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On the Rocks: ENERGY 5501
Janine
Posted: Monday, January 25, 2010 5:38 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392


Dockwalk magazine's regular column, What Went Wrong by Kelly Sanford, highlights a different marine accident each month, focusing on the lessons learned. We've received feedback that some readers would like to comment on it. So we're republishing it in the forum so you can have your say.

This month's column is about a vessel that ran hard aground.


In the summer and fall of 2009 there seemed to be a rash of yachts running hard aground. With many of these wounds still fresh and very raw, finding full disclosure regarding these specific incidents proved to be nearly impossible. But with the yachting community wondering what may have gone wrong, we were able to track down a marine incident from the commercial industry that may offer some insight regarding the need for caution in near coastal navigation.

 

In the winter of 2003, the tug North Service was pushing the tank barge Energy 5501 when it ran aground near the Norwalk Islands off Connecticut, puncturing holes in all six starboard tanks and spilling 2,500 gallons of heating oil into the water.

 

According to documents provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the captain had plotted a foul weather route using the electronic chart navigation tools. The official cause of the accident was that neither the captain nor the mate had double checked the route against a paper chart and they had failed to recognize a charted navigation hazard on the plotted course – in other words, human error.

 

In a separate review by the Gulf Coast Mariners Association, it is noted that the mate was navigating with the tug’s electronic chart plotter and radar. “His course at the time of the impact was left two degrees, or approximately 300 yards, from the intended track line on the chart plotter. This difference placed the tug and barge on a course taking them directly over the 18-foot rock. Had the mate maintained the intended track line, the tug and barge would have missed the 18-foot rock. It is possible the master and mate…were using the electronic chart plotter beyond the scale it was designed for. That could explain why the 18-foot mark was not shaded in blue when zoomed out.”

 

The review also noted that the foul-weather route had been created by the master to keep the ride smoother in bad weather. The route kept the tug and the barge away from noted chart obstructions, including the rock. But the master did not note the rock’s position when he plotted the foul-weather route, the report maintained.

 

According to one of the Coast Guard investigators, “This case highlights the fact that mariners are using electronic chart systems (ECS) without adequate knowledge of how to best use these systems. Nor do they necessarily understand the functional differences that exist between paper and electronic charts…. This is evident in the manner in which the master plotted for the heavy weather by zooming out to maximize the area displayed on the screen rather than ensuring that the chart was displayed at the proper scale.”

 

One veteran commercial captain now working in the yachting industry says that he is familiar with the incident and the findings. “Once again, an utter failure in Bridge Resource Management. The master failed the system,” he says. “Electronics are no more a part of casualties than poorly maintained machinery and crew. The master in this case did not establish proper night orders, nor did the master instruct the mate to confirm through other navigational methods the proper fix/location of the vessel, nor did he establish a plan with the mate stating the tolerances for route maintenance; the mate was over three hundred yards off course in an area of tight constraints.”

 

“That’s a pretty bad mistake, but I guess I could see how that could happen,” says another captain, who requested his name not be used. “That’s why I plot my course, check it on a paper chart and then zoom back in so these things show up…even then, if I am not personally on watch, I keep the navigation display on in my cabin because there is always room for error.”

 

He says that even when captains assume the utmost caution in plotting a proper course, there is still a risk of crew becoming complacent or placing too much trust in the electronic navigation systems, particularly on extended passages when everyone gets fatigued and even the captain eventually has to sleep.

 

“There was a time I woke up because my internal clock told me I should have felt a course change by now,” he says. “I looked up and saw that the crew on watch had totally missed a waypoint…we were miles off course – the boat icon was not even on the screen.” In an attempt to try and counter this kind of mistake, “I purposely will not set the nav mode on the autopilot,” this captain says. “I want the crew to be watching the chart and making the course changes themselves, but that is still no guarantee that they won’t just tune out. It drives me crazy because it’s common sense, and they act like they have no idea how dangerous that can be.”

