UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!





Accidents cost the Army about $500 million each year and significantly reduce mission capabilities. Because the Army must be prepared to operate worldwide in many different watercraft environments, the watercraft mission has become increasingly demanding and so have its inherent risks. This increase in risk requires leaders to balance mission needs with hazards involved and to make wise risk decisions.

Risk is the possibility of a loss combined with the probability of an occurrence. The loss can be death, injury, property damage, or mission failure. Risk management identifies risks associated with a particular operation and weighs these risks against the overall training value to be gained. The four rules of risk management are to--

  • Accept no unnecessary risk.

  • Accept risks when benefits outweigh costs.

  • Make risk decisions at the right command level.

  • Manage risk in the concept and planning stages whenever possible.


Follow these steps to manage risk:

  • Identify hazards. Look for hazards in each phase of the training or operation.

  • Assess the risk. Ask these questions:

    - What type of injury or equipment damage can be expected?

    - What is the probability of an accident happening?

NOTE: A low probability of an accident and an expected minor injury equals low risk. A high probability of an accident and an expected fatality equals high risk.

  • Develop risk control alternatives and make risk decisions. If the risk cannot be eliminated, then you must control it without sacrificing essential mission requirements. You can control some risks by modifying tasks, changing location, increasing supervision, wearing protective clothing, or changing the time of operation. Decisions take several forms:

      - Selecting from available controls.

      - Modifying the mission because risk is too great.

      - Accepting risk because mission benefits outweigh potential loss.

  • Implement risk control measures. Integrate procedures to control risks into plans, orders, standing operating procedures (SOPs), and training. Ensure risk reduction measures are used during actual operations.

  • Supervise the operations. Leaders must know what controls are in place and what standards are expected and then hold those in charge accountable for implementation. This is the point when accident prevention actually happens.

  • Evaluate the results. Include the effectiveness of risk management controls when assessing the operational results. Use lessons learned to modify future missions.


Assessing risks has no hard and fast rules or formats. For example, presail orders and inspections are essentially an assessment of risk. Different missions involve different elements that can affect operational safety. However, six elements are central to safely completing most missions:

  • Planning.

  • Supervision.

  • Soldier selection.

  • Soldier endurance.

  • Weather.

  • Mission essential equipment.

Using matrices that assign a risk level to each of the elements is one way to quickly assess the overall risks. The following matrices are examples of risk assessments for the seven elements common to watercraft missions.

NOTE: The factors are arbitrarily weighted. Modify them based on your particular mission and unit.

Measure planning risk by comparing the level of guidance given to the time and effort expended on preparation.

EXAMPLE: A landing craft ordered to make a dry ramp landing on a beach that had not been surveyed for gradient and underwater obstructions would create a high risk situation.

Measure supervision risk by comparing command and control to the mission environment.

EXAMPLE: Your vessel has been placed under operational control of a Navy unit. You cannot adequately communicate with the Navy unit because of equipment incompatibility and communication procedures. In a night tactical environment, the risk becomes high.

Measure soldier selection risk by comparing task complexity with soldier exerience.

EXAMPLE: You are the master operating an LCU with no mate on board in restricted waters. If you leave the bridge, you place the vessel at high risk.

Measure soldier endurance risk by comparing the mission environment with availability of basic needs. (that is, rest, food, and water).

EXAMPLE: You are the master on an LSV operating in coastal waters with a crew shortage that does not allow for adequate crew rest. This places your vessel at high risk.

Measure mission environment risk by comparing the level of supervision to the task location.

EXAMPLE: You are operating a causeway ferry (CF) during a LOTS operation off the coast. Severe weather is moving in. Safe haven is four hours away, but you have been released only two hours before the weather hits. This places your vessel at high risk.

Measure equipment risk by comparing the availability of mission essential equipment with the readiness of that equipment.

EXAMPLE: You are an operator of a LARC-60 carrying very important persons during a LOTS operation. You do not have an enough life jackets for personnel on board. This places the crew and passengers at high risk.

After assessing all the risks, the overall risk value equals the highest risk identified for anyone element. Next, focus on high risk elements and develop controls to reduce risks to an acceptable level. Control examples may include more planning; changes in location, supervision, personnel, or equipment; or waiting for better weather.


The level of the decision maker should correspond to the level of the risk. The greater the risk, the more senior the final decision maker should be.

Medium risk training warrants complete unit command involvement. If the risk level cannot be reduced, the company commander should decide to train or defer the mission.

Operations with a high risk value warrant battalion involvement. If the risk level cannot be reduced, the battalion commander should decide to train or defer the mission.

However, vessel masters aboard Army watercraft that are under way must make high risk decisions based on their judgment of the situation.


The following options can help control risk:

  • Eliminate the hazard totally, if possible, or substitute a less hazardous alternative.

  • Reduce the magnitude of the hazard by changing tasks, locations, or times.

  • Modify operational procedures to minimize risk exposure consistent with mission needs.

  • Train and motivate personnel to perform to standards to avoid hazards.


Leaders must monitor the operation to ensure risk control measures are followed. Never underestimate subordinates' abilities to sidetrack a decision they do not understand or support. Monitor the impact of risk reduction procedures when they are implemented to see that they really work, especially for new, untested procedures.


Risk management gives you the flexibility to modify your mission and environment while retaining essential mission values. Risk management is consistent with METT-T decision processes and can be used in battle to increase mission effectiveness.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list