back to article We're all at sea: Navigation Royal Navy style – with plenty of IT but no GPS

How do you safely navigate a warship to within a few yards of a planned track? And how do you do that without GPS giving you a precise position readout? The Register has joined the Royal Navy to find out. This week we are exclusively reporting from aboard HMS Severn, the warship hosting the Navy's Fleet Navigation Officer (FNO …

  1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Everybody Down!

    One wonders how Sub-Lieutenant Phillips would have coped.

    Left hand down a bit.

    1. PerlyKing Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Everybody Down!

      Oooh, nasty!

      At last a good use for this icon :-D --->

      1. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Coat

        Where's Portsmouth?

        Paper chart? Nahhhhhh...

        Consult the WECDIS terminals, turn left, then ask...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everybody Down!

      He's been promoted to 'Commander Philip[s] Harper'

      By coincidence, Radio4extra still has the 'NANA' episode available to listen to, where Troutbridge gets a new navigational aid

      ('Nautical Aid to Navigational Accuracy'... something unknown to Lovable Leslie)

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everybody Down!

      Ahh - a reverse Proustian moment. The taste of apple pie and custard that followed the Sunday roast - all the family listening to the radio.

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

    "One, we've never lost everything," said the captain, referring to the nightmare scenario of all WECDIS terminals simultaneously crashing or corrupting

    Yet

    "Two, we no longer have the skills to operate a paper chart."

    You're expendable when 'one' happens.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      I was deeply impressed when two guys from our aero club flew to England (to watch some air show thingy), with a sinlge engine plane. On the way back the weather over the channel got worse (not what was forecast...), and they lost ground view. That was before world and dog had GPS units. One of them served as a chopper pilot, so he was well versed in navigating with stop watch, compass and map. They did make their way to a small airfield in Northern France without any problems (and external help).

      Sure, they could have asked to get a QDM, plus the plane was equiped with ADF and VOR, so it was reasonably safe.

      However, I doubt they had their position down to a few yards, which is what the requirements are for navigating shallow waters near the coast as described in the article. The problem you have with triangulating your position while moving is that you have to correct for this. Being a yard or 50 off is not an option here.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        The problem you have with triangulating your position while moving is that you have to correct for this

        This is why the Commander says paper charts are useless - If you fix the ship's position by taking, say, three bearings from shore landmarks, there will always be an error introduced by the time it takes to physically convey the bearing from the gyro-compass to the chart

        I was going to bitch and moan as paper maps have saved my ass when Google shits the bed, but he's right. I'm usually parked up when I'm trying to use a paper map. My problem is determining what intersection I'm at, as American signposts are complete and utterly useless shite.

        1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          Many years ago (1968 IIRC) when I was on a Frigate (as a cadet) they used the Decca Navigation system which did require getting 3 values from the dials.

          You had to get the one that was moving fastest first to minimise plot errors.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          On the other hand, if you are in the middle of the Ocean and the electronics go tits-up, you can navigate to the approximation of a few yards for several days, until you need get 100% accurate.

          Yes, being able to navigate around shoals requires either very accurate GPS or other electronic tools - or a local pilot - but, sometimes, you have to find the shoals in the first place to worry about them.

          Learning how to do it the hard way means that you can always fall back to finding your way home in an emergency. And you can spot when the navigation system is telling your porkies!

          I was on the Autobahn once, doing 210km/h and the navigation was having an apoplectic fit telling me to watch my speed and obey local speed restrictions! I had me going about 50M to my right, in the middle of a housing estate and was having great difficulty trying to match my 210km/h going across junctions and through people's living rooms!

          1. pavel.petrman

            Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

            They used to do this all the time, didn't they? Mainly in Germany, where there is alsays a side road just next to the autobahn. You had another 200 km to go yet the navigation unit would suddenly scream "Take a sharp left turn in 50 meters!"

        3. Potty Professor
          Angel

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          My late wife was an excellent navigator, she only got us lost once in all the 30 years we were together, and that annoyed her immensely. We were travelling through France on our way back from holiday, using the AA "Road Book of Europe" when we couldn't find a junction that we needed to take. We went back and forth along the same stretch of road three times before we realised that the section was not on the map, this was a new road that took a shortcut between two large towns and missed out the village we were heading for. The old road had been downgraded from a National to a Departmental road, and the new section had been given the old road's National route number, so as I was following the road signs as per her instructions, they had directed me onto the new road instead of crossing a bridge and travelling along the old road, on the opposite side of the river. After her death, I bought a GPS navigation system (Garmin, I think), but it was never as accurate as she had been, and once sent me off into Belgium because there was a connection missing on its map of the A1 Autoroute from Calais to Paris, so it didn't admit that the road existed. .

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

            "because there was a connection missing on its map of the A1 Autoroute from Calais to Paris, so it didn't admit that the road existed. ."

            If you aren't blinding following the machine that goes "Bing" and thinking, you can spot errors quickly. My SatNav isn't perfect and it doesn't have perfect updates. With some rough relationships in my head, I can know that it's not right. If I'm going someplace I'm not familiar with, I look up the route online right before I go and print out map I could show somebody to put me right. The details of what I print out is based on how complicated the route is. For something right off of the motorway, it will be rather simple. The old fashioned paper maps are in the back pockets of the front seats. Why not? Horribly out of date, but good enough in a pinch.