 

Nav mode appears to be a hot topic in itself. There are captains who say they will not connect that option, and others who tell their crew that the function is not operational even when it is, because they feel the crew on watch will be disengaged if the autopilot automatically alters course at each waypoint. According to Geir Skoglund, vice president of loss prevention for the Norwegian Hull Club, “Despite having far more sophisticated equipment, [boats] are currently twice as likely to have an accident due to navigational error than they were five or six years ago.”

 

Among the recommendations in the Energy 5501 Coast Guard Report is the following: “The steadily increasing influx of electronic navigation equipment and plotting practices begs for the inclusion of training and proficiency exams as part of the [vessel] operator’s licensing and license endorsement process.”However, a counterpoint in the same report states that unless Electronic Chart Systems and Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECS/ECDIS) ultimately are required on all vessels, there cannot be a requirement for ECS/ECDIS training and/or examination for licensing.

 

And, although paper chart proficiency is currently all that is required for USCG licensing, their own report states, “It should be noted that vessels may make more use of electronic charts than paper charts insofar as most ECS displays…are located where they can be viewed by the officer on watch while they are conning the vessel, whereas most chart tables are located at the back of the pilot house.”

 

Infinitely easier and more convenient, electronic navigation systems have significantly changed navigation and navigation planning and are nearly ubiquitous aboard yachts. Though profoundly useful, no system is 100 percent foolproof and the level of reliance and trust in these devices may be potentially problematic.


Anonymous
Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 2:23 PM

 I think people play join the dots with transas too much and don't really do passage plans like they should. Bounching of the bottom is occuring more often and I thinks this a direct outcome of the over reliance of technology.


fivestarsolution
Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 5:54 PM
Joined: 11/08/2008
Posts: 2


Sure human error exists and more of it than we would wish but the charts are still not perfect either. There a few rocks around 5m not coloured and yet outside the 20m contour on the western Italian coast, which can be exciting in a big sail boat. an one well known racing mark north of Sardinia thats off by at least 50m. If you report them you get an automated reply, One rock in that area has claimed several keels, a centerboard and a foredeck crew who fell off the front when they hit it. The chart is still wrong and the yacht club won't put an offset mark.Advantage locals.
Anonymous
Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 12:28 PM
I am interior crew and I am not normally asked to a watch nearshore. But sometimes, if I happen to walk into the wheelhouse and the mate or captain needs to use the head or wants to check the engine room, they will ask me to watch for a few minutes. It always makes me nervous because I don't really know how to read the chart. I just try to stay on the line until they get back. I am fine doing a blue-water watch, but should I being saying no when I am asked to watch in sight of land?
Spencer
Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:49 PM
Joined: 12/01/2010
Posts: 7


Maximum utilization of available resources: I would hope Captains get the whole deck crew involved in standing watch, setting courses and route planning .A wise old captain told me a story: He was not going to do the crossing from Gibraltar to St. Thomas. He prepped the crew and gave the 1st mate command. (of course he notified his insurance agent first). Prior to leaving the bridge he put blue tape on the GPS display’s, whipped out the sextant and sight reduction tables and told the mate “no Cheating”, see you in St. Thomas. Two groundings later (no just kidding), the yacht arrived safely in St Thomas the crew said they had a great time using the sextant taking noon sights, plotting the course on a paper chart and paying closer attention the stars in the sky. Electronics are great but only as good as the minds using them.
junior
Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 6:37 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026


