Ditch the GPS it's ruining your brain #2

I know this is a year-old thread, but I ran across this article today and thought it might have some bearing on the issue (even though it concerns land-based usage :slight_smile: )


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Now that I have also become a video game navigator, I’m a lot less engaged with navigation unless I’m in a particularly hazardous area.

whi navigates, just follow the line on the screen…lol

True to a degree, I pay attention at a lower level at times. But that’s also sometimes true when the mate’s navigating or a pilot is aboard.

If the mate screws up, the pilot suddenly announces he’s getting off early or the ECDIS goes blank in pilot waters it becomes apparent. However in my experience it only takes less than 15 or 20 seconds to get oriented.

I’ve done that as a way to check out new mates who I thought seemed sharp, just give them the conn right before a turn and see how they do.

Interesting discussion.

From a Pilotage perspective, the one concern with over reliance on electronic/ GPS/ DGPS/ RTK aids was the partial devolution of visual skills. I also noted, when training new Pilots, that there was a heavy reliance on electronic GPS aids displayed by the emerging ECDIS generation. Their visual skills never really developed to satisfactory levels.

From my personal perspective, having Piloted visually for 16 years, I found the introduction and adoption of PPU technology a revelation. All of a sudden my situational awareness was significantly improved and I developed a close relationship with my three minute predictor. I could see my valuable visual skills degrading and had to be very mindful of that. The other issue was the alteration of my safety envelope. I found that my swinging clearances were reduced and regarded that as a negative.


There are a lot of people that only follow the line on the screen. That’s all they know how to do.

Most people become lazier and do less and less navigation in addition to following the line.

Coastal navigation skills fade just as celestial skills fade when they are not routinely practiced.


lots of crew follow the line as thats what the standing orders say, i’m sure and those may have come from the office.
We know that when 2 ships from same company have a head on collision in the middle of the sea.

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Is a pilot going to use GNSS (GPS) to see if the tugs had pulled the ship off the pier? No, it doesn’t make sense, at the margin, that paying attention to the GPS in that situation is worth the cost.

In the middle of the ocean is obviously a different situation. Coastwise or inland is somewhere on the spectrum between the two.

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Any verifiable example of that happening?

In Hecate Strait / Dixon Entrance or the like it’s sometimes difficult to tell with precision where the vessel is, but even pre-GPS it would only require a quick radar range to figure it out.

Using an ECS instead of a quick radar range is not an issue, the risk is probably actually lower. But if ECS is being used to navigate a place like Seymour Narrows than I’d say that mate is not qualified.

The thinking, from some quarters, is to place interfaced PPU units on the tugs to monitor and oversee berthing approach speeds in addition to another set of eyes over the Pilotage transit. The tugs are seeing what the Pilot is producing and the expectation will be to take action in the event of uncertainty.
In reality, currently, the Pilotage skill base is not homogeneous and in a number of cases where Pilots have requested certain power inputs from attending tugs it has been erroneous. In practice, the tug Master applies what he/she believes to be the appropriate power level which sets a datum. If the Pilot finds that this is insufficient then they quickly ask for and receive more power.

Sure, berthing a heavy ship efficiently using a GPS receiver of some kind (or Doppler) increases the precision beyond the eye alone. But pulling off a pier? In most cases that level of precision is not needed.

I agree. Last winter due to the timing of high tide I had to run a tricky channel in the dark and the route was not charted. Shoaling had made the marked channel impassable, so I had to follow temporary unlit buoys. It was strictly MK I eyeball pilotage in the dark and it made me a bit nervous.
What struck me was that back in the day that was just how you got from A to B, it would not have been an unusual operation, there was no other way to do it. It isn’t like riding a bike that you never forget either, sure I did it but it was a lot higher effort than getting back on a bike.

Also I find it hard to teach any kind of navigation not involving GPS, the students all think this is some weird hazing ritual because there can never be any such thing as a GPS outage.

I’ve had that concern in coastal passages that are wide enough that the watch does not need to pay really close attention, but not so wide that opposing traffic favors opposite sides, especially if there is cell phone service.

I have never heard of a collision actually happening.

Yes there is a vid of the ships side swiping each other at sea during the day.
Might even be a thread on here.

If there are two popular waypoints for either end of a passage and everyone uses them, you are all EXACTLY on the line, not just somewhere around it. I know of one almost head-on with boats because of this and one with airplanes where they got a direct hit and killed everyone.

I don’t think that the best or only reason to develop better visual navigation skills is to decrease the risk in the event of a GPS outage. Navigation is not some esoteric skill, the human brain and visual system has evolved to transform visual information to use to navigate. Babies can navigate visually before they can walk.

The problem with over-reliance on ECS or the like is it delays or hinders development of visual navigation skills. Once good visual navigation skills are developed visual piloting (with aids as needed) becomes both safer and easier.


I agree. Back In The Day a box that displayed your lat-lon accurately 24/7 would have been a miracle and worth its weight in gold.
A fun navigation exercise would be to get an old-school GPS, set it on just lat-lon, nothing else, and see how well a person could navigate with it. I bet at least a few that would consider the boat/airplane broken and not have a clue how to get around.


Not all pilots / charts / nav aids are as reliable as in the U.S.

Switching trades frequently I found that learning the landmarks in an unfamiliar port is much quicker and more efficient with the aid of an ECDIS than it was using paper charts.