        4. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          "I'm usually parked up when I'm trying to use a paper map."

          Me too, but that's because it's not a great idea to be whizzing along at 70mph with little wiggle room while trying to use a paper map. If I wasn't the one driving and we knew that we still had miles to go and were going in the approximately right direction, being on the move might be of help. We'd pass a few sign posts that could help pinpoint our position.

          I agree that it's not the sort of thing that works on a ship to be moving at a high speed (for a ship) while needing to thread through unseen underwater hazards. In a car you are nicely constrained to a roadway. The navy should still teach the old skills. A warship is subject to damage so it's not far fetched to imagine a scenario where an electronic navigation system might go Tango Uniform (TitsUp to civilians).

      2. hoola Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        This is interesting and at so many level, GPS just makes people lazy. Skills are lost so that when there is a problem, they are totally stuffed.

        You only have to see the people who just program a route into a SatNav and just blindly follow it. There is no context, they have no concept of what is between the start and finish point and the SatNav takes over any sensible decision making process.

        A friend as a single engine light aircraft and although he does have GPS, he always has the physical map marked up with the waypoints and radio beacons. GPS does not stop you flying into a 1000ft radio mast or controlled airspace.

        1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          I sort of agree with you, and I still use paper charts to get the big picture, but in modern aircraft, the GPS is totally integrated into the 'glass cockpit' and it does warn you about airspace violations and terrain. Nevertheless, you are legally required to have an up-to-date chart with you.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      I remember a conversation with a colleague who'd worked at Eurocontrol upgrading the air traffic control system. With the new system the probability of failure went down immensely, but the impact went up;

      The old ATC would fail about twice a week and take 30-90 minutes to be restored. The new one should fail no more an once every 2 years and recover inside 30 minutes. When the old one went down, everyone looked at their notes (which they always kept on paper) and their charts and kept directing traffic. If the new one failed, they had no backup notes and were out of practice working from paper.

    3. Christoph

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      "One, we've never lost everything," said the captain, referring to the nightmare scenario of all WECDIS terminals simultaneously crashing or corrupting

      No ship has ever returned to report losing everything.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        They have obviously upgraded from Windows NT then:

        https://www.wired.com/1998/07/sunk-by-windows-nt/

        "

        A system failure on the USS Yorktown last September temporarily paralyzed the cruiser, leaving it stalled in port for the remainder of a weekend.

        "For about two-and-a-half hours, the ship was what we call 'dead in the water,'" said Commander John Singley of the Atlantic Fleet Surface Force.

        "

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          >A system failure on the USS Yorktown last September temporarily paralyzed the cruiser, leaving it stalled in port for the remainder of a weekend.

          My kayak is required to carry a spare paddle as an "alternative means of propulsion" - do they have banks of oars ?

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      Interesting.

      I had the opportunity to tour a USN destroyer several years ago, and our tour guide was the ship's Navigation officer. He confirmed the same situation on US ships: no paper charts. The reason given was that they're a huge problem to store and keep updated. So they, too, are all electronic.

      It does give you pause. However, he did claim to be good with a sextant, and, having tried it myself, on land, and come out only a few miles from where I knew I was, I respect him for that! He said the Naval Academy, after dropping sextant training with great fanfare, has reinstituted it. Because you never know when everything will go TITSUP*, and it's best to Be Prepared!

      *Totally Impossible To Savvy Ur Position

      // Bowditch in the pocket, natch!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        Apologies this is a bit long, but the article has brought back a job I did about 25 years ago.

        I was conducting a pre-hire audit of a drill rig to work in the North Sea. It didn't start well as, after we'd disembarked our helicopter and attended the new-arrivals briefing, the master didn't know how to run the video recorder that would go through the on-board emergency procedures.

        It didn't continue very well, either, with numerous areas of concern being recorded. The one relevant here was when I went to the bridge to look at the rig's positioning systems, I found it didn't have any. The radar positioning systems (Decca and Loran) had been removed; there was no GPS receiver (even back then, hill walkers would often have a hand-held unit as a backup). Also, no sextant (which, in itself, wasn't a problem as nobody on the bridge knew how to use one). When asked how he knew the rig position, the master's reply was that he was told what it was by the tug master who had overseen their tow on-site. They had an anchor winch system to hold them over the well (it was a semi-submersible rig).

        Operating NW of the Shetland Islands, the possibility of storms and dragging anchors was not a remote consideration. It turned out that, if they were to drift in fog, the only way they could be located (other than search-vessel radar) would be to manually set off one of the life-raft EPIRBs.

        Needless to say, the final report was not favourable.

        Oh, they did have paper charts on the rig - though we couldn't verify, from rig records, if they were still current - and weren't much use anyway...

        Bootnote: It later transpired that the rig was hired and I received a complaint from the hiring manager that the rig was a mess. He'd paid quite a bit for the audit (which had included helicopter hire for my team of five, as there were no routine crew-change flights available to us within the allotted time window) - why was he getting these problems? I pointed him to the audit report he'd received before signing the contract - on the opening page was the recommendation not to hire as there were serious concerns regarding the rig and its operations. I also pointed out that no amount of money would get me (or my team) back onboard to help sort out the problems.

      2. uccsoundman

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        "He confirmed the same situation on US ships: no paper charts. The reason given was that they're a huge problem to store and keep updated."

