Scholarly Technical Education Publication Series (STEPS) Vol. 3

Non-Verbal Language Vol. 3 2017 for Effective Teamwork in the Ship Engine Room


    3/E Erdie P. Taganguin
    Marine Engineering Department Instructor
    Technological Institute of the Philippines,
    Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City


The study focused on the development of hand gestures that can be used by crew members of a ship. This does not use any specific language becuase it aims to minimize wokplace miscommunication that may lead to further accidents.

Ninety (90) Maritime Engineering students from the Technological Institute of the Philippines answered whether the new hand signals are efective. Their response show that the introduced gesture system is very good and they are satisfied with the initiative.

In conclusion, the study found out that the use of non-verbal communications can be easier than verbal because it relies on the arms and hands to get the information accross. It was also found out that using gestures is much helpful and easier to apply than the conventional rules of ship communication.


The Maritime industry is the broad overarching subject that includes fishing, sea exploration, maritime economics and trade, navigation and etc. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy as over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move en masse goods and raw materials around the world.

The job demands qualities such as teamwork and initiative in order to facilitate an efficient and accident-free routine. Teamwork can be also expressed through communication, which is a purposeful activity of exchanging information and meaning across space and time using technical or natural means, whichever is preferred or available. Good communication will bind all crew members most especially when there is no barrier on the communication. Because of that, jobs and duties will become easier, reliable and accurate.

More often, marine engineers work in a very noisy working environment and exposed to risks such as heights due to their work in loading and unloading of cargoes. These work scenarios onboard have a common problem with regards to communication. In order to facilitate this, members often use a standard code called SMCP (Standard Marine Communication Phrases) which is an internationally recognized language of the sea. Also it is supported by the international community for use at sea and developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This system is important to facilitate a smooth flow of instructions or updates from one crew member to another given the noisy work place for the engineers and the distance problem for the deck people.

However, this system is sometimes beset with different challenges. One of the challenge noted is the absence or lack of standard engine room communication signals. There’s also the presence of noise that can potentially hinder conventional communication process. Additionally, culture and belief differences of various nationalities show different ways of communication and one gesture or word may mean differently to another, leading to more conflicts or disagreements.

This research study was made and conceptualized to help the maritime student of Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) cope to some of these challenges and prevent conflicts on their soon-to-be job descriptions with their fellow crew members on-board particularly in communication.

Objectives of the Study

The general objective of this study is to create a universal body language that include hand gestures that will be implemented in the maritime industry to avoid miscommunication, misunderstanding and further human error that might lead to accident.

In addition, this study also aims to cultivate the areas of engine room management teamwork. Through effective non-verbal communication in a workplace it offers everyone the ability to become more familiar with each other and learn how to work together harmoniously. Understanding good instructions and conveying orders in spite of earsplitting noise is a big step geared toward encouraging team growth in the workplace.

Specifically, this research study aims to achieve the following:

  1. Create a new universal body language and hand signals for the entire maritime professionals with different nationalities of different beliefs to promote teamwork;
  2. Propose simple and accurate body languages and hand gestures that will convey commands and orders easily;
  3. Teach marine students in the Technological Institute of the Philippines on how to prevent communication problems onboard.

Significance of the Study

The study will be beneficial to the following:

Students: These body language and hand gestures will serve as their foundation for them to be familiarized and learn basic knowledge.

Professionals: As this study was conceptualized, it will be easier for them to apply this suggested body language and hand gestures to avoid miscommunication.

Curriculum planners: can include topics on “Communication with hand gestures and Body Language” in the syllabi.

Scope and Delimitations of the Study

The content of the proposed Maritime non-verbal communications is only limited for the Maritime Departments of Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP-QC) and also for the Maritime Professional. The research is only intended for interpersonal communication which by the definition means the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and most especially non-verbal messages: it is face-to-face communication Interpersonal communication is not just about what is actually said - the language used - but how it is said and the nonverbal messages sent through tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and body language.

Methodology and Operational Framework

The study adopted the following framework to effectively illustrate the research process. This is illustrated in the below:

Figure 1: Research Process of the Non-Verbal Language Study for Effective Teamwork The Ship Engine Room


The study adopted a descriptive-analytic research design. This is a kind of research wherein the respondents were made to act the desired intervention, in this case the the hand gestures and body language signals, to collect relevant data and information about the topic.


