Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

First principles

Posted on | February 17, 2015 | 1 Comment

On my first voyage, the single radar had its controls behind a small lockable shutter, the key of which was in the master’s sole possession. On the onset of fog, the officer of the watch would then have to apply to the master to unlock the machine, which would then be warmed up and put into use, by which time the visibility was probably nil. This, said the master, was to prevent an undue reliance being placed on this new equipment, to the neglect of first principles for keeping a proper look-out. It was just an “aid” to navigation, which must be carried out by “lead, log and look-out”.
On another fleet on that same trade to Australia and New Zealand, the ships were then without radar, its fearsome proprietor having concluded, after an early “radar-assisted” collision, that their presence aboard made ships less safe, and had taken them all ashore. It was several years before he moderated his view.
The Swedish P&I Club is just the latest to point out the sad fact that the provision of more and more sophisticated navigation equipment aboard ship is making absolutely no difference to the accidents attributable to navigational mistakes. It is a sad fact, borne out by the incidence of accidents, so there is no arguing with this disappointing lack of progress.
Establishing the reasons for this flatlining of the statistics is rather harder than it is to pronounce their results. One might suggest that it is something to do with the quality of training, or even the intensity with which ships are being operated, with fog or dense traffic being regarded as an insufficient reason for a late arrival. It might be that the plethora of computerised equipment, ostensibly doing all the navigation legwork, allows the navigator’s mind to wander and he fails to look out of the window at the advancing ship or a lighthouse dead ahead.
If all he has to do is check the veracity of the position, as indicated by the computer, this does not involve sufficient challenge to keep him or her alert. The officer of the watch then either falls into something of a catatonic trance, lulled into a state not far short of actual sleep, or busies himself with an administrative task, or rings up his wife on the mobile.
Quite how we alter this dismal trend is one of the questions of this technically savvy age. It’s something to do with the “man-machine interface” which suggests more equipment manufacturers, perhaps assisted with psychologists, will be getting more involved. Maybe we should just lock up the navigational equipment, and hide the key.


One Response to “First principles”

  1. Chris Allport
    February 26th, 2015 @ 7:04 am

    ….this excellent piece by Mike was followed at SN on 25 Feb by Barrie Youde’s latest :-

    To ease the laws of vigilance cannot help but be folly,
    Though some would advocate that move, to seek to make some lolly.
    Navigation? Let it be. We’ll muddle through, somehow.
    Our electronics are so good that nothing matters, now.

    Keeping a good lookout? No. That simply is old hat.
    The people watching on the shore will all take care of that.
    Because they all know better and their feet are never wet:
    This shore-based navigation has to be the best thing yet.

    The ships and things they carry are of secondary concern.
    The over-riding matter is the loot they all can earn:
    That is the all-important thing. The over-riding need,
    Excusing all stupidity, vacuity and greed.

    The pilotage of shipping is an ancient thing and quaint.
    The time has come (and not too soon) to exercise restraint.
    Salvage and pollution and the loss of human life;
    These things are but of small concern. Far less of any strife.

    And now it is election time; and greed is all that counts.
    The lust for power and influence. Watch, how corruption mounts.
    Is anybody keeping watch, on board the ship of state?
    Might not that be a good idea? Before it is too late?

    Has anybody got a clue how dangerous things are?
    Or when it’s safe and is not safe to try cross the Bar?
    Or why the Bar is named at all? Just what is in a name?
    May God forgive the ignorant who treat it as a game.

    The Lutine Bell will ring again. And men will wail and weep
    Because they do not understand the dangers of the deep.
    Far less the dangers of the shallows, rocks along the coast.
    The standing law our safety hallows: not the hollow boast.

    To ease the laws of vigilance cannot help but be wrong.
    Though some would advocate such move, and have done all along.
    Good sense has overcome them and it keeps us safe today.
    And greed and navigation will collide, along the way.


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