WAYPOINT - Exploring competencies

01 Feb 2016 The Navigator

Dr Andy Norris, an active Fellow of The Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Navigation, looks beyond basic competencies and asks how navigators can build on what they already know.

There is no limit to the degree of competence that can be achieved in a job as demanding as a bridge officer. Raising your own competence not only reduces the likelihood of your decisions contributing to an accident, but also significantly increases the chances of bettering your career.

An important part of enhanced competence is in staying up to date with the emerging issues within the maritime world, well before they contribute to formal training and legislation. Keep an eye on news about the latest maritime accidents – would you have been misled under the same circumstances? Also, visit websites such as those of IMO, IHO and IALA regularly, to see the direction that international thinking is going and how it might affect future navigation-related tasks. This will help you fully understand the reasons behind proposed changes, most of which are directed at enhancing safety, perhaps in areas where you never realised there was an issue. This will greatly help your own awareness of potential problems.

An area often overlooked is navigationrelated research into technology. Much of the work in this field is aimed at reducing weaknesses in our present systems, some of them quite newly recognised. For example, many bridge officers have only recently become aware of the vulnerabilities of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) to simple jamming and interference, even though this has been causing ever-increased discussion by specialists over many years.

Of course, all bridge officers have been taught never to rely on any single navigational aid – but detailed knowledge about potential problems really assists you in detecting them, and improves your decisions on the actions needing to be taken as a result. Somewhat ironically, most maritime users of GNSS actually experience very high levels of availability and accuracy, giving the false impression that technology is always right.

Technical details
Because of the vulnerabilities of GNSS, and not just jamming and interference possibilities, technologists have put in a lot of effort into looking at alternative systems to satellite positioning. For example, there has been a huge growth of interest in inertial systems based on MEMS (micro-machined electromechanical systems) and, more recently, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) principles. Understanding more about such systems highlights their important potential advantages – they are totally independent of any system external to the vessel and cannot be jammed.

Perhaps this knowledge helps emphasise the advantages of using established dead reckoning/estimated positioning (DR/ EP) techniques at sea. All modern ECDIS systems have a DR/EP mode that operates parallel to the normal GNSS-based system, greatly simplifying the technique. Few navigating officers seem to use this facility, even though it could be invaluable in detecting gross GNSS problems, particularly in ocean waters. Admittedly, you have to be knowledgeable to use it – but that is what enhancing your own competence is all about.

Good use of web search engines, at least when onshore, will help you keep in touch with evolving navigation technology. Simply entering the term ‘navigation technology’ results in numerous interesting links. Do check the origins of the source, but just about every link resulting from this particular search item will lead to interesting and often highly valuable information. In addition, the websites of the Royal Institute of Navigation and similar bodies offer great insights into how the wider navigational world is evolving.


Contact RIN at: www.rin.org.uk | 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AT | Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 3134