Nº 6 2015 > Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

Navigation and innovation

Innovating with Bill:
How do we stay safe at sea?

Navigation and innovation

Navigating the seas safely is not just important for the lives of the people on board; shipping plays a vital role in today’s economy, with over 90 per cent of the world’s trade carried by sea. Having navigated the seas for 20 years and rising to the rank of Master Mariner, Captain Bill Kavanagh, explains how seafarers stay safe at sea.

If you ask any seafarer their reason for going to sea, the chances are they will all tell you the same thing: to see the world. At the age of 18, I circumnavigated the world in six months on my second trip as a cadet. The voyage took me to Spain, South Africa, India, Japan, and beyond. Since those first trips at sea, I have commanded a 100‑metre long, 3500 tonne ship across Europe, and navigated a 174 metre, 27 000 tonne ship through the Persian Gulf.

Though these vessels may seem large, 94 large ships went missing in 2013. At any given point, you can be hundreds of miles from the coast, with help hours, even days, away. But navigating the seas safely is not just important for the lives of the people on board. Over 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea; the efficient transportation of cargoes impact on both consumers and the global economy. A typical passenger ship might consume over 200 tonnes of fuel per day, so fuel efficiency is important to retain competitiveness. A collision could cause a breach in the hull of the fuel tank and cause extensive damage to the marine ecosystem. Therefore, safe navigation is paramount.

I became Master Mariner at 29. As the ship’s commander, I was responsible for all aspects of life on board: from navigation and engineering maintenance, to cargo and communications between suppliers, ports and other ships.

Navigating the seven seas

Navigation is dependent on three things: you must know where you are, where you are going, and where you came from. Being able to calculate this with pinpoint accuracy is vital to ensuring safety. As risks increase on coastal routes — rocks, coastal and wind effect, shallow water, and increased traffic — accuracy must be calculated to within 20 metres.

When I started out in my early 20s, we would physically plot our course with paper charts, using an up-to-date chart portfolio which provided information on new regulations, lighthouse markers, and any change of communications and navigational aids.

Today, ships rely on computer integrated navigation. By 2018, Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) will be mandatory on all commercial ships. This technology integrates electronic navigational charts with information from the Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Identification System (AIS) and radar to give continuous real-time positioning in relation to land, charted objects and unseen hazards. An Automatic Identification System (AIS), which is dependent on satellite positioning, can track the path of ships in real time.

Radar is one of the most innovative navigation aids of the past 60 years and one of the biggest success stories of radio navigation. Radar is used to avoid collisions, and for detecting the distance from a position and an object for position fixing.

Staying safe at sea

Professional mariners spend months at sea, working in changing time zones and often in difficult weather conditions. As on‑board equipment often seems “fool‑proof”, navigators can become over-reliant on electronic navigational systems. The consequences can be catastrophic, with human error accounting for up to 80 per cent of maritime accidents.

When it comes to search and rescue, the simplest devices are the most effective. Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) are vital to ensuring crew safety and have saved thousands of people over the past 30 years.

Another key technology is a search and rescue transponder (SART). Once turned on, a signal is displayed on a rescuing ship’s radar display, creating a series of dots which can be followed to the point of the emitting SART.

An additional aid to search and rescue operations and safe navigation are the Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) database and maritime service publications. Using the MARS database or maritime service publications, ships can easily be identified using a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), name or call-sign. They provide detailed information on each vessels’ radio station and other vital Search And Rescue (SAR) information, such as persons on board and emergency on shore contact details. These electronic (DVD) publications can also be used by coast stations to obtain information on vessels in their waters, and are mandatory in all Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) worldwide.

This article is an abridgement.
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Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

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No.6 November | December 2015

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