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Navigating Blind
Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 4:33 PM
Joined: 19/08/2014
Posts: 67

Dawn Mist, a 1960s classic motor yacht, recently sold and was being made ready for a comprehensive refit. All but the most basic systems were stripped from the hull in dry dock and much of the yacht’s deck equipment also was scrapped.

The captain in charge of the refit had to move the yacht from dry dock to a yard 10 miles along a river busy with commercial traffic. While the engines were in reasonable working order and the short passage presented no challenges to the yacht mechanically, the yacht was far from being properly equipped.

The aging radar had been thrown out, along with a retrofitted AIS set. All that was left was an old handheld VHF. The thought of entering the busiest part of a wide river, with no radar or AIS, was unnerving. The job was his first shore-based management project, and the captain knew he was being tested by the contractor, both on his timing and adherence to the job budget. If this job went well, there would likely be plenty more work. Damage the yacht, or have an accident, and his reputation would be ruined.
As the day to move the yacht to the refit yard arrived, the weather was showing no sign of abating and visibility remained poor. Already behind schedule with the project, the captain decided to make a move early in the  morning when the river was slightly less busy; four of the yard team would assist him.
The captain had been given an iPad as a departure gift from his last yacht and was introduced to its marine navigation software by a younger crewmember. While initially skeptical, the system had proven highly accurate in the Caribbean and was easy to use, far more intuitive than the electronic plotter systems he was used to, so it would come in handy on this short passage. Buoys and channel markers in the wide river would be hard to spot, and the iPad would cut down on his workload.
Nigel Josling, an RYA Yachtmaster instructor and examiner with, stresses that iPads and other similar devices are now very much part of modern navigation, even in a commercial and highly regulated context. “Helicopters are now built to accommodate pilot iPad navigation,” he says. “The key issue is not to be dependent on only one source of navigation or position indication.” It didn’t become apparent how busy the river could be until they reached its channel. A lot of chatter was heard over the VHF; boats were announcing their movements in relation to navigation marks to aid safe navigation in what had become very poor visibility.

Turning back was an option, but the past week had shown that visibility might not improve for days, so the captain decided to press on blind. As a precaution, he placed one of the crewmembers on the bow to keep a lookout. The captain focused on the iPad for position information while steering.
“Electronic navigation is amazing and it’s here to stay,” says David Barrie, a Fellow of the Royal Institute for Navigation and author of Sextant: A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans. “However, it does have one big drawback. It is utterly beguiling. Because it demands so little input from the user, there’s a very strong temptation to rely on it completely. Even the most sophisticated electronic systems can and do go wrong, either through human error, such as uploading the wrong data to a satellite, or technical breakdown. The signal from a GPS is also very weak, a bit like a car headlight seen from ten thousand miles away, and can be very easily disrupted. This is a real problem,” he continues. “The U.S. administration is taking steps to implement e-LORAN as a robust backup radio-based navigation system, but this will take time. The key message to the navigator is an old one: never rely on one system and remember to always use your eyes, ears, and, above all, your brain!”

Looking down at the iPad, the captain realized that the yacht’s position disappeared, not realizing that the position information was being drawn from the GPS receiver on his wirelessly linked mobile phone. Without warning, and unable to react to the bowman’s last second signal, the yacht collided with a channel marker, causing significant damage to the yacht’s wooden topsides and injuring the crewmember on the foredeck.
Chris Lowe, the ECDIS course manager at Warsash Maritime Academy in the UK, explains that vessels over 24 meters should be fully compliant with the requirements of their flag state. “All vessels using ECDIS should have a backup means of navigation in a form that’s acceptable by the respective flag state. This should also be included in the yacht’s safety management system,” says Lowe. “In the case of yachts in maintenance moving, for example, a short distance between two yards, using something other than their normal navigation system, the flag state should be contacted well in advance to ensure that the arrangements in place are satisfactory. In its simplest form, this could simply be up-to-date paper charts of the area to be navigated.”

It wasn’t until he was back at the yard that the captain recalled his concerns over his reputation. He may have failed this test.

Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 9:06 PM
We all learn how to navigate but unfortunately people react differently to risk and pressure. Crew member on the bow was essential in this case. The next caution is the age old saying of "If you are not sure, stop, look and proceed slowly if all is safe" I think you get taught that when you do your first deck hand course. A caution to all out there....Be careful of relying on electronic navigation, CHARTS ARE NOT ACCURATE. Even if you do your position/chart checks as you go, the next reef may not be as per the chart. Out at sea it works, but close to land, navigating reefs and channels it is risky. Does not matter what conditions were or charts showed, at the end of the day, as captain, you are the sole responsible person.
Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 7:18 PM
Worst case scenario is working for a Captain or Owner that's willing to risk the safety of the crew and vessel in order to save time and money.   Save a penny spend a pound.
 Average 5 out of 5