Nav old vs. New

I studied, transit SAT, Omega, Decca and LORAN A, B & C in the university, but I started boating using LORAN-C, then came the GPS, then it was developed to plotters then chart plotters, but for some stupid reason, it was not until I upgraded from my Garmin 45 to Garmin 48, when I felt that I can navigate the 7 seas :smile::smile:

Nowadays we have WAAS and DGPS with multiple screens, fully integrated with radars, autopilots, and sonars, even weather satellites and 3D overlays, and if you want to go all the way you can have infrared and thermal cameras integrated to your radar system,and for your lovely engines you can get them diagnosed and fixed through an internet connection, oh! I forget to mention entertainment and communications onboard, from SAT TV, and SAT Phone to internet coverage all around the world,

My point is, when was the last time anyone checked his paper charts?, Or calibrated his compass? Or worried about deviation? (“Sorry I am not gonna mention the sixtant, cause it will just be ridiculous”), or really had to use the VHF or the SSB? Or know the ethics of using the VHF?, Or corrected a vessel position on the chart? Or look at the sky trying to forecast the weather? Or use the barometer?

30 years ago, when I asked “Dr. Refaat Rashad” my professor in the university, about the definition of Navigation, he told me " It is the ART and SCIENCE of controlling the vessel movement from point A to point B safely and in the most efficient way.!!!

30 years later, I am asking myself, is this definition still stands??? Is there any ART involved anymore??? Or we are loosing our pride being sailors and navigators to the High Tec gadgets? Guys remember it only takes a power outage in your vessel to be blind if you only use those toys.

Sometime ago I used to teach a costal navigation school to the locals in Jeddah, and after sometime doing it, I found out that most of the kids want to jump directly to the part where I teach them about the GPS, no real interest in chart work, as a result I felt that I have to address this issue from a different angle, so started by writing on the board (DONT USE GPS UNTIL YOU CAN DO,WITHOUT IT, IF YOU DONT AGREE THEN THIS SCHOOL IS NOT FOR YOU) in another words all my students know that I will not teach them anything about GPS, until they prove to me that they can plot a course on the chart first, and they know what a DLat/DLong and dead reckoning represent.

There is a big difference when you use GPS, SONAR, RADAR and all the other toys, while you know the theory and the concept behind each system, and when you don’t have a clue about how they calculate their outputs!!! Because only then the sentence (GPS MADE HEROS OUT OF ZEROS) will be right

The strange thing I am writing this article watching Captain Phillips movie !!!
In another note Tom Hanks is an excellent actor…

Let’s set sail ,and just GO,


Where you going to go? Ecdis is on a UPS that kicks in AFTER the EDG fails. At that point you’ve got no steering, and youre NUC, you should have Radio for a few hours after that.

I think its still an art, but its Cinema, not an oil painting anymore. You sound like Michael Angelo complainging that he “didnt get” The Dark Knight.

The truth is you should still be doing most of those things you listed with electronic navigation still, the fact that you refuse to tech the next generations how to do that shows either hubris or a lack of knowledge with the systems, both will be to the deterement of your students.


Probably right before they went into the trash can.

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It makes sense to learn charting on paper to understand what the GPS or ecdis is doing and displaying.


Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They make excellent gift wrapping as well! :wink:


Or wall art. . . .

Don’t forget they are good as packings, (BA Charts at least)

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Old vs New is a little vague, specifically what skills should mariners at various levels have?

I came ashore before the revolution to electronic charts/plotters. Is having a basis in paper/ancient/old school navigation methods a prerequisite to understand use the new methods ? Or is it a whole new skill set?

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Knife cuts both ways, I’ve worked with a few older mariners who can’t even manage to troubleshoot basic email problems. Younger guys to save the day. The fundamentals are nice but at the end of the day, the digital world is what we live in…


While paper chart plotting is being replaced by electronic plotters, and no one is routinely relying on celestial today, the old skills are important to learn, and necessary in case they are needed as a backup.

The typical young Mariner of today totally freaks out when any of the complex interlinked electronic aids stop working properly.

Anything that runs on software can, and sometimes does, go haywire at any time for numerous reasons. Plenty of opportunities for mechanical failure too.


The Coast Guard has asked the National Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (NMERPAC) to make recommendations on this. The discussion started at the September '23 meeting and will continue in the Spring '24 meeting. The “task statement” to NMERPAC is available here:
_Content - PROPOSED TS 23-X2 Critical Skills for Navigation… (

There is also a similar task for radar/ARPA:
_Content - NMERPAC TS 22-3 Critical Skills for Radar… (

NMERPAC meetings are open to the public, and the public can (and does) participate in the working groups where the tasks are discussed and recommendations are drafted.


thanks - yea interesting to me if the skills are seperate, or barely connected, - is the “don’t depend on electroinics” argument enough to keep teaching the old skill set.

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Nothing was 100%, a navigator synthesized numerous inputs of varying degrees of accuracy into a position and then worked from there.
The GPS and electronic chart are assumed to be 100%, you then work from there.

The innate suspicion of a navigator is what seems to be missing now.


Re teaching nav:
It is extraordinarily hard to convince a young person that GPS may fail. They have used it their whole lives.
Every prior system seems like learning how to drive a Model T or operate a vacuum-tube computer. It is just something that they will never need. They are almost 100% correct. The devil is in that word “almost”.


Will said

You are absolutely right

I don’t think the “what if the GPS fails” is the primary reason to use other methods. In many cases visual is easier and safer. The watch officer’s attention is not split up.

I don’t use the GPS to drive to town to run errands for that reason, need to watch where I’m going and I’m confident I can do without.

Once junior officers become more confident in piloting by eye (assisted by radar), at the margin, they will require less assistance and become safer and more valuable watch office.


There’s no new and old navigation methods. They’re the same method. It’s just a more accurate, efficient, and overall better way of doing things.

There are people that don’t seem to understand that they can apply the same methods used in manual chart plotting on paper to an electronic chart for whatever reason, but that’s just because they’re bad navigators.

There’s a new skill set involved in preparing for failures and being able to solve them without a loss of situational awareness. Not really a different problem though, just a new one. They were all sorts of things that could happen to older navigation tools, and competent mariners either had spares or knew had to easily fashion a workaround or both, ideally. Modern mariners should know how to get a different monitor going quickly, switch to a different GPS input, and get another PC running in a few seconds. They should have an air gapped laptop with it’s own GPS antenna and nav software. They should inspect their wiring with an IR camera prior to departure. Same problems mariners always had, just different stuff to prepare for.


I am going to disagree somewhat. Back in the day, there was no 24/7/365 accurate to a few meters devices for navigators. Loran-C could be off or out of range, Transit was only a few times a day at best, Omega lanes were like 10 miles wide and system could jump lanes, RDF bearings were what, 5 or 10 degrees wide? Sun and star sights depended on weather and skill. You were always using your judgement and experience to make your best estimate.
Also - very important - none of this was real time on a screen. Radar was the only real “look at a screen” device and it too had limitations.
Now assuming you keep all your stuff running, you are an icon on a screen. Rarely used skills atrophy. I had to run a narrow channel with heavy current in the dark through a series of temporary marks that were not lit and not charted. GPS was not a big help. I did it, but it seemed very high pressure when it used to be just a day ending in Y.

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