Modern bridge watchkeepers, surrounded with their exciting electronic aids, are constantly being reminded to raise their eyes from their instruments and look out of their windows at the world outside. There is an accident which perhaps deserves to become a “classic” piece of mis-navigation (if that is not a term, maybe it ought to be) reported by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch in its latest Safety Digest.

In this case a well equipped tanker was running along nicely with the OOW sitting happily in his chair monitoring the vessel’s progress on the ECDIS screen on a fine, clear night, with good visibility. Sadly, as it was reported, the ship’s speed over the ground mysteriously reduced to zero, with an engineering alarm sounding. This, the OOW deduced, would appear to be a problem with propulsion and first the engineer, then the master became involved, with no further progress being made to the passage.

It took the local coastguard station to note that the ship appeared to be positioned over the top of a well-charted sandbank and to politely inquire what the vessel might be doing there. She was, in fact, hard aground. And while this had clearly been caused by the ECDIS passage plan laid over the obstruction, without anyone actually checking it, if the OOW had bothered to look through his windows he probably might have noticed the buoys which had been kindly placed to warn of the very sandbank upon which the ship was aground. Over-reliance on one source of navigational information, while ignoring the available assistance from echo-sounder, visual, radar or other sources, notes the MAIB, contributed to the embarrassing situation. It would have clearly have been of assistance if the Master had been properly familiar with the ECDIS and able to check the inadequate work of his navigator.

And while Mk I Eyeballs are important, it might be unwise to rely on them completely as the same Safety Digest also reports the grounding of a wind turbine support vessel after its skipper was following his way back to port by “buoy hopping” – navigating by eye alone, rather than using a passage plan, or regularly plotting the vessel’s position. Regrettably, the skipper had failed to inform himself about local navigation warnings and did not realise that one of the buoys, strategically positioned over a shoal, had been removed for repair.

You add the two incidents together and perhaps you can obtain twice the value, just as the severely embarrassed people involved might have found, if they had only sought additional confirmation on what a single source appeared to tell them

Author: Michael Grey                    Source: