Sextants

It is reported that the IMO is recommending that some celestial navigation skills be retained for the immediate future. This will probably be taught in shore based training establishments.  Michael Grey wrote this short article in a recent issue of Lloyds List

I spent several years learning to navigate and several more putting it into practice. Like all navigators of that era, I was relatively self-sufficient — my 1909 Plath sextant was carried with me, and all I really needed was an almanac and some charts. It was important to determine the wishes of the master, as to how far he wanted to be off the coast or offlying rocks, but once that was established, the courses were laid down and duly followed. I could follow this procedure on any ship I served on. Navigation was navigation. Full stop.

All of which is a bit different with the emergence of e-navigation, electronic charts and the considerable differences that exist between the equipment and software of different manufacturers. If I am going to be safe, I need training to ‘convert’ from paper charts to the electronic variety. It is important that the training I get is suitable for the ship and the equipment I am to serve in. As we have found with other forms of modern training, ‘generic’ training can be almost useless, if the equipment bears no resemblance to that which will be found aboard the ship that I find myself aboard, after undertaking the course.

This is a serious problem, bearing in mind the slow pace of any form of standardisation, with manufacturers and chart suppliers alike all convinced that their equipment is the cat’s pyjamas. We are faced, then, with the increase in inflexibility, with the crewing department racking their brains over which navigators have undertaken relevant training on which equipment, before assigning them to a ship, or a huge number of additional short courses to be organised.

Or we could, I suppose, just muddle on as before, with the watchkeepers undertaking their on-the-job training, getting their five-minute briefing from the last second mate, who is impatient to go on leave, and, sadly, speaking a different language, turns out to be not the best possible tutor. But there have already been large and sophisticated ships, equipped with all manner of fancy gear, sliding majestically on to mudbanks at full sea speed because the poor old navigator did not figure out how to work the equipment. Unless people join their ships by helicopter, with the vessel far from land, the chances are that the risks of this happening will be during the first hours of a voyage, when new navigators are sweating a lot and engaging in some desperate trial and error with their unfamiliar gear.

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