Planning your passage easier

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Ships are usually free to choose their route from the port to destination, with few exceptions (e.g., traffic separation zones or restricted areas). However, ships carrying hazardous cargoes and tankers will have more restrictions. The SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 34 requires that a passage plan be prepared for ships subject to SOLAS rules.

Regulation 34’s actual text is: “Prior proceeding to sea, a master shall ensure that the intended journey has been planned using appropriate nautical charts and publications for the area concerned, taking account of the guidelines and recommendations created by the Organization” (Resolution A.893(1)).

It continues to say:

A voyage plan should identify the route that:

  • Takes into consideration any applicable ships’ routing systems
  • Allows for safe Passage planning software of the ship during the entire voyage.
  • Anticipates all known navigational hazards, adverse weather conditions, and other potential dangers.
  • Takes into consideration the applicable marine environmental protection rules and avoids activities that could damage the environment.

According to the Paris MoU, poor or inexistent passage planning is the fifth most common reason for PSC detentions.

You can prepare a passage plan in one of two ways. Either you use traditional paper charts and publications or use an ECDIS or other specialist software such as NAVTOR’s NavStation. A digital chart table can also be provided. The Second Officer of most ships usually prepares a passage plan, but another senior officer could also prepare it. In either case, the Master should sign off.

Planning passage is a complex process that requires careful research and skill. This is not something to be taken lightly. If the voyage is lengthy or involves navigation in hazardous waters, it can be very time-consuming. On the other hand, a plan using paper charts is easy to create, review, and then produce if done correctly.

After deciding on a primary route, the navigator should verify that all charts are available and corrected using all applicable tracings. Next, the navigator will refine the route using the updated charts, Pilotbooks, tide tables, atlases, lists of light and fog signals, sailing directions, weather predictions, and other information.

The safety of a route depends on its draught and trim. This can change depending on whether bunkers are taken on board or consumed, as well as the type of cargo and the ship’s maneuvering characteristics. The proposed route should be reviewed and rejected if the charterer is able to give the ship instructions to use a third-party routing service.

Passage plans are not just a paper exercise. They include details about the route and the actions that should be taken in changing circumstances. The plan should detail any dangers encountered, such as adverse currents or winds, exact locations of rocks and wrecks that must be avoided, and where security threats might occur. Standing orders may be issued to the Master for information when certain situations occur or when the ship approaches a specific place that requires a larger bridge team.

Once the vessel is underway, the plan should be maintained and checked. Course changes should occur at designated waypoints or, more specifically, at the wheel-over point required to turn the ship depending on speed. Any deviation should only be allowed with the approval of the Master. It is a good idea to keep a paper chart showing the vessel’s current position so that all pertinent information is available in case of an emergency.

Modern ships can practice e-navigation. However, it is not enough to expect to enter departure and destination ports, basic information about the boat, and draught. The ECDIS or specialist software will then calculate and create a detailed passage plan. Like with paper charts, the navigator must still mark the course, enter waypoints and mark no-go areas. The software will highlight critical points. The navigator should carefully review these and make any necessary changes to the route.

While some models of ECDIS are suitable for passage planning, others can be used. A more advanced solution is the NAVTOR digital table with the latest navigation software. The ECDIS screen is smaller than a traditional chart table. However, NAVTOR’s digital tablet has a 46-inch tabletop screen that can be overlayed in the same manner as ECDIS and gives all electronic publications and other details used during traditional passage planning.

You can use the same software as in the digital chart table on an ordinary computer. However, the chart table’s size allows for both conventional and e-navigation best practices to be combined. The base layer of the NavStation digital charts table is the ENC that can be used to overlay other layers. These include digital copies of traditional sources such as notices to mariners, Admiralty digital publications, and notices of mariners.

Zooming in and out on screens allows for the switch between charts at different scales without physically bringing more charts into the chart table. Split-screen allows routes to be compared to the ECDIS because of their smaller size. Once satisfied, the navigator saves and prints the passage plan for authorization during the voyage. It will also be sent to the ECDIS.

Conventional passage planning can leave out any instructions to take specific actions at a particular time or point. This could lead to dangerous situations. Even though an ECDIS or other e–navigation equipment may be programmed to sound alarms at these times, there are some mistakes that only ships who practice e–navigation make. It would not be very smart not to recognize this. Although there were some cases of radar-assisted collisions in the 1950s, radar was not yet installed on commercial ships. However, today’s navigators would agree that radar is an essential part of navigation.

Two main reasons why ECDIS assistance incidents occur are lacking training and improper use of the equipment, and over-reliance on the kit as a guarantee of safety. While neither of these issues has an easy fix, the risk of the second could be reduced by shore centers that allow ships to be monitored in real-time and information sharing. This allows for additional eyes to spot errors and allows for the sharing of data.

While ECDIS and other software can perform calculations faster than most people when checking routes for under keel clearances or distance from areas to avoid, it is possible that the machine might not recognize the fact if the basic parameters have been incorrectly entered. Navigators should be aware that, even though ECDIS is interactive and can run passage plans through and be checked, ENCs and paper charts still use the same information. This information could be based upon hydrographic surveys from the past. The reliability of hydrographic surveys can also be seen in the CATZOCs in the ENC cells (must be activated in chart portrayal settings).

Modern passage planning requires that you consider environmental restrictions as well as safety precautions. These may include the permissibility of ballast water exchange, conditions on open-loop scrubbers, fuel changeover for entry into an ECA, disposal of black water, and many other issues. If you want to avoid penalties, it is essential to keep track of all these. If the owner wishes, it is possible to overlay environmental information on NAVTOR’s NavStation.

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