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The future of Navigation

 
NI  Director of Projects David Patraiko has spoken to the Hong Kong branch  in the past, and must have been good because 60 members and guests  turned out to hear him in November when he spoke to us again.
 
His  topic was ‘Navigating into the Future’ and he started with a brief  review of what we currently do well, and where there is room for  improvement. We do well to carry more than 90% of world trade in  relative safety, in what has become the most environmentally-benign form  of commercial transport, but we still suffer too many accidents.  Collisions and groundings are on the rise, so there is no room for  complacency.
 
In David’s view, the likely causes of accidents in ten year’s time will include:

 
Manning issues and fatigue
 
Poor passage planning
 
Poor BRM
 
Failure to obey Colregs
 
Pilotage errors
 
Poor management of underkeel clearance
 
Electronic issues.

 
We need to identify why and how accidents happen in order to prevent them, and he recommended the new NI book Navigation Accidents and Their Causes which builds on the earlier works by Capt. Cahill in a more proactive way.

 
Among  the technical issues which will plague us is the quality of  installation of equipment. For example, anyone can install a GPS because  there are no rules requiring competence, which opens up the possibility  of interference, either deliberate or accidental. Problems with the  accuracy of satellite and other navigation systems will not go away,  although multi-receivers are already available and may offer a solution  to the potential problems.

 
Human  issues may be the most difficult to tackle, and will continue to  include fatigue, lack of competence, inexperience, the absence of  mentoring, and poor situational awareness. David pointed out that more  authorities are now training their staff to recognise weak ECDIS  knowledge, and asked whether officers will have to be trained to think  differently in the digital age? We will need to be better at  interpreting information, and will have to develop an analytical  mindset.

 
The  Nautical Institute is contributing towards developing future mariners  through its books and magazines, and by its involvement on international  bodies and working groups. We have been asked by the IMO to help define  future user needs, and are obtaining feedback from global branch  meetings, Seaways articles, NI committees etc.

 
Among  the NI initiatives is the development of standardisation in  e-navigation. There are 35 different manufacturers of ECDIS, and it is  hoped to have agreement on standard presentation of information by 2019.  The NI is also pushing for improved reliability, better alarm  management and human-centred design.

 
In  future, there will almost certainly be more sea traffic management  (along the lines of air traffic control), especially in northern Europe,  but there are issues to be resolved about how the various authorities  will work together, and how efficient communications will be assured. We  will almost certainly be subject to more tracking and shoreside  intervention, but it will have to be carefully planned to avoid  disasters. After radar-assisted collisions (RAC) and ECDIS-assisted  groundings (EAG), perhaps the next big thing will be bureaucrat-assisted  disasters (BAF).

 
Turning  to the hot topic of autonomous vessels, David opined that autonomy is  already here in the form of dynamic positioning systems, unmanned engine  rooms etc., so it is only a matter of time before vessels become  completely unmanned. The challenge will be to ensure that shoreside  operator training and competence is fit for purpose, and that there is a  sensible handling of liability issues. To this biased observer, it  sounds as though the money saved on crew costs will not match the  amounts which will be given to the lawyers in future. Change of career,  anyone?

 
In  conclusion, David stated that we should be proud of our ability to  navigate, but change is coming and we need to manage that change both in  technological and human terms. The human element will always be present  either in the operation of vessels or in system design, and needs to be  carefully addressed.

 
A  lively question and answer session had to be curtailed when the food  started to go cold, but the presentation created so much food for  thought that David was invited to give it again to cadets at the  Maritime Services Training Institute before he left Hong Kong.

19.11.2016
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17 April 2019
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