.baidu.com/)

Future Trends

Human factors is recognized as an important element of design process, though presently this element receives much more lip service than funded tasking in both the naval and commercial worlds. That said, navies and commercial owners are beginning to increase their funding to human factors as a way to improve operator performance and enhance the comfort of embarked personnel.

Several trends pull human factors to the forefront of marine vehicle design and operation:
  • Crew sizes: The first of these trends, observed by all in the marine industry, is the move toward reduced crew sizes. This trend is driven by the high cost of qualified personnel and the increasing capability and availability of automation, which can replace crew personnel with remote sensors and controls. The trend is further advanced through enhanced maintenance practices, which focus on less maintenance at sea by the crew, and the change from periodic maintenance at set time intervals to condition-based maintenance and requirement-based maintenance. Interlaced with this trend are issues involving safety and habitability.

  • Computer capabilities: The second trend is increased computer capabilities, in the field of design in general, and also in the specialized fields of computer-aided modeling and simulation. Simulation enables the prediction of technical parameters such as speed, power, and ship motions. Simulation also has advanced in the field of human performance, with models addressing task allocation among vehicle operators, as well as personnel performance under stressors such as sleep loss, noise, and temperature extremes. Finally, the capability to link software programs has increased exponentially in recent years, enabling designers to communicate between ship behavior programs and human performance programs.

  • Safety considerations: Maritime operating organizations have come to realize that the vast majority of incidents and accidents are caused by human errors, either by designers or operators. These organizations are concerned with injuries and deaths, and are beginning to apply human factors techniques to increase safety.

  • Regulatory changes: Likewise, regulatory agencies have studied the trends, have recognized the role of human factors, and are revising regulations to help prevent incidents and accidents that can cause human and environmental losses.

Human factors research and development are expensive in the larger sense, but acceptable on the incremental level, project by project. Thus, human factors advancement will probably continue to be evolutionary and not revolutionary. The following trends appear reasonable:
  1. (a)

    Reduced crew size coupled with increased automation – This overarching trend, motivated by life cycle cost reductions, will likely continue, with more and more human functions replaced by automation.

  2. (b)

    Performance predictions – Future research may be aimed at developing techniques to better understand the relationships among motion, fatigue, sleep loss, and spited syndrome and be better able to predict the resulting drops in operator performance and personnel comfort (Bri2003).

  3. (c)

    Enhanced interoperability – Interoperability issues will be addressed, enabling an increased flow of information among commercial and naval operators (Clark and Moon 2001).

  4. (d)

    Operator performance linked to vehicle sea keeping – This integration will enable designers to predict the effect of design changes on operator performance, including cognitive performance, physical performance, and predictions of MSI and MII (Colwell 2006).

  5. (e)

    Augmented cognition – The present human–computer interface will evolve to a human–computer symbiosis system that includes artificial intelligence. In this system, extensive information will be available to the human in real time. Distributed, autonomous systems, intelligent agent architectures, and wireless communication will help make the operator aware of critical information upon which to base decisions (Masakowski 2008).

  6. (f)

    Predictive models for effective seat design – Improved spinal injury models will become available to better predict the health effects of repeated impact loading in high-speed craft in rough seas (Bass et al. 2005a, b; Peterson et al. 2004).

  7. (g)

    Enhancement of bridge controls and arrangement – Human factors considerations with regard to bridge controls and arrangement will continue to advance, with software increasing in sophistication and flexibility, allowing monitors and controls to be more readily adapted on the fly for individual users and specific missions or situations (Bowdler et al. 2005, Widdel and Motz 2000).

  8. (h)

    Ship evacuation – Particularly from ships carrying many personnel (e.g., cruise ships, aircraft carriers) – is an area with potential for safety improvement. Areas of investigation could include the effect of lifejackets on personnel mobility (Igloliorte et al. 2006). The results can be used to further validate and enhance programs such as maritime EXODUS (Earl 2002).

  9. (i)

    Robotic fire fighters – One idea that could place the human out of harm’s way is to employ firefighting robots inside the danger zone, backed up by human operators a safe distance away (Sheridan 1992).



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miao Chen
    • 1
  • Ying-Fei Zan
    • 1
  • Feng-Lei Han
    • 1
  • Liang-Tian Gao
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Shipbuilding and Ocean EngineeringHarbin Engineering UniversityHarbinChina

Section editors and affiliations

  • A-Man Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Shipbuilding and Ocean EngineeringHarbin Engineering UniversityHarbin, HeilongjiangChina