I never could understand the purpose behind NAV MODE on an autopilot . Who invented this ?? Whats the point ????? Perhaps a survey ship or a longliner picking up gear needs them but yachts ?? Is it so stressful to steer a compass course on the auto ? verify position, then steer to the next waypoint by adjusting compass course. Course , speed and destination are virtually your only instructions to the next watch. Even these combo radar chart plotters seem to be toys that overwhelm my sleepy eyes with data. . Throw is three meter waves destabilizing the radar shadow and I find them as helpful as a flat tire. What wrong with a stand alone radar screen tracking the waypoint lollipop and a stand alone plotter tracking the waypoint separately, confirming your accuracy when entering the waypoint and visually confirming the geography. . .
Powerabout
Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 8:21 PM
Joined: 22/11/2009
Posts: 14


are you trying to tell me there are people out there that navigate with the plotter using GPS....??? ( probably safe in the English Channel and a few other ports around the world but elsewhere..? Seriously if your not using an IMO approved system then you better make sure you have the real charts...updated so you can read the part where it says satellite derived postions cannot be used with this chart
junior
Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:21 AM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026


Gee ???...the whole yacht world is navigating with GPS position input and a chart plotter.. The only IMO ICDIS Ive ever seen was on a ferry boat, never seen one on a yacht. The accident descibed above had nothing to do with chart plotters and GPS but human error when plotting a long distance course greater than the snapshot size picture on a chart plotter screen. This is the great defect of ALL Plotter systems. Chart datum ? " updated so you can read the part where it says satellite derived postions cannot be used with this chart" . virtually the only area Ive ever navigated in my whole life that made that notation was the Canadian Arctic in which the chart had no latitude and longitude grid or non metric grids. Other than that its standard practice to monitor WGS84 and shift datum accordingly....paper or digital.. Ive never had a problem. Half the time for close in navigation you must use paper. What region of the world are you navigating your yacht ??? Are you using thr correct ECDIS chart http://www.sanho.co.za/encs/Facts%20about%20Charts%20Booklet.pdf Are you saying that all yachts need .....IMO ECDIS ? . or that if you use IMO ECDIS chart plotters you will never make a route planning, navigation mistake. ? Do you realize how big, complex and expensive an IMO ECDIS plotter is....its the ultimate overkill....carrying paper charts in adition to a standard chart plotter is common sense, gives worldwide range , cheap as chips.... Their can be no reason whatsoever for a yacht not to carry paper charts , to recomend an owner voyage ECDIS, free of paper is foolish.
Henning
Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010 12:21 PM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1052


junior wrote:
I never could understand the purpose behind NAV MODE on an autopilot .
 
I can, I sleep a lot better with the A/P accurately tracking a couse I plotted vs. relying on some of the crew I get to make sure that they aren't being set into a known hazard.

junior
Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010 2:36 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026


Il take your word for it Henning. I see no practical use, so I never added the software. Watch crew are typically concentrating on collision avoidance and monitoring COG vs BRG. Many manual Autopilot corrections are made by the watch keeper duing a normal leg....15 degrees to starboard to pass that ship, then 15 degrees to port to bring her back up to original rhumb line and course to destination, nil cross track error. . How does the NAV mode auto deal with this? Will you carry cross track error for the whole leg ?
JakeG
Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010 5:47 PM
Joined: 12/12/2008
Posts: 22


Wow, you REALLY have never used NAV mode. I don't know why, but I find that very interesting. If you are on NAV mode and have to alter course for traffic, then you just put the sytem into standby and use auto or hand steer around it. Then you just have to get close to plotted track and re-engage NAV. I prefer that crew NOT use NAV, but there are times I like that piece of mind. I hear what you are saying, Henning, sad but true that the computer is sometimes more reliable than some of the crew out there, but my worry is then...What happens if the computer malfunctions? I think this is an interesting topic, because if you can trust the computer, then you don't have to worry so much about how much you trust your crew. My concern is always this little voice in my head that says, is the crew really paying attention to traffic if NAV is on and what if the computer malfuntions? Would they notice?
junior
Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2010 7:17 AM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026


