The Marine electronics field has grown exponentially over the last decade and it has changed the way mariners navigate. Modern electronics has enhanced the ability to identify a target quickly. Gone are the days of hailing an unknown vessel via VHF with course, position and speed information in the hopes of receiving a reply from the vessel you are trying to reach. The adoption of AIS (automatic identification system) technology to the maritime safety environment clearly enhanced navigational safety with the ability to quickly identify vessels by name as well as providing relative navigational information. Modern navigation bridge systems are now integrated with components that talk with each other and record all events.
This all sounds great, right? It is in fact great but my concern is that modern mariners are forgetting these are only tools. As a professional mariner one should treat electronics as a tool to provide information to execute the best decision. The over reliance of these tools without supplementing practical experience results in bad decision making. Manual skills will be lost if a mariner does not practice them. What happens when electronics fail and you now must manually navigate without a chart plotter and an electronic position in a congested navigational area?
Standardization, bridge design, bridge team communication are all challenges one must face when signing on board a new vessel. There are standard requirements for Navigation Equipment but not all manufactures use the same terminology and not all manufactures have the same features... Some are quite hard to learn.
What about the helmsman? I have boarded vessels as a pilot where I must ask for a man on the helm. These massive ships are able to have an officer sitting at the console execute turns electronically by adjusting an electronic predictor. I do not feel comfortable taking the conduct of a vessel operation in this mode. This all goes back to my point of practical skills being lost. So, what happens when the electronics fail in this scenario? The Master of the vessel will tell you we can go right to manual mode. That's great but it’s not a practice I want to experience in a confined navigation channel. Also, that poor helmsman who has probably not been at the helm for a long time must regain a skill he should have been practicing all along. Navigating in pilotage waters is an opportunity for the bridge team to sharpen their manual skills not diminish them by over utilizing the ships electronic package.
I am looking forward to comments and continuing this topic.