This research proposes a proactive modelling approach that combines Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM) and Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS). Principally, the suggested model helps predicting and eliminating the root causes behind the frequently repeating deficiencies on board ships. Supported with qualitative simulations, the HFACS FCM model is demonstrated on a fire related deficiency sample database. The findings indicate that the root causes of a fire related deficiency on board ship might be revealed in various levels such as unsafe acts, pre-conditions for unsafe acts, unsafe supervision, and organization influences. Considering the determined root causes and their priorities, the Safe Ship System Mechanism (SSSM), Safe Ship Operation Mechanism (SSOM), and Safe Ship Execution Mechanism (SSEM) are constituted. Consequently, the paper has added value to both predicting the root causes and enhancing fire-fighting potential which provides reasonable contributions to safety improvements at sea. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.