Change Management in Navigation

First time I heard the term “Change Management” was regarding switching from paper charts to ECDIS. In the case of ECDIS its easy to see mariners needed guidance in making the switch because using ECDIS seems counterintuitive for many mariners.

However a case could be made that the increased use of weather routing software aboard ships has been mismanaged.

The nature of weather routing software causes unwarranted user confidence . For example wave height contors appear as if they are elevation contors on a topo map. The display fails to communicate to the mariner the uncertainty in the forecasts.

This may have been a factor in the Anthem of the Seas incident and the El Faro.

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The problem, in my experience, has often been the failure to produce a Concept of Operations (Conops) prior to deployment. The two things a conops gives you is the performance envelope (the system does this, it doesn’t do that) and, more importantly, the doctrine. Doctrine is the description of what is expected of the operator in various situations, and writing it down explicitly uncovers situations where unreasonable expectations exist or unwarranted confidence is likely.

A good example of the consequences of failing to produce a conops is the so-called “level 3 fallacy” in autonomous vehicles. Level 3 is the “semi-autonomous” level in the SAE scale: robot primary, human backup. Then they built some and discovered that the first thing many human backups did when the robot took over was fall asleep. Even when they were awake, tests showed it took as long as 26 seconds for an “average” human to regain sufficient situational awareness to safely drive the car. I am firmly convinced that writing a conops before they started would have saved a lot of time and money, and at least one fatality.

Another example is the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon. A great deal of time was wasted after the event by experts arguing what the performance envelope of that thing should have been, as well as the doctrine associated with its operation.

I introduced the notion of a conops to a senior drilling engineer and his response was “this reads like the first draft of the user manual.” My response was, “Exactly. The point is you write it first and the rest of the documentation tree follows.”




We used to deal with mid-latitude and tropical systems in different ways.

For mid-latitude systems we used to rely upon the weather faxes to understand the situation. For tropical systems we used to use the SAT-C text messages, but to understand it we had to plot the postion of the system on a area chart.

Now, with weather routing programs both type of systems are dealt with the same way. For various reasons I kept the old system of plotting tropical systems in the wheelhouse even while using the new software. Evidenlty however a lot of captains saw the new system as a straight replacement for the old method.