        Because I don't know: Why do paper charts need updating? Land masses don't generally move very much. Yes I understand that near a coastline you might have changes, but I'm thinking more about where on the face of the Earth are you. And storage? How much does a nice closet cost?

        IMHO sailors need constant practice and refresh on the ancient ways. All you'd need to do is generate a nice EMP (even a "Carrington Event" would do) and all that electronic storage is toast. All they needed in the 19th century is a sextant, a paper chart, star tables and an accurate clock.

        1. WolfFan Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          Stuff changes. Sandbars move. In tropical waters coral reefs grow. Volcanos and fault lines physically add/delete land features. Shipwrecks happen, and become hazards, and, worse, move. Certain harbours worldwide are notorious; Kingston harbour, in Jamaica, is an excellent harbour… it’s also notorious for being difficult to enter/exit if you’re not paying proper attention. Among its more famous victims are a Royal Navy aircraft carrier, then en route to Singapore to join Force Z, in WWII, and a Korean container ship dropping off some containers before going to the US. The RN ship had to go and get repaired and wasn’t available when Force Z sailed, without air cover, and met a lot of unescorted Japanese torpedo bombers. The Korean had to be partially unloaded, temporarily patched, and then sent off for repairs while the containers sat in the Port of Kingston. Amazingly enough, some of the contents in those containers were still there when the Koreans sent another ship to move them. Anyone who’s ever been anywhere near the Port of Kingston knows just how much of a miracle that was. The Koreans were most upset. Locals, including everyone from Miami to Port of Spain, Trinidad, were most amused. The Customs seals on the containers were still intact, apparently the contents were teleported out…

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

            New bits of not-sea get discovered - we are still surveying the oceans (ironically one of the things the Royal Navy does most)

            The case where that US sub got a nose job was because it hit an newly charted undersea mountain that was on the updated charts that they hadn't yet updated to.

        2. GreyWolf

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          Charts need updating, because the land masses are not the only things on the chart. Lighthouses come and go (mostly go), wind farms get built, Traffic Separation Schemes get altered, sandbanks move, sea marks (buoys and beacons) get new light characteristics (important at night), and many more things.

          With manual updating, these changes are written onto the actual physical chart, and number and date of the change are written in the bottom left margin.

          A warship with physical charts would have thousands of charts on board, all of which need updating by an officer (usually junior). If the captain wants to get any other work out of that officer .... some of the updating will get delayed ... which causes a panic when the ship gets redeployed to another theatre.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

            "Charts need updating, because the land masses are not the only things on the chart. Lighthouses come and go (mostly go)..."

            But Soviet submarines are there to stay. ;-)

            "Soviet submarine S-363"

            -- Wikipedia

        3. cageordie

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          Believe it or not, the military has heard of EMP and they have been taking steps to avoid being killed by it for decades. Back in the 1980s Nuclear Event Detectors were standard parts in the weapons I was working on. EMP isn't the only way a nuke can kill outside its blast radius. But still, I'd like to think I'd sneak a few paper charts aboard, just to be on the safe side.

        4. Jim Whitaker

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          Yes and that is why they kept running into things.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        TITSUP: Technology Is Tempermental, Stars Usually Persist.

      4. SusiW

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        Upvote for cool comment re: "The Immaculate Bowditch."

        That man has saved a truly uncountable number of lives over the last century.

    5. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      When they say " everything", they mean all primary and backup methods of navigation, of which there are several, including using paper charts.

      Using paper charts as the primary full operational navigation capability in all conditions is the thing that isn't done anymore.

      And if you do ever lose "everything", you'll still know where you were when that happened and the ship won't instantaneously jump somewhere without you knowing it. Also, there comes a point where knowing where you are becomes a lower priority to certain other things, depending on where you are what your are doing at the time.

      1. Annihilator Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        "And if you do ever lose "everything", you'll still know where you were when that happened and the ship won't instantaneously jump somewhere without you knowing it."

        Not entirely true for a couple of reasons - 1, the oceans are constantly moving. 2, the stopping distance for a warship is probably a good couple of miles.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          You know where you were and how you were moving at the time, so even if you lose all the live systems you can transfer that to an offline backup system.

          A fully-isolated backup with it's own built in multi-hour battery is pretty easy to arrange - my phone has a pile of charts on it, for example.

          And if you can't recover power to somewhere you can navigate from within a few hours then whatever happened is so serious that the ship already sank.

        2. SkippyBing

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          The stopping distance for most warships is their own length. Although the engineering department get a bit upset if you constantly do that. You're thinking of tankers or cargo ships, not something that's designed to manoeuvre to avoid an incoming air raid.

    6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      "One, we've never lost everything," said the captain

      A man who's never heard of tempting fate. Or Murphy.

      1. Annihilator Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        Yeah I've seen similar reasons for not having good backups.

      2. SkippyBing

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        Given how often the navy practices losing everything* I'm pretty sure they've explored all the options for killing the nav system. Certainly when we had an electrical failure on Liverpool in 2011 just off Libya the WECDIS kept running, and within 30 seconds we'd turned north and were accelerating from 12 through 20 knots towards full speed.

        *it's not always intentional

    7. big_D Silver badge

      Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

      My father did his navigation exams in the early 80s. He took bearing with the sextant and was then stuck in the cabin of a yacht, windows blacked out and given charts, tide tables, log and a compass and told to get on with it and tell the captain headings. He had to navigate to a destination.

