The rise in smartphone and navigation app use provides mariners a lot choices these days. There are hundreds of apps available for the modern mariner to download from tide and current apps to charting and real time AIS information.
I view the innovation and development of maritime apps as an accepted and necessary way of life on the sea for the prudent mariner. There is little a mariner cannot glean from all the apps available to download to your smartphone or tablet. I use apps in both my professional career and recreational fishing trips. I utilize weather apps the most when working professionally. The weather apps remove a lot of guess work of predicting weather events. As an example, I can gain a complete picture as to when squalls, fog and wind conditions may improve or diminish. I also supplement my app quiver with tide, current and charting apps. I use the charting apps on a tablet that can communicate to a ships onboard data via WIFI and Bluetooth. This connection allows me to get real-time position and AIS information on my tablet. What I like about having my own tablet available is that I can set it up exactly how I like without worrying about a bridge team member changing the display I need to see. I also like the fact that having my own tablet on the bridge of a ship keeps the bridge team engaged and focused on the task at hand. It is a tool I use to establish a good master-pilot exchange before proceeding and committing to a passage.
Comments and experience are welcome to continue this discussion… more to come on app use and navigation safety.
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.
This question needs to be addressed with the rising numbers of recreational boaters. I do realize there are recreational boaters who make a responsible decision to sign up for one of the many safe boating courses that are available. My experience is more recreational boaters need to take advantage of these courses. Can you drive a car in your state without showing you know how to drive it? I do not believe there is a need to license a boater. I do feel that basic instruction on Navigation Rules of the Road, weather and the challenges of navigating safely on our waters by means of a obtaining a certificate in safe boating should be addressed. Mariners share the waters with everyone, and it's time to make our waters safer to transit. I have seen boaters anchored in the middle of a federal shipping channel and sailing vessels operating with no regard of the Rules of the Road. Education is the key to making our waters safer and more fun for everyone.