Is This The End Of Astro-nav?

Nova Scotian
29th June 2008, 15:30
STCW is continually reviewing the standards and training requirements for seafarers. To this end, competency in astro-navigation may no longer be a requirement for bridge operators.

Some feel the more reliable electronic navigation systems justify the retirement of astro-navigation. Others argue that it will always be a requirement when all else fails. And, somewhere in the middle, is the suggestion it should be retained with less theory and greater practicality.

Astro-navigation, to me, is like an old paisley tie I have in my closet. It reminds me of the good times I had when I wore it. I doubt that I shall ever wear it again, but who knows? One day somebody, probably my wife, will throw it out and I wont even know that it's gone.

Is it time for astro-nav to go?


29th June 2008, 15:56
It's a bit like all the magnetic compass work we learnt, practised and on which we were examined in the 60's. Normal day to day navigation depending more on Messrs Brown or Sperry's gyro compasses than on the old lodestone.
BUT in a fix we knew how to use a standby that didn't need electricity to find (almost) the right direction.

At the moment I believe all our GPS systems depend on the use of USA owned satellites although the EU is planning an alternative. The accuracy of modern GPS is amazing (we recently completed a Hurtigruten voyage along the Norwegian fiords where the ship is controlled by GPS most of the time) but if someone denied us the use of the satellite system, what then ?

I agree with the middle road proposal, recognise GPS as the normal method, forget all the spherical trig we had to learn but at least be able to wield a hambone and follow some rules to find an astro-fix. Otherwise the Flying Dutchman could be joined by a fleet of container ships and cruise ships sailing forever in giant circles (rather than great circles) waiting for a GPS signal.

David Davies
30th June 2008, 07:35
In the 1980 the American SR71 Blackbird was flying from Suffolk USAF air bases. This highly sophisticated spy plane needed a very accurate navigation system immune to electronic jamming and interference. An astro- inertia system was developed with a chronometer accurate to 100th part of a second for GMT and an Almanac of 61 stars in order of magnitude, all combined with the relevant trigonometrical tables in a computerised system contained in the aircraft. The pilots could get a multi position line Lat and Long when ever required day or night. The system was set up on the ground by focussing onto an identified star and locking on. The only time that this system failed was when it was locked onto an adjacent electric light bulb, mistaking it for the selected star.

30th June 2008, 08:25
What happens if SatNav fails ?

Well to mariners of my generation not much we just carry on.

But imagine being in the middle of some ocean when the electronic navigation system fails for some reason.

A bit late to start learning Celestial Navigation; even if you had nautical tables, almanac and accurate time on board.

Nevertheless the notion of time and money saved by not teaching Celestial Navigation, not to mention the savings in recruiting a lower standard of candidate and paying them less will be too tempting to the idiots who seem to run everything these days.

Captain Grumpy

James T Floyd
30th June 2008, 09:54
Would agree with much of the above however, having been involved in academia since the mid 70s I would be reluctant to dilute the STCW anymore than it is at present. We have all witnessed a 'dumming down' in the system over the last 20 years where we a virtually having to educate students at STCW level with many colleges offering 'crammers' in basic arithmetic in an attempt to increase their pass level. Many ratings have been forced into study, the option being to lose their job. They are totally unsuitable officer material and would not have passed a Mate (HT) prior to 78 but nowadays manage to obtain the qualifications to command a VLCC with experience in Crescent shipping. Recently returned from a holiday in France with a car fitted with TOM TOM. Over reliance can lead you into some unusual placed and does remove 'common sense' i.e. using your eyes.

30th June 2008, 12:18
Being a guy a from down below always had respect for the guys up there on the bridge who could find their way in the dark, and used the sun during the day(when available) I find it hard to believe that the basics are not taught just in case there is no power to drive the sat nav and keep them on course or in the worst case had to take to the wee boats.


Bill Davies
30th June 2008, 22:24
I think your concern is shared by all professional navigators.

