Free Article : Separation anxiety

14 Feb 2024 Institute News

The charted track can be a powerful tool, but it is possible to become too attached to it. How do you make sure navigators have all the information they need for a complicated port approach – and that it can be easily monitored and challenged if necessary –without overloading them with detail?

Captain Nick Nash FNI

I recently overheard a pilot commenting that bridge teams on modern cruise ships suffer from ‘separation anxiety’ when the ship is off its charted track (usually a red line on the ECDIS) and thought it was a great quote!

Royal Princess enjoyed a successful season in Alaska this summer due to the highly professional SE and SW Alaska pilots who worked well with our bridge teams – as part of the team, rather than as an addition. It was one of their younger pilots who came up with the term ‘separation anxiety’ after acknowledging yet another call out from the co-navigator that the ship was off track – a clear case of acknowledgement fatigue! 

The pilot was correct. Too many call outs become distractions and can lead to complacency in responding, therefore missing a real threat or danger. We discussed this issue at our next navigational team meeting – hence this paper. How do we remove this separation anxiety and avoid unnecessary call outs, but still ensure that the ship is in safe water, and that heading and speeds are acceptable to the team?

The excellent paper by Antonio Di Lieto and Hans Hederstrom ‘Sharing mental models in confined waters’ (Seaways, June 2018) goes a long way to help solve this issue. Since the paper appeared, CSMART, Carnival’s training facility in Almere, The Netherlands, has been teaching the use of safety corridors and ‘ranges’ for headings and speeds. However, this information is difficult to put onto the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC). Unless it is displayed adjacent to the ENC, it is not easy for the co-navigator to use the Probe, Alert, Challenge, Emergency (PACE) model recommended in the article if they believe the navigator is out of range on a heading or speed.

Following on from these issues and our team discussions about ‘separation anxiety’, I have been looking at how best to put Di Lieto and Hederstrom’s ideas into a practical form which works as an envelope around our charted track line – the ‘red line’ on ECDIS. The key to a safe arrival is correct use of the ENC and ECDIS equipment – in our case, as instrument navigators backed up by visual clues, good BRM and a sensible realistic plan with a pilot who has expert up-to-date local knowledge. In my previous paper ‘The Marine Approach Chart’ (Seaways, November 2017) I tried to emulate the Jeppesen airport approach chart to support this approach. However, after using it for a while I have found this to be too compact and too small for realistic use as a tool for the navigation team. These chartlets were fine for briefing and discussion before the event, but little use on the approach to the harbour and docking. Ships face a few more obstacles than aircraft, which take off and land in a ‘clean’ air envelope that encompasses the aircraft. We do not have that luxury and our approach to a berth is littered with rocks, shoals,recreational craft, fishing vessels and other large ships.

I have been looking for a different way to present useful information to the navigation team to ensure the ship remained within a planned safety envelope. Ideally, this would be used first as an effective briefing method, andthen in real time alongside the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) to assist the navigation team, rather than just being a ‘death by Power Point’ presentation.In response to this need, I have developed an Approach Table (see opposite) displaying relevant information, along with acceptable track and speed ranges, which can be displayed adjacent to the navigator/co-navigator, possibly on a laptop or tablet.

Using the approach table
This Approach Table will be the key for P.A.C.E. It should be displayed up front between the navigator 
and co-navigator, adjacent to the ENC. It would help the team if the Operations Director (Captain) also has this displayed close to their work station, giving an important overview. The best way to display the table is to have it incorporated into a PowerPoint presentation of arrival information (see overleaf). A recent arrival into Ketchikan,Alaska is a good example of how this table can be used: