WAYPOINT - Drawing parallels between air and sea navigation
Dr Andy Norris, an active Fellow of The Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Navigation, looks at marine navigation in the broader world of navigational practice and technology
The airline industry is often mentioned when marine navigation is under scrutiny. I was recently fortunate to have had a long discussion with Paul Hickley: a Fellow of the RIN and former senior instructor for airline pilots. Although fundamental navigational principles apply equally to both sectors, it is remarkable how different the detailed practice of navigation can be in each. Perhaps surprisingly, however, as technology evolves further, these differences could well become less marked.
Compare and contrast
An aircraft’s onboard flight management system (FMS) automates much of the in-flight navigation. In addition, the flight plan is often determined by a specialist ‘professional dispatcher’, although pilots are trained to be able to do this themselves.
In particular, pilots enter information relevant to the specific flight, such as loading weights — including fuel — which can significantly change the flight characteristics of the aircraft. During flight, the FMS determines the aircraft’s position and the accuracy of that position and alerts the pilot to any potential problems.
OOWs… will remain navigating officers, not monitoring officers
While the most obvious difference between air and sea navigation is the importance of altitude in aviation, threedimensional navigation remains important on a ship because of (charted) underwater hazards and low structures, such as bridges. In particular, the tidal height is a highly important aspect of some coastal navigation. In common with aircraft, the loading of the vessel must be controlled so that it remains stable under all conditions and the safe under-keel clearance is always known.
Currently, sea-going vessels do not have mandatorily carried equipment, or anything that reliably detects non-charted surface hazards like floating debris or large endangered species, such as whales. This therefore needs constant visual awareness and the correct resultant action by the navigating officer.
What’s next for navigation?
In the future there will be greater emphasis on the use of defined seaways and even shore-based instructions for maintaining a passage within the seaway; much like current airways. This is likely to be one consequence of IMO’s eNavigation programme. Ironically, in the air there will be some move away from airways, mainly to give more airspace, as many current airways are getting highly congested. This will still be tightly regulated but with a lot of automation.
Inevitably, there will be more automated navigation on ships too, again as a result of eNavigation, but it will be many years before OOWs are allowed to concentrate on tasks that are not navigationally centred. They will remain, for the foreseeable future, navigating officers, not ‘monitoring navigators’.
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