This is a continuation of another thread, about the utility, or lack thereof, of celestial navigation nowadays, but [B]engineers rest assured you’re in here too[/B]. Engineers, you can jump to the last paragraph, and skip the rant about a subject you don’t care about.
The natural question is, at what point do the USCG and maritime academies drop all mention of celestial navigation? The argument is that celestial is a back-up plan for the advent of World War 4, when the GPS satellites are all shut down, or shot out of the sky. But there will soon be other satellite navigation systems, independent of GPS, as back-up, and if we are that worried the bright boys at DARPA can whip up a skookum 21[SUP]st[/SUP] century inertial guidance system for us in their spare time (probably have one already…)
I think the utility of celestial was discussed in another thread some time ago. But what wasn’t discussed was [B][I]the huge financial waste of fixating on celestial navigation[/I].[/B] There are only so many hours in an academy day. Does it make sense devoting so much time and effort to a nearly useless, arcane craft ? A case could be made that those hours could be better spent in simulators, getting trainees ready for every possible navigation scenario they could face, except for the least probable scenario: needing to take a celestial fix.
Training for celestial navigation is an example of a phenomena I call “The Cult of the Quaint”. Something that was once useful is lovingly, obsessively held on to, way past its expiration date. Like bayonet practice in the Army. Or firefighters wearing leather helmets with their 21[SUP]st[/SUP] century SCBas. Or the police hanging onto .38 revolvers into the 1990’s. Or any admiration of Pamela Lee Anderson. A sort of professional inertia sets in, where everyone does “this thing” because everyone did it before, regardless of the utility. The quaint Craft sets us apart from others. We are initiates into the Mystery, but really, you could put it on the shelf next to the buggy whip and Polaroid camera.
Two generations ago celestial navigation was the measure of a deck officer. Now it is something a cadet probably, proportionally, spends $30,000 to learn in an academy and then, after graduation, only uses to teach cadets who will also blow $30,000 for the thrill of becoming a cult member. We should all have membership cards and secret handshakes. The Cult of the Quaint. Which comes with a price tag. $30,000 multiplied by what? 360 cadets graduating a year? [B]That’s $10.8 million/annum[/B]. Then you can calculate how much the USCG devotes per year to managing and administering tests to make sure the cult is perpetuated for another generation. My guess? Couldn’t cost anything less than a $1 million. (Those numbers are just guesses. I invite others to come up with more accurate numbers). Of course, there is financial benefit, too. Cut off the Celestial Navigation Industrial Complex and all the people at Weems & Plath would be thrown out of work.
Yes, the U.S. Navy is reinstating celestial navigation training (kinda, sorta) but, as I said, there are only so many hours available for training in an academy. You might have to deliver a baby aboard ship, too, but the low statistical chance of it occurring means its not worth training for. Are future mates failing out of academies because they can’t master celestial? Well, that’s just plain silly. Fail them for laziness, fail them for lack of work ethic, but not for celestial.
Wouldn’t it be better to simply demand the USCG stop wasting everyone’s money, and do away with the Celestial Navigation Industrial Complex? Training, testing, equipment, all of it. Simply tell them, as an Industry, knock it off? We pay them. They work for us. Or am I missing something?….
Nor are deck officers unique members of the Cult of the Quaint. I am proud of the fact that I can 1) weld, 2) use a lathe 3) use a milling machine. But how many times have I used 2) and 3) in my maritime career? (The answer is the brand name of a cigarette lighter).
So here’s another question I’ve been meaning to ask: Engineers on Big Ships— [B]how many times do you really use the machine shop? [/B]The lathe and milling machine, I mean? You learned the art in the academy. Do you put it to use professionally in this modern age of overnight express mail, and automated spares warehouses aboard ship (I’m talking about you, Polar Tankers)? Or do you, too, have your own Cult of the Quaint?