      A few months later, he was sailing with friends out to Bara from Oban, when they hit a fog bank.Charts, tide tables and a compass... When they arrived at Barra, the marker boy was about 10 yards to the left of where they thought it should be.

      Whilst I appreciate that the Navy doesn't have time to do it "the old fashioned way", surely learning the basics, in case they lose "everything", is still a good way to start the training.

      It is like maths. At school, we had to learn how to do it the hard way - writing it out long hand, log books etc. and once we could do that, we were shown how to use a calculator. These days, when shopping, I'm still adding things up in my head as I go around plundering the shelves and I know whether the till is asking for the right money or not.

      If you can't do it yourself, how do you know the technology is giving you the right answers?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        They do do-it-themselves, the navy standard is to be able to navigate coasts and harbours using only compass and sightings and astro-navigation at sea.

        GPS, Loran and markey boys aren't allowed - since the people you are intending to broadside may have been naughty and removed them.

        What isn't done the old way is using log tables to reduce the numbers - you are allowed to use the nav software and calculators.

      2. RobThBay

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        If you can't do it yourself, how do you know the technology is giving you the right answers?....

        Something like that happened at work quite a while ago. The boss was using Google to give him time and distance info between bus stops. I knew the numbers were wrong since I drove route on a regular basis.

        One day I took a stopwatch and noted all the actual driving times between stops. I showed him my results and got told off for wasting time, he claimed my numbers were wrong because he used a computer and checked with Google.

        That was the last time I tried to be helpful and schedules are still wrong.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

          "The boss was using Google to give him time and distance info between bus stops."

          That's too precise for Google to be any good at. Google maps is generally close on much longer trips unless there is roadworks or a closure. If you absolutely need to be at the airport to make a flight, don't trust Google. If you are just trying to plan where you might want to look for a hotel on a long trip, it can be fine.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        "At school, we had to learn how to do it the hard way [...]"

        An autobiography** described a schoolboy's ambition to go to sea. Before being taken on by a shipping company he had to show he could do geometry for a path on the surface of a globe.

        We can usually treat the Earth's surface as flat and amenable to Euclidean geometry - where the sum of angles inside a triangle is always 180 degrees. For long distance navigation over a globe that no longer holds true - and the calculations get rather more complicated.

        **There are 27 feet length of biographies on my bookshelves. So couldn't spot the book at a glance.

      4. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "two main reasons why the Royal Navy no longer uses [paper charts]"

        "These days, when shopping, I'm still adding things up in my head as I go around plundering the shelves and I know whether the till is asking for the right money or not."

        I worked a manual cash register (electric but not computerized) way back and had to calculate change in my head. I still keep up the practice and have young cashiers look at me funny when I hand them what seems to be too much money. I have to tell them to put the payment into the register and see what happens. I get back a five or ten instead of a pocket full of coins. "Oh, I see. I don't like math, it's hard.". My response, "this is arithmetic, not math".

  3. b0llchit Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Reg units need not apply

    ...for example, one degree is equal to 35yds at 1nm...

    That one nanometer must be the X-ray laser wavelength that can strike at thirty-five yards with a one degree centigrade temperature rise?

    Did ISO fall out of grace?

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Reg units need not apply

      1) it is the British Royal Navy!

      2) ships and planes use nautical miles for distances and knots for speed. Unless you are a glider pilot, then you use kilometers for distances and metres for height, and curse the official map material...

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: Reg units need not apply

        For all the arguments of metric vs imperial, both still have their place and in the real world, we're all quite happily working with both. The Americans take this even further than the Brits.

        Watching a US medical series last night, patient weight was in lbs, drug dosage in metric. Using each system to its strengths.

        1. DarkwavePunk

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          When I lived in Australia it was also a mish-mash of units. You'd ask for directions and get something like "Yeah, keep going for about 5km, take the first left, then it's about 300 yards on your right. Can't miss it".

          1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            I once worked in a wood work factory when we did a manual stock take. Timber lengths were in metres, cross sections were in inches and volumes were cubic feet.

            1. IanRS

              Re: Reg units need not apply

              But the timber lengths were probably all multiples of 0.3m, otherwise known as 'metric feet' by carpenters. It does lead to the problem of some 'full size' boards being 2.4m by 1.2m and others are the full 8' x 4' (2.44m x 1.22m). Very annoying when you really do need those last 4cm, or should that be 1 9/16in?

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            I'm surprised that a unit of time wasn't given as well in australia, that's how they measure long(ish) distances

        2. Korev Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          Watching a US medical series last night, patient weight was in lbs, drug dosage in metric. Using each system to its strengths.

          Right up until the patient gets 2.2X the dose they're supposed to get...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            This 300lb man was shot by a 9mm and has lost 4 (US) pints of blood, quick how many grains of laudanum should we give him ?

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Reg units need not apply

              "quick how many grains of laudanum should we give him ?"

              Probably as much or as little as you like. That's a tremendous amount of blood to lose and still be alive.

          2. RobThBay

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            Google "Gimli glider" in Canada.

            Many years ago a 737 was enroute and ran low on fuel. The pilot ended up gliding into an old unused airport that was hosting drag car races at the time. The pilot was familiar with the Gimli airport because he used to fly gliders in that area.