John Williams 56-65
1st July 2008, 20:07
As someone who knows next to nothing about navigation of any sort, I have the highest regard for those who do know how to find their way around the world. However Davids mention of the American Spyplane the Blackbird and the sophisticated navigational aids she carried, took me back to the first time I ever flew. It was in early 53 and I got a jolly on a Shackleton aircraft of Coastal Command. We were to take part in a rehearsal for a flypast for the queen when she reveiwed the RAF at RAF Odiham in Hampshire during her coronation year. We took off from St Eval near Newquay in Cornwall and after flying for some five hours over the Atlantic we set course for Odiham. As there were many other aircraft taking part in this flypast we had to be in position to within seconds of the appointed time. I remember as we neared Odiham I was lying on an observers foam rubber padded couch in the tail of the aircraft where a rear gunner would have been in a bomber. I was amazed when a completely empty sky suddenly started filling up with aircraft coming in from all directions. I have no idea how many aircraft were taking part in this exercise but I reckon there must have been 20/30 lining up behind us and I have no idea how many there must have been ahead of us. These aircraft were flying in from all parts of the UK over varying distances and as far as I knew completely unassisted by air traffic control and navigational equipment such as is available today. Even Radar was still in its infancy. The precision needed to navigate so accurately, and the organisation needed to pull it all off without mishap left me absolutely awe struck. The whole period over the airfield could only have been two or three minutes, and then we found ourselves in an empty sky again and heading back to Cornwall. Now that is navigation of the highest order.

Chemical Brother
2nd November 2008, 08:03
Sorry to tell you but for me its waste of time to learn abt ASTRO.
No, scrap it and pay more attention to the modern aid we have o/b now and also pay more attention to navigate "with good seaman ship and common sence".
What happened if.....????
Well, what abt the airplanes then, do they use the stars etc etc????

Just to tell you that I am not a young smart navigator but just think that we need to look forward and nowadays we have a lot of back up systems o/b even on an old lady that I am on. She is from 1972 and the owner is not afraid to put new nav. aids o/b her.
Best regrds to all of you

Bill Davies
2nd November 2008, 09:21
Where does all this 'dumming down' end. I have witnessed a steady erosian of standards since the STCW 78. Trigonometry is now looked upon with the same awe as was the Differential and Integral calculus of my time. Nowadays people possess Class 1 (Deck) and they cannot even interpolate!!!!!

2nd November 2008, 10:11
The theory of Trigonometry and its ilk is a subject which should be taught in Schools - not Nautical Colleges. If a student can figure out Right Angled Trig, i.e. SOHCAHTOA etc, then the jump to Spherical Trig when at college should not be the sort of earth shattering experience that it appears to be to some.
Most entrants today are at GCSE level and spend the first 3 months of their college time not being taught Nautical subjects but learning Mathematics to try and bring their own up to standard - as seen on the STV documentary lately. In my mind this is a waste of valuable teaching time trying to correct what Secondary schools should be doing themselves.
With regards to Cadets, I would suggest that perhaps the level of entry is raised from Standard Grade/GCSE Level to Higher/A Level. Say at least 4 A Levels or the like, one of which is Mathematics/Physics (if not both). Therefore they have at least one, possibly two more years of further mathematics. The MNTB now seem to be selling Cadetships as 'Foundation Degree', and from my understanding it's not even a 'proper' degree (so you may ask what's the point?), therefore since the majority of Further and Higher Education courses demand A-Level standard for entry, them why not a cadetship?
Have you seen a copy of the latest Record Book for the Foundation Degree Cadets? If you get a chance then have a look, you may be shocked!
On the subject of training, as much as what goes on at College does concern me (especially in more recent years) I feel we also have to look seriously at the quality of onboard training. This aspect seems to have been neglected in recent years by the powers that be and is a cause for worry, and I would argue that what you learn 'on the job' has a far greater bearing on the kind of Rating or Officer you will become than anything scrawled on a blackboard. Therefore it's important that those onboard appreciate where their responsibilities lie in this matter, unfortunately since the MNTB change the syllabus and the entire cadetship 'vehicle' every couple of years, some of us are really struggling to keep up with what is the British system - lord knows what other Nationalities make of it!

2nd November 2008, 10:31
Where does all this 'dumming down' end.
I think the expression is "dumbing down."
Watching the latest Prescott earner, do I read 40,000 towards a new Jag?
Three girls who knew Cherie Blair yet not a clue who Gordon Brown was frankly illustrated the UK educational system is a non starter.

2nd November 2008, 11:09
Is This The End Of Astro-nav?

We'll see what happens when the Satellites are shot out of the sky.

How will the Wife get to Tesco's? (only kidding Darling, Honest!)

2nd November 2008, 22:31
"" Most entrants today are at GCSE level and spend the first 3 months of their college time not being taught Nautical subjects but learning Mathematics to try and bring their own up to standard - ""

trying to teach 'em isnt exactly a picnic either.

Pat Hughes
3rd November 2008, 11:12
There lies another problem. The standard of those teaching!

Cap'n Pete
3rd November 2008, 14:15
We all learn a lot at school which we never put into practice. Education is not just about learning the skills we need to cope with everyday tasks, but to give a greater understanding of the meaning behind why we do them.

