Why do naval vessels suffer accidents?

I don’t see how this is avoidable. Seems to me the default community in the Navy is surface warfare. There are others – salvage, submarine, aviation come to mine – and certainly both aviation and submarines require special qualifications/training/aptitude and/or temperament to succeed.

I suspect that it’s the bane of the SW community that their best members leave for subs or brown shoes – how can it be bad if some of them come back?

Other than it is not where they want to be I suppose it is not that bad. Surface warfare should not be considered the occupation of last resort. Without competent SWO’s the navy will not get very far. Their training should never have been short changed.

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That is utterly scandalous as well as stupid. As to last resort though, I don’t think it’s useful to think of it that way. Someone who’s not competent to be a Naval Officer should not be one.

Naval ships can have quite a lot of people on the bridge and one of the reasons is that warships have quite a lot of people. It depends on the captain as to how many he can stand or how many he wants.

Some of them are senior officers with nothing particular to do at that time but being seniors they know to stand back, shut up and disappear when things get tense. Some captains simply enjoy their company whilst the navigator pilots the ship keeping up a constant patter informing the captain or seeking his permission to turn, slow down etc.

As a funny aside, I recall one sailor who was specifically stationed on or handy to the bridge with a spare microphone and cord to rectify the captain’s habit of throwing the conning microphone on the deck and stomping on it when things went wrong. The old man would chuck his tantrum, the sailor would quietly step forward and replace the mike, hand it to him and all would resume as if nothing had happened.

I’ve been in every officer job on the bridge (and operations room - CIC) from middy to captain and I think the system works well. Bear in mind that, say, in Australia, our warships are largely exempt pilotage and officers are trained to plan and conduct pilotage routinely, enter unfamiliar harbours and berth without assistance.

As a further check, warships run an independent plot of blind pilotage in the Operations Room and are ready to assume the navigation in an instant if a sudden fog descends. They will pass advice to the bridge as to their opinion of whether the ship is on track, wheel over times, collision avoidance etc without being too intrusive.

So when you have lots of officers who are trained to navigate, they are put to use and maintain and develop skills.

In short, I’ve not seen a case when the crowd on the bridge affected the navigation, but I accept that with more people involved there is more interpersonal communications and more chatter with consequent room for misunderstandings.

Now I’m a commercial captain, I do everything unless I can spare someone suitably qualified to assist. This can be busy and stressful but ultimately handled.

The naval system’s advantage is that junior officers gain shiphandling, pilotage and bridge experience under the watchful eye of experts and there are additional checks and balances in having two plots of the ship’s position and more eyes out more windows and in more radars etc.

You’ve stated many things that I might disagree with. But I’ll give the short version.

*”The naval system’s advantage is that junior officers gain shiphandling, pilotage and bridge experience under the watchful eye of experts and there are additional checks and balances in having two plots of the ship’s position and more eyes out more windows and in more radars etc.”

If that were in fact true, why did the GUARDIAN go aground? All by themselves.

Why did the PORT ROYAL go aground? In her case, literally minutes after dropping her Navy Pilot off and barely clear of Pearl Harbor channel? Again, all by themselves.

I point these two incidents out to differentiate them from ’collisions’ involving other vessels.

In both of my examples, it underscores how/why the Navy way does NOT remotely guarantee success any more or less than the civilian mariner way.

Sorry, but I’m not aware of those groundings. We’ve had a few in the RAN too and obviously the system failed which I can only put down to it being run by mere humans who inhabit every ship. Each Navy has their own system and it’s true there are more people on the bridge in the naval system, but as I’ve said, my own experience is that those people haven’t ever had a detrimental effect on navigational safety.

Nothing, but nothing guarantees navigational safety. We can only work to make it better.

As another amusing aside, we had a merchant ship run aground on an island south of the Great Barrier Reef and the aerial photo was magnificent (sorry but I can’t find it). There was the ship stuck on the island which consisted of a sand and coral about fifty yards across and a large lighthouse with tall tower a few metres directly ahead of the bow. Apparently the ship ran aground with the watch asleep and nobody noticed until the watch was relieved. At least in the naval system it’s unlikely everyone on the bridge will be asleep!

Honestly, if you’ve never heard of the PORT ROYAL and GUARDIAN grounding, I strongly suggest before commenting any further, you should stop, got read even a short summary of events before writing anything further.

They were recent and on US Navy ships.

I get the impression you aren’t American (?)

Yes, merchant ships go aground, too. No denying that. But this whole thread issue is about 20+ People on the bridge of a Navy ship to ensure navigational safety. A Merchant ship underway with an exhausted bridge watch of two people (maybe one) is working at their physical limit.

I’m still trying to understand how 20+ people on the bridge of a navy ship departing port inexplicably still goes aground?!

NOT being argumentative. But if we’re ever going to resolve this issue, a better understanding of what people are going needs to be understood.

Has anyone quantified exactly how accident prone naval vessels are? It’d be interesting to see a hard number on accidents per operating hour, weighed for severity and type of operations.