            Metric conversion error caused them to not load enough fuel.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Reg units need not apply

              And relying on a fuel gauge which didn't measure how much fuel was in the tanks - but repeated how much they had told it they had loaded

              1. cageordie

                Re: Reg units need not apply

                The fuel gauges were unserviceable. Broken. The 767 can usually tell you fairly well what it has in the tanks. With the gauges U/S they had to calculate the fuel load instead and set it in the FMC. Normally the three digital readouts below the fuel pump switches in the middle of the overhead panel tell you what you have in each wing and the center fuel tank, plus the total, and the fuel temperature.

            2. cageordie

              Re: Reg units need not apply

              Check your facts. It was a 767. Actually, go and check all your facts. Neither the crew nor the ground crew could do the numbers. They did worse than run short, they found out by getting low fuel pressure on a fuel pump, followed closely by the other three. They flamed out when they were still at high altitude.

              Here, I checked for you:

              At this point, Quintal proposed landing at the former RCAF Station Gimli, a closed air force base where he had once served as a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Unbeknownst to Quintal or to the air traffic controller, a part of the facility had been converted to a race track complex, now known as Gimli Motorsports Park. It included a road race course, a go-kart track, and a dragstrip. A Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs-sanctioned sports car race hosted by the Winnipeg Sports Car Club was underway at the time of the incident and the area around the decommissioned runway was full of cars and campers. Part of the decommissioned runway was being used to stage the race.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          Using patient weight in Lbs and ounces and metric measures for drugs is a perfect use case for when imperial and metric should not be mixed.

          Making dosage calculations more complicated introduces a significant risk of errors, add in the fact that there will be times when this is being carried out when the practitioners are tired, busy or stressed and a complete move to the metric system should be mandated.

          I do use both metric and imperial and vary between them when it doesn't matter.

          When measuring materials at home for a job I'll use the side of the tape which is easiest to see. If I'm buying materials I'll always use metric because that's what it;s sold in. If I'm cooking from an old recioe book I'll switch the scales to imperial rather than recalculate the weights.

          Somewhere I do have large set of AF spanners and imperial Allen keys, I don't know where because even though I drive older cars all fittings are now wither metric or special tools (star bits etc)

      2. PerlyKing Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Glider units

        Glider pilots in the UK still use feet for altitude, at least up until last weekend. But they do use km for task distances.

        1. khjohansen
          Devil

          Re: Glider units

          You may find that *height* above mean sea level - e.g.of your target airstrip - and obstacles in your way - will be given in metres

          1. ian 22

            Re: Glider units

            Reminds me of a story I heard. A group was working on a air defense missile system for the US navy, and supplied them with documentation using feet for altitude units. The navy rejected their work, demanding that they use nautical units.

            They revised the documents this time using negative fathoms for altitude.

            1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Silver badge

              Re: Glider units

              Upvote for their chutzpah.

              They need a hug.

          2. PerlyKing Silver badge

            Re: Glider units

            Not if you're using CAA aeronautical charts, but other maps are available.

            All the altimeters I've seen in the UK have been calibrated in feet, and all discussions of height/altitude have always been in feet.

            If I were flying to another airstrip (which is unlikely as my PPL has long since expired ;-) I would request QFE (local air pressure in millibars) and set my altimeter to read height above ground at that location.

            1. Fursty Ferret

              Re: Glider units

              Meh. Use QNH for everything. You might find it easier to fly a circuit using QFE but this forces you to add the field elevation to every other value on your charts, which is particularly relevant when it comes to obstacles such as masts, and MSAs.

              If you use QNH, you only have to figure out one number, which is your circuit altitude and when you're stressed and fly into a cloud or something, you can look at your altimeter and know instantly whether you're at risk of twatting the TV mast near the airport.

      3. cageordie

        Re: Reg units need not apply

        No dude, it's THE Royal Navy. The Royal Navy was the first Royal Navy, so it gets to call itself The Royal Navy. All other Royal Navies, like the Royal Australian Navy, have to say whose they are. The RN owns that term. Permanently.

        American gliders use knots and feet.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          et La Royale?

        2. Ken G

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          It's a Royal Navy, the Swedes and Dutch have older Royal Navies and the Portugese and Spanish navies are so much older they've cycled through Royal, Imperial, Republican etc and given up.

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Reg units need not apply

      > Did ISO fall out of grace?

      The Royal Navy (and others) were using nautical miles long before ISO existed as an organisation. Perhaps the johnny-come-lately's should consider changing their own definition?

      [Icon: a sailor used to doing his own navigation!]

      1. KBeee Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Reg units need not apply

        There was actually a bit of logic to the nautical mile. One nautical mile = 1 minute of arc on a meridian.

    3. slimshady76

      Re: Reg units need not apply

      Nautical miles are in their natural habitat in er... the navy I guess. The inclusion of yards to measure short distances caught me off guard I must admit, as I regard the UK being leaning more into the Metric system lately. But I guess it also makes sense in the nautical world to keep unit conversion consistency (as stupid as those "one nautical mile equals 3467.2452432 yards" rules of thumb are).

      1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Reg units need not apply

        "one nautical mile equals 3467.2452432 yards" certainly would be a stupid conversion.

        1nm(*) is 200 yards. Or 10 cables. Or 100 fathoms.

        But be careful, 100 fathoms of cable-laid rope is really 3 x 120 fathom hawser-laid ropes.

