How do Modern Ships Navigate Safely at Sea?


Imagine you are this sailor and you are sailing from Boston or New York. How do you and the captain safely navigate the ship to California? How do you figure out which direction to steer your ship, especially when you can no longer see the shoreline? How do you locate the position of your ship ona nautical chart (map)? Skilled navigators helped to make safe travel by water possible, and as a result the maritime trades prospered.

With hundreds, if not thousands, of shipping vessels zig-zagging the planet’s oceans and sea floors full of surprising topography elements – navigation is an incredibly complex art. Far removed from the crude method adopted by vessels of yesteryear, placing a shipmate in the crow’s nest to spot upcoming obstacles and threats; modern cruise ships benefit from hugely sophisticated, advanced navigation systems.

Unsurprisingly, ship journeys are heavily regulated – due to the huge number of lives and cargo dependent upon safe and responsible operation. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) places strict rules upon almost every aspect of shipping from the navigation to the structure of the vessels.

As one of the few computerised navigation systems which complies with all of the IMO’s strict policies and rulings, the Electronic Chart Display & Information System (ECDIS) is commonly found aboard large ships. Helping ships safely navigate, the ECDIS provides the ship’s continuous position as well as upcoming safety information.

Using electronic and digital navigation charts as well as a series of sensors located around the body of the vessel, ECDIS provides an accurate, as-live account of their position and surroundings. This eliminates the risk of misreading a map or losing the plotted route.

The ship’s navigator will then use ECDIS to plot a route between ports which offers safe passage. As ECDIS constantly provides the ship’s current position and surroundings; it allows the navigator to change course if circumstances change. The ability to quickly assess the situation and effectively plot an alternate route is central to the navigator’s responsibility of ensuring the ship stays safe at all times.

The ECDIS system has significantly improved on-board safety of vessels – minimising the risk of accidents occurring, and reducing the risk of human error being costly. Providing the navigators with the opportunity to accurately plot routes across the oceans based upon approaching lands, underwater threats or oncoming ships; ECDIS can dramatically reduce the risk of any collision.

Sensors fitted aboard the ships have been carefully placed to provide a comprehensive insight into the movement of the ship – which helps navigators judge suitable turning rates, allowable drafts and other manoeuvrability factors.

Additionally, any ship with ECDIS fitted will be able to send out more effective, up-to-date and accurate distress signals if they do encounter danger. This will allow any nearby ships to quickly alter their route (using ECDIS to stay safe) and offer any necessary assistance and aide to the affected ship.

Most modern navigation relies primarily on positions determined electronically by receivers collecting information from satellites. Most other modern techniques rely on crossing lines of position or LOP. A line of position can refer to two different things, either a line on a chart or a line between the observer and an object in real life.

With modern day facilities and automation, a ship today has several advanced navigation equipment systems which give accurate data for the voyage. Besides, various types of ship flags with different colors and signs are used to indicate a ship’s position. Signal flags are they are commonly known, have been used since the ancient times and are still used on all vessels.

Methods of navigation have changed through history. Each new method has enhanced the mariner’s ability to complete his voyage in a safe and effective way.

Sea News Feature, November 16


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