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A view from the FOC'SLE #13: Marine Navigation

BLOG | September 2023

Welcome to a calm and peaceful night up here on the Foc’sle, and I hope that you will find conditions as stimulating as the topic I have chosen for our session this month.

The announcement and subsequent cancellation of the UK Hydrographic Office’ intention to phase out publication of paper charts has brought to mind another matter which I will delve into shortly.

Before that, I must emphasize that paper charts remain an indispensable tool in literally tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of smaller ships, tugs, and fishing boats worldwide.

In many such vessels, there is no space to fit the dual Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires in order to dispense with paper charts. Further, the cost of such installations would be crippling for many owners, as it will be challenging to try training a myriad of perhaps lesser educated crew members in the intricacies of several different ECDIS software systems.

Does anyone remember the collision between “BRITISH AVIATOR” and “CRYSTAL JEWEL”? That was the first and famous (infamous?) “radar assisted collision” in the 1960s where misuse of radar was the proximate cause of a very bad collision.

We now see ECDIS-assisted groundings involving well-found ships and well-trained crews, where the intricacies of electronic charts were either not understood or neglected.

This is certainly not to take a position against electronic navigation, but rather to say, “all things in moderation”.

It must also be realised that many coastal states do not publish sufficiently extensive paper chart coverage, resulting to the UK charts to remain in worldwide use.

However, the decision to withdraw has been withdrawn…..until next time.

This has prompted me to look back in time, to my days as a bridge watchkeeper. It was when the radar was locked up by the Master as he feared it might break down if used too much, and GPS was 20 years into the future.

So, it comes as a breath of fresh air to see the conclusion of another Golden Globe Race.

This is a non-stop round-the-world sailboat race, sailed single-handed, with the only technology used on board being that current in 1968. The boats did carry satellite trackers, but these were to be used only in emergency and their use disqualified a boat using them from the race.

The current iteration of the Golden Globe Race was won by a South African lady, Kirsten Neuschafer. She was followed very closely by an Indian ex-navy Commander, Abhilash Tomy, who suffered a broken back on the previous race but nevertheless put on a historic display of seamanship and courage, not only to get around the world, but to do so in hot competition.

My hat is off to all the competitors, and I feel the race does emphasize that all our present-day gizmos are nothing more than aids to navigation. They don’t navigate by themselves (yet) and our industry must not lose the legacy left by centuries of practical seamen safely navigating their ships down the sea lanes of yore.

So, I leave my fellow watch keepers in a somewhat respectful frame of mind and look forward to our meeting again on the Foc’sle next month, when we will look under the proverbial carpet to see what has been swept out of sight.

Your Lookout Man

capt jon elliot coastal marine

About The Lookout Man

Captain Jon Elliott

Capt. Jon began his seafaring career in 1960.  He spent 11 Years in Taiwan running US Lines and then moved to Singapore in 1980 where he eventually joined Matthews Daniel in Singapore in 1989 and becoming Far East Managing Director. Capt. Jon started his own company Elliott Associates Pte Ltd after his retirement to bring an enhanced level of loss prevention to the Asian Marine industry. Capt. Jon is a consultant to Coastal Marine Asia Holdings Limited in our Loss Prevention Division providing technical guidance to our underwriters, whilst arranging crew and management loss prevention training for some of our insureds.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article are personal to him and do not reflect the views of Coastal Marine or any of its employees, unless explicitly stated. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated. The author and Coastal Marine make no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of any information in the article and we do not accept any responsibility for the same. This publication is provided as-is without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non-infringement.

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