        (*) yes, i know a nano metre is slightly shorter.

        1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          Unfortunate typo there:

          "1nm(*) is 200 yards. "

          That should be 2000 yards, of course.

          Though I think the previous comment was right in philosophy, since I think its actually something like 6080 feet? (so about 2000 yards, but not quite precisely).

          1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Silver badge

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            D'oh.

            Muphry's mathematical cousin has been at my keyboard again.

          2. cageordie

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            It says here that 1 nautical mile is 2025.37 yards.

            Originally the nautical mile was one minute of latitude at the equator, but was standardized at 1852 metres.

            Always helps to actually be right when correcting other people.

          3. Fursty Ferret

            Re: Reg units need not apply

            Makes the maffs easier. 1 degree at 1 nautical mile is 100 feet.

        2. Ken G

          Re: Reg units need not apply

          Keep practicing, Johnson is bringing all this back you know.

          And there are 1008 farthings to the guinea (aka Kf).

    4. Esme

      Re: Reg units need not apply

      No; it was a matter of practicality, to make working out one's position easier. A nautical mile was originally definied as being 1 minute (1/60 of a degree) of latitude.This made calculating your position easier, as if you'd been sailing west for 24 hours at 10 knots from your last definitely known position, then you'd theortically be 4 degrees further west, now. of course, you'd have to apply corrections for any currents encountered.

      Hence one nautical mile being 1852 metres - due to how we measure angles and the size of the Earth!

      1. KBeee Silver badge

        Re: Reg units need not apply

        That'd only work if you was sailing west along the equator. Parallels of latitude are all smaller the further you get from the equator (none of them are Great Circles except the equator), until near the north (or south) pole going west for 24h at 10 knots might get you all the way "around" the world - 360 degrees.

  4. x 7

    Has anyone offered

    to take you down to see the Golden Rivet?

    1. ItWasn'tMe

      Capt Pugwash

      References incoming in 3.. 2.. 1..

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "We once played for two hours to decide who'd wash three plates,"

    I'm glad the Royal Navy is able to spend that much time determining with precision who is to do what.

    I do hope they do not use that system when it comes to targeting and weapon firing in combat, though.

    What really worries me is the "we no longer have the skills to operate a paper chart " part. That clearly means that, in case the computers go down, the Royal Navy (and probably every other navy in the world) is dead in the water.

    That part doesn't sound too good.

    1. GreyWolf

      Re: "We once played for two hours to decide who'd wash three plates,"

      No, not "dead in the water".

      You simply turn towards deeper water, away from known hazards. Takes 10 seconds to select a safe course.

      1. khjohansen

        Honda Point Ahoy!

        .. "turn towards deeper waters" can be slightly tricky if you're not sure where you're at!!

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: Honda Point Ahoy!

          Or know where the shallow bits are.

          But as a Cornishman I welcome the potential return of wrecking... Yaargh -->

  6. I Am Spartacus
    Megaphone

    Welcome to the 21sa Century

    "We don't use paper charts at all," Severn's captain, Commander Philip Harper,

    Actually, commercial vessels have used n Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) for some time. No one in the commercial world has used charts for decades.

    What would more helpful is if Royal Navy ships actually use AIS (Automatic Identification System) whilst they are manoeuvring in port, so that other vessels see them on their ECDIS systems and can take avoiding action when the Navy Lark pulls some damn fool stupid turn without notice, expecting everyone else to scatter out of their way.

    Ahoy, Skipper:our very large cargo ship/oil tanker does not exactly spin on a six-pence when it comes to turns, and we need 1/2 nautical mile (that's 37 Olympic swimming pools) to stop.

    1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

      "Actually, commercial vessels have used n Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) for some time. No one in the commercial world has used charts for decades."

      Agreed. And this stance is also now filtering down to the leisure market where a lot of yachties I know now only use electronic charts such as Navionics on mobile tablets and dedicated integrated chartplotters etc.

      Personally, I don't necessarily disagree and everything has its place I guess, but I l still have a love of paper charts and old school navigation techniques to the point where I'm just about to buy a sextant and start my Ocean Yachtmaster course.

      That said, my yacht only cruises at about 6knts, and in fog, GPS, AIS, Radar etc. are all invaluable tools.

      1. GreyWolf

        Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

        Subtle point - yachts are far more likely to suffer electrical failure than either commercial vessels or the Navy.

        So a yacht skipper MUST have (legally required) an alternative means of navigating.

      2. John Jennings Silver badge

        Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

        Thumbs up and good luck on your yachtmaster!

        I built an AIS Reciever/GPS/Chartplotter on a Rasberry Pi for very little money. Beats the crappy 5inch screens we used to have. I did many passages with just my phone for years earlier (and nothing but dead reckoning before that)

        For leisure sailing, I still keep paper charts. The plotter is fine an all - and I use it -as well- but its always good to reference a paper chart. It feels right - and marking it up is a great record of previous trips.

    2. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

      Actually, commercial vessels have used n Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) for some time. No one in the commercial world has used charts for decades.

      True, however commercial vessels are less likely to be under deliberate attack. Of course, that could mean cyber as well as physical. Not only is having some back-up for GPS that cannot be easily spoofed a good idea, but navigation information in a non-volatile, read-only format seems sensible.