Perhaps my viewpoint comes from being a sailor. If I have a 200 mile leg to cover I enter a waypoint as a basic route plan ,steering aid to destination then off I go. The course to destination will only be a guide. The crew is always paper plotting, entering the logbook and altering course to get the best out of wind direction sea state. The wind shifts aft, the crew changes course and hardens 30 degrees up up to keep the yacht moving. As the leg progress the watch keeper forms a strategy for the final approach, many times with a different newly entered waypoint to compensate for our 40 miles north of the rhumb line approach angle.. Once the long distance waypoint is made the crew shift into coastal navigation mode with chains of waypoints and a sharp lookout for the inevitable fishing boat, long line, drift net, yacht, inshore traffic. . Perhaps chains of inshore waypoints would be a nav mod opportunity. We use the autopitot extensively... its a German Seegatron unit perhaps 300,000 miles on it. High class stuff. . The auto enables two crew to handle the sails and run the watch. I have never WISHED I had a gps auto interface. Perhaps Im missing something. One thing for sure...when the auto and navigation are interfaced, crew become detached from the navigation, route planning of the ship, their eyes get sleepy, their Ipod tunes up, feet propped upon the navstation, playboy pinups unfolded, and in their comfort they overlook the school of tuna breaking to starboard or the three yachties floating around in a life raft on the horizon wishing for a spare pack of Marlboro lights.
Henning
Posted: Saturday, February 6, 2010 11:05 PM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1052


junior wrote:
Perhaps my viewpoint comes from being a sailor. If I have a 200 mile leg to cover I enter a waypoint as a basic route plan ,steering aid to destination then off I go. The course to destination will only be a guide. The crew is always paper plotting, entering the logbook and altering course to get the best out of wind direction sea state. The wind shifts aft, the crew changes course and hardens 30 degrees up up to keep the yacht moving. As the leg progress the watch keeper forms a strategy for the final approach, many times with a different newly entered waypoint to compensate for our 40 miles north of the rhumb line approach angle.. Once the long distance waypoint is made the crew shift into coastal navigation mode with chains of waypoints and a sharp lookout for the inevitable fishing boat, long line, drift net, yacht, inshore traffic. . Perhaps chains of inshore waypoints would be a nav mod opportunity. We use the autopitot extensively... its a German Seegatron unit perhaps 300,000 miles on it. High class stuff. . The auto enables two crew to handle the sails and run the watch. I have never WISHED I had a gps auto interface. Perhaps I'm missing something. One thing for sure...when the auto and navigation are interfaced, crew become detached from the navigation, route planning of the ship, their eyes get sleepy, their Ipod tunes up, feet propped upon the navstation, playboy pinups unfolded, and in their comfort they overlook the school of tuna breaking to starboard or the three yachties floating around in a life raft on the horizon wishing for a spare pack of Marlboro lights.

It's what you're not missing, which is competent crew. Sad to say it, but it's something as a contract captain I am not always afforded in this industry. I'll get a call to run a boat somewhere, often after an accident to get it to a repair facility and I get the crew that is onboard. Typically the last captain was incompetent and most likely hired incompetent crew. Under these circumstances, yes, I trust the computer more than the crew, sad but it's a reality, this industry is not exactly brimming with well trained and qualified professionals. With sails under press, yes, it is much more difficult, even at times impossible to follow a pre laid track line due to a sailing vessels inherent limited ability to maneuver. This is one of the reasons I choose not to take sailing vessel contracts. As far as dodging traffic, that is simple, switch from NAV to AUTO, spin the dial to the desired temporary collision avoidance course, or to STBY and hand steer, once clear, either bring the vessel manually back to the plot line, or just hit NAV again, and it will automatically bring you back.

junior
Posted: Sunday, February 7, 2010 10:46 AM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026