The respondents chosen in this study are the Marine Engineering Department students of Technological Institute of the Philippines, Quezon City. They were chosen by means of random sampling that consists of two hundred (200) Marine Engineering Department Students. The Marine Engineering students will attest and prove how effective the created body language and hand gestures as they conduct actual exercises.

Research Instrument

The main tool used in this study was a researcher- designed questionnaire. The instrument required the respondents to perform an actual operation of a specific machinery using body language and hand gestures. After their performance, selected students were interviewed and asked regarding their opinions on how to effectively use body language and hand gestures in these types of operation.

Hand and Body Gestures

The following pages are the sample body language and hand gestures created to communicate messages onboard a vessel with a noisy environment like the Engine Room, Boiler, Main Engine, etc.

1. Start
Cross Left and Right fingers touching opposite palm repeatedly
2. Open
Both hand in partially close fist position moving the arm and hand in opposite outward pulling motion.
3. Close
Done by jabbing your left hand over your close fist right hand, consecutively
4.Heave Up
Raising your Left Arm in close fist position repeatedly raising it, from bottom to top.
5. Heave Down
Raising your Right Arm in close fist position repeatedly pulling it, from top to bottom motion.
6. Stop
Raising your Right Hand while holding your mouth using the Left Hand means Stop.
7. Move Slowly
Move in side walking position and slowly mimic a walking motion.
8. Swing Left
Swing your body to the Left pointing both index fingers to the left side.
9. Swing Right
Swing your body to the right pointing both index fingers to the Right Side.
10. Rotate
ROTATE TO THE RIGHT- Done by simply rotating your head in clockwise direction.
ROTATE TO THE LEFT- Done by simply rotating your head in counterclockwise direction.
11. All
Raising the Right Arm, pointing your index finger and rotating it in clockwise position gradually
12. Increase
Raising the Index finger from low point to its high point.
13. Decrease
Lowering the Index finger from high point to its low point.
14. Done
Raising the Right thumb, indicating that work its done.
15. Finish
Raising Both Left and Right Thumb means work is completely finished.

Results and Discussions

The data presented the effectiveness of the hand gestures and body signals as assessed by the Marine Engineering students of the Technological Institute of the Philippines. The breakdown of the respondents are presented below.

Table 1: Year level of the Respondents

The pie-chart and the table below assessed whether these hand gestures and body language is an effective system of communication.

Figure 2: Effectiveness of the Hand Gesture System as Indicated by the Participants

The breakdown of the responses per year level is indicated below:

Table 2: Respondents’ assessment of the Hand Gesture System as Sorted by year Level

After the tabulation of the survey results, table 2 shows that out of 200 students surveyed by this study, a total of 90 rated these hand gestures as excellent; 100 rated it as very good while 8 of them rated it as good and 2 of them rated it satisfactory.

According to the respondents say that this newly created body language and hand gestures of this study can be applied onboard so that all maritime personnel will only have a single system of communication. It aims to become a universal body language and gestures to make working conditions in the ships better and prevent, or even lessen, maritime all over the world for us to prevent and lessen the possible accidents caused by misunderstanding and miscommunication through the language and other cultural barriers.

In the diagram above, more than 50% of the students found these hand gesture and body language system to be very good. 45% of the students said that the system is excellent. As almost 95% of the respondents are expressing their positive feedback regarding its effectiveness, the researchers can say that these system is viable and appropriate to be used as an official international signaling system in the maritime industry.


From the findings it is concluded that the use of non-verbal communication with the use of body language and hand gestures are helpful and much easier to apply. Instructions and orders have been much reliable and accurate because of the simple body language and hand gestures. In addition, Students were also much comfortable, even working in a deafening and rough environment if these gestures are used.

It is envisioned that this system will be able to be recognized as an internationallyaccepted standard for communicating with one another inside oversized and noisy ships. The newly developed hand gestures and body language have proven to be a feasible and promising alternative to the present signaling systems used on international shipboard operations.


This research study recommends the further development of this system to align it with the requirements of international shipping and maritime industry. It is also recommended that the maritime industry should consider this system as a viable alternative for communication because it is easy to use, memorize and organize.

This non-verbal communication should be extended not only for one-way communication but can also be used in two or more complex groups of people. Therefore, further research especially on achieving feedback can be embarked and additional research on communication dynamics can be considered.