      I am sure that the computers are firewalled etc, but in my experience 90% of sailing is total boredom. When I sailed with the RFA, many years ago, i was stunned by the amount of pirated software that was in use. Nowadays it will be dodgy videos picked up in the far east

      1. ShadowDragon8685

        Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

        If a war starts up, I'd think merchant shipping would be very likely to come under attack...

    3. Ken G
      Trollface

      Re: Welcome to the 21sa Century

      For a military vessel wouldn't that be an Automated Targetting System, as in "aim here"?

      Thanks for the nautical mile to olympic swimming pool conversion though I think you meant to say 100 double decker buses since the pool is a volume measurement.

  7. Ellipsis
    WTF?

    Officers have to do their own washing-up?

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      Presumably they just shove the plates into a wire basket, secure the lid and drag it along for 10 minutes of wave-powered cleaning. (And no need for a salt tablet in the dishwasher!)

      Quick rinse in fresh water and all done. :-)

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        My dad visited a US warship during WW2, and was impressed with the catering. Food was served on a stainless steel tray with indents for servings of this and that; and cutlery was stainless steel.

        After use, these were blasted with red hot steam from the ship's boiler, so spotlessly clean and sterile.

  8. G R Goslin

    For 99.9% of the time

    The Royal Navy only have to look out of the window, to the dockside, to which the ship is tied.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: For 99.9% of the time

      Oh come on, that's harsh! The admirals get a much nicer view than that...

  9. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    "One, we've never lost everything,"

    Shit happens. Deal with it.

  10. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

    Paper charts - a parallel for air travel

    When I fly, I like to have printed copies of the US FAA Airport Diagrams (AD). Then I can determine which taxiway the plane is on (reading the signs is fairly easy) and which direction it's taxiing. From that I can figure out runways -- which one we landed on or might take off from.

    And like mariner charts, I have to redownload the latest PDF for a fresh printout every trip because the FAA has a strict update cycle / period of validity.

    (Of course, I could just take a tablet and open the PDFs in the terminal just before boarding. I guess I need to catch up to this decade. And I wouldn't have to use floppy disks like so many still-flying avionics systems.)

  11. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Happy

    No need for paper charts

    Just ensure you have Polynesian help:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_navigation

    "Polynesian navigation was used for thousands of years to enable long voyages across thousands of kilometres of the open Pacific Ocean. Polynesians made contact with nearly every island within the vast Polynesian Triangle, using outrigger canoes or double-hulled canoes. The double-hulled canoes were two large hulls, equal in length, and lashed side by side. The space between the paralleled canoes allowed for storage of food, hunting materials, and nets when embarking on long voyages. Polynesian navigators used wayfinding techniques such as the navigation by the stars, and observations of birds, ocean swells, and wind patterns, and relied on a large body of knowledge from oral tradition.

    Navigators travelled to small inhabited islands using wayfinding techniques and knowledge passed by oral tradition from master to apprentice, often in the form of song. Generally, each island maintained a guild of navigators who had very high status; in times of famine or difficulty, they could trade for aid or evacuate people to neighbouring islands. As of 2014, these traditional navigation methods are still taught in the Polynesian outlier of Taumako in the Solomons and by voyaging societies throughout the Pacific.

    Both wayfinding techniques and outrigger canoe construction methods have been kept as guild secrets, but in the modern revival of these skills, they are being recorded and published."

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: No need for paper charts

      > passed by oral tradition from master to apprentice

      Presumably only by the ones that found their way back.

  12. Rosie Davies

    Squat

    Only applies to a displacement hull (i.e. anything too big/heavy/slow to get up on the plane). If you have a planing hull (like the boat in the article's picture) the faster you go the higher up in the water you are.

    Yeah, I know. Picky.

    Rosie

    1. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Squat

      sorta a negative squat, then....

  13. x 7

    But do you trust the technology?

    Anecdotal tale from a former Seacat Master.........

    Apparently when those catamarans dropped below 10 knots, the navigation system started reporting radar echoes at twice the distance they really were.

    Software coding issue which at the time (around ten years ago) hadn't been fixed.

    Must have been disconcerting at night in a storm

    1. x 7

      Re: But do you trust the technology?

      My memory was faulty - the actual problem was if you go over 20 knots the radar reports distances at half their real value.

  14. Paul Johnston
    Unhappy

    Another thing to make me feel old!

    When I was at school one of the O-Levels it ran was Navigation.

    If anyone happens to have any old papers I'd love to see one (cursory google in progress!)

    1. Jonathon Green
      Coat

      Re: Another thing to make me feel old!

      When I was in the Air TrainingCorps we did an 0 Level in *air* navigation. That was charts, compass bearings, wind velocity and dead reckoning with the aid of a Mk4 Dalton Computer[1] - if you can get an aircraft, even a wheezy old prop-job capable of a mere 150-250 knots[2] or so safely from one place to another that way then I wouldn’t have thought a ship at 35 knots or so would pose too much of a challenge…

      [1] https://talesfromthesupplydepot.blog/2018/07/21/mk-4-dead-reckoning-flight-computer/

      [2] Which is the sort of range I recall the exam questions being based on.

      1. Paul Johnston

        Re: Another thing to make me feel old!

        You would probably enjoy reading

        The Observer's Book on Astro-Navigation Parts One and Two

        Written by a certain Francis Chichester and first published in 1940

        Amazing what you can find in old book shops

  15. Bibbit
    Thumb Up

    Corfield on another jolly.