Throughout my 20 years in command I have encouraged my junior officers to practice astro navigation whenever they can. I firmly believe this will give them the confidence to continually question the accuracy of the data being shown on the electronic navigation systems, rather than take them at face value, particularly when the information is obviously wrong.

I am not aware of any moves by the IMO to downgrade the requirement for officers vis-a-vis astro navigation and I suspect that if they were to, we can expect some robust discussion to take place within the industry before any changes are made to STCW requirements.

3rd November 2008, 21:35
Give it a try Pat, give it a try.


Pat Hughes
4th November 2008, 15:07
Good grief Sparkie that would be a backward step.

Being on the receiving end of what the colleges turn out leaves me in little doubt about what is going on in our colleges.
I attended an open day at several certain college some years ago and was appalled at what I saw.

4th November 2008, 16:05
care to expand on that Pat?

Alistair Macnab
4th November 2008, 16:20
Celestial Navigation? Surely a "must" for all Deck Officers.

But what about the reason we go to sea in the first place? Its not about ships and their navigation and its not about ports and their facilities. Its about the CARGO we carry! Without the cargo, there's no need for ships or seaports and although this section is all about whether or not to do away with celestial navigation may I make a plea for better education in cargo handling and stowage?

Anyway, celestial navigation can be viewed as an abstract study like latin in high school. Who needs it ? But its study reflects the caliber of the student who gets his arms around something that is not an everyday skill but is in the end an extremely satisfying subject to master. Something like magnetism - I studied and studied it and my instructor told me one day the penny would drop and it did! After that I was like a dog with two tails. On voyages from the extreme north (Oraru in Japan) to the extreme south (Capetown) I was the first to ask the Captain to swing the ship and adjust the magnetic compass! Unlike latim, however, celestial navigation AND magnetism have a real residual use in an emergency situation and surely that's what a deck officer studies for? To be useful and skilled in an emergency situation.

But to return to my earlier plea. Studies on cargo handling and stowage are extremely important nowadays as cargo interests take more and more interest in how their goods are handled on the sea leg of what is to them a multimodal supply chain. Do we adequately prepare the student for heavy lifts? Hazardous bulk liquids? Reefer containers? Ro-Ro stowage sequencing? Breakbulk cargo securing? Ship stability without the machine? Pre-shipment cargo examination on the wharf? Speaking with shippers' surveyor?

All situations that a well-rounded deck officer should not meet for the first time when he boards his ship. Has he specialized too much in crude tankers? Chemical tankers? Cellular container ships? Ro-Ro carriers?

This is the 21st. Century challenge for deck officers.

Alistair Macnab

4th November 2008, 16:30
My own schooling was during the war years, before comprehensives and 11 plus. I at first struggled with algebra and trigonometry because I could not see the point of it. I am one of those idiots that cannot learn by rote. It was an MN officer that used to be a regular in my parents public house that shew me house use both subjects in a practical sense, after that I had not problem.
Science subjects were more interesting as we would produce stuff at chemistry to use in physics.
The problem with education as I see it, is the fact we are all individuals, as one method may suit some it doesn't suit others. I am one of the idiots who had to settle for second best in my sea going career as explained in my profile.
For todays failures, some is down to a lack of discipline in general in society, other is down to politicians, every two or three years we have a different education minister who come up with different ideas. My daughter left teaching after five years because of this, in a nutshell she and many others were confused as to what the pooliticians wanted.

Regards Robert

David W
4th November 2008, 16:52
I wonder what an old sailing ship master thought when someone told him about a compass driven by electricity. He probably thought, thats progress !.

You can ignore me, but I wont go away!

Pat Hughes
4th November 2008, 19:53
I would have thought it fairly self explanatory.

1. Shipmanager to College Lecturer is hardly career enhancement (I'm retired anyway).
2. In Shipmanagement you have to deal with the students when they enter the real world and that is not easy. These days they are five minutes in a job and want promotion based on paper recently received from MCA.
3. Many of the lecturers I met were either Class 1 (no experience) some with less and others with an assortment of qualifications. One or two I doubt had seen any real bridge experience.

4th November 2008, 21:13
Unpalatable though it may be to many of us, I think we all know that in the foreseeable future the reliability of electronics and having two or three independent satellite systems will mean that celestial navigation will no longer be mandatory. Like it or not, there is a generation coming along that thinks nothing of relying completely on electronics. As Cap'n Pete has said, the skill is in evaluating the information with circumspection. Sophisticated electronic equipment is dirt cheap now. I have seen yachts with two or three gps receivers plus an EPIRB with built in gps happily setting off from Cape Verde to Antigua without a sextant in sight.

