In 1970, Apollo 13’s electronics, air conditioning and instruments failed during a mission. The crew navigated home using a sextant.
Imagine being in one of the most advanced vehicles in history, and you must rely on an ancient navigation instrument to get you home?
These days, we don’t have to go very far to hear stories about misuse of technology. Wheelhouse distractions include faulty gauges, steering or propulsion failures, safety shut-offs that stop working, fires, people texting and talking on the phone, and more. Then there are the times when another vessel crosses directly in front of you, seemingly coming out of nowhere.
Technology, especially navigational aids, have revolutionized the marine industry. These modern tools have their place, but there should be more use of a mariner’s basic tools: the five senses.
I’m sure most of you have sensed “something different” in your vessel at some time — a funny vibration, an odd smell, a new noise, that little new catch in the steering, or the extra friction on the throttle lever. We detect all of these with our senses. Do we really need to completely rely on fancy electronics? A warning label on the back of most electronics says no.
What happens just before a pressure release valve fails? There’s usually a smell or a new noise and sometimes we even get a vibration that triggers a sense that something is wrong. Then we look at the gauge and observe a high-pressure reading.
What do you do when a circuit breaker trips on your main navigation electronics? While a crewmember is attending to the problem you must use your senses to keep the vessel on its course. You may be forced to actually read a chart and predict where you are in relation to it.
It’s important to keep your basic skills sharp. It wasn’t long ago that we relied on all of our senses to navigate.
With today’s technology, the sea is definitely a safer place. But keep in mind that we’re just a malfunction away from needing to use all of our senses to stay out of trouble.