WAYPOINT - Making equipment part of the team

01 Oct 2014 The Navigator

Dr Andy Norris, an active Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Nautical Institute, discusses the human-machine interface and the role that equipment plays in day-to-day operations on the bridge

In many ways, bridge equipment also acts as part of the bridge team. The way in which users interact with the equipment is known as the human machine interface (HMI). The HMI covers such things as displays, menus, switches, controls and audio signals.

An expert user can set the menus, controls and switches to allow the equipment to perform its tasks in the way best suited to the user’s immediate needs. The information that the equipment feeds back to the user will greatly improve their overall situation awareness, and will usually encourage further interaction with other equipment – and the view from the bridge windows. This continuous interaction between human and machine leads to the vessel being navigated in a safe and efficient manner.

Anomaly awareness
In fact, knowledgeable interaction between a user and the many items of equipment on the bridge creates an excellent team that can identify suspect information being provided by any particular piece of equipment. For example, if the range and bearing of the radar returns from charted objects do not tie up with that shown on the ECDIS, then the user immediately becomes aware that there is an anomaly that must be resolved quickly. Extra caution therefore needs to be applied, not least in alerting other bridge staff.

On track?
On many vessels, unfortunately, the OOW is often the only person on the bridge. This makes effective teamworking with the equipment absolutely vital. On seemingly straight-forward passages, especially at night, it is easy to be wrongly convinced that everything is OK if the user has only minimal interaction with the equipment.

All might seem well. There are no other vessels in sight or on the radar, and the electronic chart shows that we are on track. But are we really OK? For example, on many installations, any positional errors in the GNSS will affect both the trackkeeping autopilot and the vessel’s position on the electronic chart. It would, therefore, always look as if you were on track, even if the reality was a 100NM error in the positional information!

A reasonably significant offset in the track would have been evident over some time in the gyro readings – have you been taking these into account? In coastal regions the radar can also act as a pretty good positional check. Away from the coast, have you ever tried using the auto DR/EP facility that is available on all modern ECDIS equipment? Over, say, 30-minute intervals, does it indicate that the GNSS position remains believable, taking into account the expected range of natural errors in the log and gyro?

Minimising human error
All this is real teamwork with the equipment and, together with the essential need to match everything up with the view from the bridge windows, it contributes enormously to situational awareness and greatly reduces the risk of accidents. Just as significantly, good teamwork with the equipment will also quickly correct any mistaken assumptions by the user.

Better interaction?
Equipment is becoming more intelligent, which should allow for better interaction with the human bridge team. Unfortunately, even on modern equipment, unnecessary alarms and alerts often upset the teamwork between users and equipment. This is particularly problematic on ECDIS and radar equipment. However, many of the issues are caused by the human user selecting inappropriate settings on the equipment. It is therefore vital that the user selects settings that are suitable for each particular phase of the voyage, and makes sure that they are correctly input. But this is just another example of good teamwork...


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