4th November 2008, 23:12

many thanks for the reply.

i did not consider your comments to be self explanatory .... you and i see career paths in two different lights.

you have, however, touched heavily on a subject which has interested me for many years, and that is the standard of teaching in our colleges and the
reasons for shortcomings which may exist.

i agree fully with your comments concerning class1 and the relative lack of experience of many, but...........

consider your own remark........"shipmanager to college lecturer is hardly a career advancement"

this may well be the case, but if you feel your years of experience and training would be poorly rewarded by going into lecturing.....why should others
at your level?

the only way of making a financially lucrative career in lecturing is to leave the sea in quick time, and find a lecturing position on the ground floor when still young.
the legal requirements to study and pass all the relevent teaching qualifications (and there are many and mostly have to be done in ones own time) can be satisfied whilst still in the late 20's/early 30's......and still have a good 10 years advancement on someone who has remained at sea, got all the
experience, and comes ashore to begin as the "new boy".
please do not underestimate the weight of these "teaching quals".....they are the bane of everyone in education, as they fulfill no purpose in the actual teaching role, but absorb enormous amounts of time.
the overarching roles of........

A) m.c.a.
B) Offstead
C) the internal Q.A. of the college

provide for tons and tons of paperwork which again, have no purpose to the teaching process other to act as an anchor on "chalk face" teaching, which usually comes a poor second to "getting the paperwork right"..........
the remark "dont bother about the teaching, just get the papers sorted" is often used..... perhaps in a wry way, but with some justification.


there can be few taxi drivers in your town who dont triple the salary of a new you yourself stated........
"hardly a career advancement" for the suitably qualified.

and finally,

the reason i posted on this thread............

when stood in front of a class of 16 year olds...all with G.C.S.E. Mathematics...........

the look of genuine astonishment when i tell them to leave their calculators in their pockets........

and work out.............

36.4% of 200

360 degrees divided by 24 ? any ideas what this may be used for in navigaton? idea

the area of a deck 25m x 21.6m?

1/8th expressed as a decimal?

what are the BODMAS rules used for? "blank faces"

how many minutes between 1332hrs and 1845hrs?

in SOHCAHTOA........what does the letter "s" signify? "more blank faces"

and then find, when they do use their calculators.......... they still get them wrong.

the never ending cry of "Please sir, My Dad has a G.P.S. in his car......why do we need to learn about traverse tables and interpolation?"

as G and S may have said .........."a lecturers life is not a happy one"

at least untill retirement,which is what so many are yearning for.

on the "flip side"........there is a lot of satisfaction when a weak student does well...........which is why most are still in the business.

again pat..........

many thanks for the reply, best regards.

5th November 2008, 02:06
In my day lecturers were just that. They read from notes and could not explain things when asked. Particularly those electricity and electronic papers.

In school I was taught by Teachers, who could explain things.

Did either method make a difference? To me no. They both did their jobs as best as they could same as I learnt best as I could.

But more importantly, my apologies to Nova Scotian for hi-jacking your thread. Perhaps someone would like to start a new thread on Teaching or cargo work

Pat Hughes
5th November 2008, 08:35
In your day they may well have read from notes however they also had traceable experience and recognizable qualifications. The 'Brown brick' establishments employed Lecturers with Extra's albeit with Second Mates experience. They did in the main know what they are talking about. I would concede that in some of the lesser colleges this was not the case and accepted as they catered mainly for fishermen.
What have you now? Lecturers who have in many cases just acquired the Class 1 in the college they are lecturing in. Others that do not even have the Class 1 and support the lesser qualification with some postgrad qualification. In essence, quality is nowhere to be found. Bums on seats is what matters.

5th November 2008, 12:25
My post above was not meant as a criticism, just really a tstatement of fact. The main college I attended was well established and did not hold courses for fishermen. In the main the lecturers did what I said. There experience was invaluable when teaching nautical subjects but useless telling me about multi-vibrators in electronics.

Not their fault. But it did not help anyone. Finally the college realised their error and we got lectures from a boffin which were even more baffling.

and Nobody could distinguish between what was the electricity paper and waht was the electronic paper. I suspect not even the DTI knew.

So, my apologies to all lecturers out there and my grammar school teachers.

You all tried hard but learning latin or electronics was just not my cup of tea.


Pat Hughes
5th November 2008, 12:58
I would agree that some of the subject content for Master (FG) was a test of academic ability. Saying that, one knew when taking on the output of the colleges what you were getting. Can we say that now?