Posted by: towmasters | February 24, 2010

Jammin’!

“Ooh, yeah! All right! We’re jammin’, I wanna jam it wid you. We’re jammin’, jammin’, and I hope you like jammin’, too.”Bob Marley

Still think the threat of over-reliance on any one radio-navigation system is overblown? Mr. Marley was a peaceful man who preached tolerance and non-violence, but those are obviously not universally-held beliefs in our world. Read this BBC article sent in to us by one of our Facebook Fans. To quote the intro of the story, “Technology that relies on satellite navigation signals is increasingly threatened by attack from widely available equipment, experts say.” Well, that’s great news, but to put it into even better perspective try this one: “You can consider GPS a little like computers before the first virus – if I had stood here before then and cried about the risks, you would’ve asked ‘why would anyone bother?’ That from Mr. David Last, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, and that ought to be good enough of a warning for anyone. Of course, if you don’t fully understand how this stuff works in the first place then it’s hard to understand the potential pitfalls and risks associated with it, meaning that all of this is falling on deaf ears.

There’s a very good reason that towing vessel deck officers (and others) have to go to radar school, despite it’s shortcomings: understanding how something as vital and fundamental to safe navigation and collision avoidance as radar works, what it can and can’t do, and why, is very important for anyone who uses it. If you don’t understand the basic principles then you’re likely to misuse the radar in some way or misinterpret the information it gives you. Accidents occur, sometimes very bad ones, because of this. The most infamous in the towing sector being the AMTRAK Sunset Limited derailment into Big Bayou Canot in 1993 after a wayward towboat struck a trestle, the pilot having no clue how to use the radar effectively. It is no different with GPS or any other tool that we use for navigation: however much any of us think we know about it, we can all probably stand to know more. This is not the same as saying that everyone needs to go to a 3-week school for radio navigation, although for some that may be the best choice. But wherever it may be learned, the more we know about the complex systems we use and depend on the better off we’ll all be.

And it’s still not too late to reconsider the complete abandonment of Loran before we have to learn the hard way…..

For more on Loran, eLoran and the limitations of GPS see the post Lots Of Eggs, One Basket: Loran-C Signal Shut Down.

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Responses

  1. Amen. Aircraft pilots have TACAN and other radio nav systems still, don’t they? Why do they need redundancy, and we do not?
    I’ve been wondering if anyone else has become more interested in developing coastal navigation skills that were widely used before the advent of electronic navigation. I started working on the water when I was 7 with an elderly fisherman who used a sounding lead to read depth and bottom type, and could get around in the fog with a compass and an armed lead. I’d give a lot to have that knowledge set now.


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