    Should a cushy week. I recall he did a story a while back on a research ship that went to Norway. They could measure distance to shore in the fjords by sounding the foghorn and seeing how long it was for the echo to come back. How come he gets all the best gigs? Or is it recompense for having to sit in on all those dreary court-cases he has to cover?

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Corfield on another jolly.

      I thought he'll be on Big Lizzy on the voyage through the South China Sea looking for trouble

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Corfield on another jolly.

        ...Gareth could have emulated Brian Hanahan during the Falklands Conflict

        "I'm not allowed to say how many planesF35s joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back."

  16. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    If you fix the ship's position by taking, say, three bearings from shore landmarks, there will always be an error introduced by the time it takes to physically convey the bearing from the gyro-compass to the chart.

    Very simple to allow for that. You can even use it to good advantage: it's the basis of a "running fix", a standard part of the navigator's repertoire. Perhaps the officer quoted is the one whose superior skills put HMS Astute on a rock?

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Perhaps that officer attended the Fleet Navigation Officer course when they hosted it onboard HMS Victory where fixes are fairly consistent, given that the ship is going nowhere as it in a dry dock at the Naval Base in Portmouth

  17. grumpyoldeyore
    Stop

    Obsolete Paper Charts

    Apparently they had them on HMS Nottingham, but didn't actually use them...

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/10985/response/28538/attach/html/3/BOI%20Grounding%20of%20HMS%20NOTTINGHAM%202002.pdf.html

    1. John Jennings Silver badge

      Re: Obsolete Paper Charts

      Interesting that they mix just about every measurement unit in the document

      See para re Lord Howe Island (and wolf rock)

      Nautical Miles

      Cables

      Meters

      Yards

  18. Bob Scrantzen

    I giggled when watching https://www.google.com/search?q=ch5+tv+submarine+series

    The Russians continually probe our waters and we must be on a state of high alert

    HMS Trenchant, a silent Nuclear hunter-killer was monitoring and tracking one possible incursion

    But the Galley stoves were all decrepit, the steam oven leaked and the crew were getting fed up at the lack of proper hot meals

    Then all seven toilets on board became blocked at the main pipe and were ruled Out of Order

    The crew were cross legged for 5 hours until fixed

    (they were about to start using binbags)

    I did wonder about all the wonderful LCD screens on board.

    Surely one missile or depth charge breaks them?

    I've broken 2 phone and 2 laptop screens in my time

    Always wise to have backups

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      I do remember having a tour of a O-class sub, and they showed us some of the high tech stuff (for the time), then they pointed to simple bubble gauge on the wall "as use of last resort" to work out whether the sub was pointing up or down

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The LCDs are a significant improvement over CRT monitors for all sorts of "secret" reasons.

      Nice to see what I worked on for years being used in anger against that nice Mr. Putin. I only ever saw it working on synthetic / simulated data as we did not have the array processing software working during my time.

  19. Jim Whitaker

    Paper charts

    If you read Marine Accident Investigation Board reports, you will see that paper charts as primary navigational resource (especially if not used/updated) and the relationship with the ECDIS are a frequent factor in the shambles which is being reported on.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPS..........It really depends where you are using it......................

    There are unsubstantiated claims that someone near the Gulf of Hormuz is broadcasting fake GPS.

    Some ships in the area (you know...actually floating in the sea) have seen GPS locations reported as hundreds of miles inland!

    Please tell me that sextants, sightings, compasses and paper maps are a thing of the past!!!!!!!

    I suppose this sort of thing could happen anywhere......say in the English Channel.....

  21. tiggity Silver badge

    I like electronic navigation systems

    Used to do leisure boating (RIBs, when had family members lived a stones throw from the beach, as used to visit often, sadly they have now moved).

    Liked the electronic systems, but I did choose to take an extra course and get to grips with paper charts - just in case.

    I felt a paper backup was vital as the seas in S. Pembs are "fun" be it weird tidal races or the huge vessels around Milford Haven.

    Though, after a while of regular exposure, you get familiar with the area & don't need GPS, charts etc (with RIBs riding high you have to be massively incompetent to hit a sandbank as the sort of thing that could ground you would be visible anyway as would be so close to the surface - a lot easier than something with a big keel).

    Local familiarity is why best option is always a local pilot (fine for commercial vehicles, not for Royal Navy for obv reasons)

    I miss fun at sea..

    1. Bob Scrantzen

      Re: I like electronic navigation systems

      I live in Exmouth in the Exe Estuary, south of Exeter.

      There are a couple of Pubs a few miles up the river.

      It is possible to drive'ish/cycle/walk but it's a long way

      A River Booze Cruise is much easier. We did it a few times in our twenties

      My friend was actually qualified as an Exe Pilot.

      The sandbanks do shift and you have to zig zag to miss them.

      You can't see them

      On his first solo trip with 20-30 customers/tourists he grounded the boat

      They were stuck for 4 hours and I think the story even reached the Daily Mail

      Anyway, on one of our piss-ups he was just a passenger.

      But our hired driver got very drunk.

      On the way home, my friend said sotto-voce to me, "He's pissed, lost and going to ground the boat

      I told my qualified friend to take over

      "No. It's not the Etiquette"

      We made it back eventually

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