Neither a technophile nor a technophobe be

I had a river pilot inbound in a U.S. port a few years back, spend most of the transit railing against the use of PPU (Portable Pilot Units). He said other pilots argued the PPU was good for determining where up-bounds and down-bounds were going to meet but he claimed it was easily done without.

However later when we got slowed down towards the end of the transit we unexpectedly meet one of those huge VLCS class ships right in a narrow turn, the worse possible place.

Later I had a very skilled pilot, on another river, also without a PPU. I asked him what he thought about the use of PPUs. He said the pilot association didn’t use them, they were being debated. He told me he’s be happy use any tool they’d give him.

I thought that was a good answer. It is true however that it’s often the case that overreliance on technology can be an issue, especially when it slows or prevents mariners from learning the basics.


On one hand we have unaided visual observations (as well as the other senses), to assess conditions without the assistance of tools including estimating ship’s position, wind speed, sea state etc.

On the other hand we also have technological aids, anemometers, compasses, sextants and more complex tools such as GPS, radar and AIS which provide precise, quantifiable information.

As a mariner gains experience they can, with purposeful practice learn how to fuse or merge these two skill sets.


Very difficult one to reply to.
I am of the old school where pilotage was carried out by radar and visual.
The only way in mho that CHA s could justify employing class 1 master mariners is that
We have the same professional qualifications as the guy are engaging with on the bridge.
The company ie the pilotage authority can claim they are employing the best qualified people.
Those folk they employ have spent years looking at a radar screen so are absolutely confident in their abilities to navigate in thick fog .and that is a grand base to start from when starting to train pilots

So progressing to PPU

My CHA went down the path of PPU. For the very largest ships. I distinctly remember asking
Someone who was much cleverer than me wtf do I need to know when I am 5 m off a jetty. Really if I need to know about 5,m then you really are too close
So then someone who is much cleverer than me explained that it is all about the repeatability of the fix that makes the vectors more stable.
So yes.
As a pilot in a major UK port I used every day and iPad with a navigation function C I q
And then when dealing the largest ships a a PPU Quastor
It was very difficult to integrate the iPad as by now we had the what we termed the play station generation
They were no less capable than our boomer generation but had been brought up differently.
Remember how we were castiged for being a radar generation

An optimum approach to any given situation in the wheelhouse is going to require some mix/combination of methods and tools. A prudent mariner can be better prepared for any situation, expected or not, if they have been purposefully practicing to improve their skills.

What specific tools and methods are used and how they are going to be used will vary according to the situation. In general, effective practice will involve integrating the various available tools and methods in a systematic way.

Using this approach the mariner will become better and better at being able to interpret visual cues, wave patterns, wind speed and direction, ship’s position and movements etc. as well as using the various instruments to cross-check one’s observations. Eventually it will become second nature.

Furthermore, this is not some esoteric skill that can be only mastered by the rare few but something that can be done by most mariners. At least almost all can more quickly improve using the right approach.

TL;DR - What the Sabine river pilot said: “I’ll use any tool they want to give me.”

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Nothing new there:

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Please note that just as using radar has become an absolute legal obligation, the use of PPU is increasingly becoming a legal requirement as well. I am aware of at least two reports in which Marine Accident Investigation Board inspectors noted a lack of proper utilization of available PPU data.