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Yohoo. Pay attention. I’ve said a number of times I’m an Australian in Australia. I was in the RAN. For the less widely travelled, that’s the Royal Australian Navy, one of the navies friendly with and a close ally of yours. I don’t make apologies nor have to know of every USN grounding nor how the USN conducts it’s pilotage although I’ve cross-decked with US aircraft carriers my frigate was escorting. Frankly, I presume they know what they’re doing, but I know they do it differently to us and their bridge organisation is different.

My comment was based on my experience in both situations and I’ve made comparisons from my personal experience, not from any particular case here. It was just a perspective that I thought might add to the topic.

Finally, you won’t resolve a naval issue. Only the navy can and I again presume they will make whatever changes they think will rectify things. You may comment and criticise (and there’s much to criticise after recent USN collisions - and groundings it seems) but I doubt anyone who can do anything about it is listening.

And I’ll dig out those groundings and read them.



The Zr.Ms. Zeeland (P841) is the second ship of the Holland class, a series of four patrol vessels (Ocean Patrol Vessels) for the Royal Netherlands Navy.

Here are some pictures of the bridge of the ship. Sorry for the quality but these are shots taken of the television screen.

A reporter sailed for five days with the ship when it was on drugs patrol in the Caribbean waters. He is the guy in the back with crossed arms talking to the female watch officer. Except for the helmsman there is a non visible lookout on the bridge. That’s all. True, it is not a full blown battle ship but the principles are the same.

These are dedicated watch officers, no other duties other then may be the humble task of vacuumcleaning their quarters. No room service is provided…

The ship is sailing with a number of American Navy personnel. In the last month the ship seized 2500 kg cocaine and an estimated 1200 kg was thrown overboard by two speedboats. Sharp shooters on board the ship’s helicopter simply take out the speedboat’s two or three outboards.

Turned back to the sea, chatting up the watch officer? I’d give him 5 seconds to get off the bridge.


I think was some may not understand is that Naval Vessels have to practice their Nav team in restricted waters. While 2 min fixtures and reports to Conn seem silly to most merchant guys and to every pilot, what they are practicing for is a need to enter a hostile area, where they have never been before, and there are no pilots.

That was the reporter interviewing the watch officer. As long as there was no traffic close by probably no too bad. Likey the whole purpose of allowing the reporter aboard was to get good PR.

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While you’re at it, read about Norway’s recent Navy ship grounding and sinking of the HELGE INGSTAD.

While operating in her own coastal waters, within a VTS area, she had a collision with a tanker that had just gotten underway from a dock, at night. The Norwegian Navy ship had erratic VHF comms with both VTS and pilot on tanker moments before collision.

It must have been utter chaos on the bridge of the Navy ship. They claim they were confused by the deck lights from the tanker.

Finally, they had their AIS turned off. Immediately AFTER they collided, they turned it on. This was in a VTS area with heavy traffic. And AFTER McCAIN and FITZ accidents. Norwegians didn’t learn anything from those two disasters.

The US Navy isn’t the only Navy with officers making poor decisions on the bridge.

You must be new here. :wink:

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My experience mirrors Jughead’s. The nearest we had to the USN position of Quartermaster was the navigators yeoman, a radar plot rating, who had received additional training in chart correction and the care of chronometers.
As a very junior officer my first command was a patrol craft with a crew of nine. The bridge was open and never crowded particularly in winter in the rather boisterous sea conditions that can be encountered around the New Zealand coast.
The nearest thing that we had in the merchant marine was a very large shipping company where newly promoted masters served on small coasters and as they gained seniority went on to command larger vessels.
For the benefit of Pilot 16 it should be noted that on coastal tonnage it was a requirement that all masters had to obtain a pilotage exemption certificate for all the ports the vessel called at.
During my service in the navy we took a pilot only on two occasions.
Once through the Suez Canal just before it closed. The pilot helped himself to the Commanding Officers afternoon tea and thereafter remained on the bridge wing.
The other a Panama Canal transit.

I can certainly see the merchant marine influence on that bridge layout. I’ve never served on a naval bridge with such space and with so many computer screens. Missing is the central feature of every bridge I served on … a centreline pelorus from which the OOW observed bearings of everything he could see. Officers wore binoculars and used them constantly.

It certainly looks comfy and I don’t dispute the advances in useful gadgets and good layout. But we seemed to get by. My service in an old aircraft carrier reminds me we had about a quarter of the space if that, one chair for the captain and clunky boxes containing a radar scope, dials that looked bulletproof, and a chart table capable of holding a folded chart.

My current bridge is an open poop deck, no protection, a wheel and throttles, a couple of readouts and a compass. The Charthouse is below. We harness the helmsman in position in the rough stuff! Character building.

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I read the thread here and commented at the time and, as I recall, my speculation as to what happened has largely been verified.

Yes, my first command was a patrol boat. Great fun!

And my pilot through the Suez was more interested in what might be his ‘gift’ when he was ready to inspect it and getting himself and his family to Australia … apparently I could authorise his citizenship. He’d never been to sea.


Suez pilots used to demand Malboros and Playboy magazines. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve upped their game and will sulk if they don’t get iPads with preloaded porn and fake Rolexes.

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