I also find it hard to find alert crew . Its what makes me nervous about further automation. The cause of the above mentioned accident in LI sound was automation....route plan via chart plotter screen snapshots to a distant location with the crew failing to realize that they couldn't steer a safe water track, waypoint to waypoint . As for the NAV mode, For the sake of modernity and the fact that the supplier sold it to me , I'm upgrading the wheel house this month with the autopilot interface module. Have no idea how it works in real life. . Going to require a change in my normal navigation routine. Many times I enter route waypoints which are dead centered on offshore breaking reefs, obstructions or traffic separation VTS zone limits so crew know we are 8 miles west of RioRio and time to check in.... .I have no intention of actually fetching the waypoint, they simply provide a visual aid allowing crew to spot reef breakers or unlit buoys with the radar GPS lollipop and stand clear.... reflection in lollipop circle ....... 11 oclock , 2.5 miles ..... We shall see how the NAV mode works in practice. .
Henning
Posted: Sunday, February 7, 2010 10:01 PM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1052


junior wrote:
I also find it hard to find alert crew . Its what makes me nervous about further automation. The cause of the above mentioned accident in LI sound was automation....route plan via chart plotter screen snapshots to a distant location with the crew failing to realize that they couldn't steer a safe water track, waypoint to waypoint . As for the NAV mode, For the sake of modernity and the fact that the supplier sold it to me , I'm upgrading the wheel house this month with the autopilot interface module. Have no idea how it works in real life. . Going to require a change in my normal navigation routine. Many times I enter route waypoints which are dead centered on offshore breaking reefs, obstructions or traffic separation VTS zone limits so crew know we are 8 miles west of RioRio and time to check in.... .I have no intention of actually fetching the waypoint, they simply provide a visual aid allowing crew to spot reef breakers or unlit buoys with the radar GPS lollipop and stand clear.... reflection in lollipop circle ....... 11 oclock , 2.5 miles ..... We shall see how the NAV mode works in practice. .

When you set up for NAV mode, ALWAYS put your waypoints exactly where you want the boat to go, not what you want people to be aware of. A lot of the charting is accurate enough that when people use bouys and such as waypoints, they end up running over them. Most of the more advanced systems have a way where you can mark obstructions and hazards to call attention to them without setting a waypoint there.

Capt. Alex G.
Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010 6:18 PM
Joined: 03/06/2008
Posts: 1


Not to beat a dead horse here concerning NAV mode, but one more point.  Most if not all modern autopilot systems force the watchstander to confirm any and all course changes that are plotted by pressing a confirm key.  In addition even if the watchstander falls asleep, the system will alarm if a turn is missed or if there is a malfunction that forces the ship off track by more than a predetermined distance.  It will also alarm if there is a communications error between the AP and GPS.  With all that being said, my belief is that you should trust your crew, but at the same time can rest a little easier knowing that there are alarms and failsafe mechanisms built into the AP. If I personally plot the course into the plotter and the ship is in NAV mode, I can rest easier knowing that the watchstander can focus on collision avoidance and let the AP do the lions share of the steering. Of course the watchstander is still obligated to plot a fix on the paper chart and enter the position in the log book at regular intervals. Just my $.02.
Henning
Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010 10:18 AM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1052


Capt. Alex G. wrote:
Not to beat a dead horse here concerning NAV mode, but one more point.  Most if not all modern autopilot systems force the watchstander to confirm any and all course changes that are plotted by pressing a confirm key.  In addition even if the watchstander falls asleep, the system will alarm if a turn is missed or if there is a malfunction that forces the ship off track by more than a predetermined distance.  It will also alarm if there is a communications error between the AP and GPS.  With all that being said, my belief is that you should trust your crew, but at the same time can rest a little easier knowing that there are alarms and failsafe mechanisms built into the AP. If I personally plot the course into the plotter and the ship is in NAV mode, I can rest easier knowing that the watchstander can focus on collision avoidance and let the AP do the lions share of the steering. Of course the watchstander is still obligated to plot a fix on the paper chart and enter the position in the log book at regular intervals. Just my $.02.


Hmmmmm.... In every modern autopilot I've dealt with in the last 10 years that is an option in the set up menu. I know my Simrad AP50 will make the turns by itself as will the Furunos installed on a couple of clients VSC 61s. The default setting is for a confirmation, but it is just a couple of clicks in a menu to change it over to automatic.

 
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