Today we see increasingly complex and automated bridges, with integrated systems having the ability to virtually take over the navigation of the vessel. STCW requires training on all these systems and is constantly being reviewed as technology outpaces regulations. In the aviation industry, pilots have long been trained to trust their instruments but also maintain a high level of situational awareness; that same idea applies to the maritime world.
Understanding how to set up and maintain the display, differentiating between true and false echoes, parallel indexing, ARPA errors and limitations are but a few skills you need to have to ensure you’re safely using these systems and integrating them into the vessel's operations.
When we look at the requirements in STCW (A-II/1 and A-II/3) for radar and ARPA training, or in the MCA MSN 1858 notice, or the U.S. CFR 46 CFRs 11.480 and 15.816, there is a common thread to all. Training is a must to safely utilize these systems. Proper risk assessment, collision avoidance, and navigation are all skills radar can assist the Officer in Charge of the watch with. But it’s important to remember that the radar is just there to assist. “Radar-assisted” collisions are still occurring due to the fact that those using the equipment aren’t properly trained or haven’t maintained the skillset they originally were trained in. Rather, they have allowed themselves to become complacent and allow the ARPA unit to do all the work and make all the calls. But the radar and ARPA units are fallible. Incorrect settings, misinterpreted data, or not seeing smaller vessels are all examples of how modern radar sets can have problems. The STCW Convention recognizes these shortcomings and that’s the reason the training requirements exist.
On every chart or voyage plan that I was involved in creating, I’d always call out specific, prominent coastal features with a range and bearing so we could cross-check our position with several radar bearings. This skill is still taught and is a strong backup to GPS and other position-fixing instruments.
Using a radar for passage planning and being able to obtain a fix via radar plotting are techniques that are easy to employ and are very accurate. Being able to determine your position quickly and accurately in a busy corridor is a very important component for collision avoidance and to ensure you’re operating in accordance with Traffic Separation Schemes, the Rules of the Road, and to help you accurately complete course changes.
Regardless of the license system or area you’re operating in, there are specific skills that you must master to truly get the most from the radar or ARPA. Understanding how to set up and maintain the display, differentiating between true and false echoes, parallel indexing, environmental conditions that will affect accuracy and performance, orientation settings, ARPA errors and limitations are but a few skills you need to have to ensure you’re safely using these systems and integrating them into the operations of your vessel.
This article originally ran in the October 2021 issue of Dockwalk.