Electronic Navigation Systems Guidance for safe use on leisure vessels

Editor: Jane Russell, RCC, RCCPF Publisher: Royal Institution of Navigation, 2020. Available as a free download

This concise booklet, of approximately 100 pages, deals with a subject of great relevance to everybody who goes to sea in yachts or other small leisure craft. It was funded by Trinity House and compiled with input from over 50 individuals and the active involvement of the RIN Small Craft Group (Chair: Paul Bryans, RCC,RCCPF), the RCCPF, Trinity House, the RYA, the RNLI and the MCA. The aim was to produce a comprehensive, accurate and authoritative summary of how electronic navigation systems on leisure vessels function, identifying their benefits and explaining how to minimise the risks associated with their use.

It was not intended to be a navigation textbook or a catch-all manual for the many different electronic devices available to yachtsmen today. The continuing development of electronic navigation systems has in one sense relieved the navigator of much of the brain work required for the safe pilotage and navigation of vessels at sea, but for several reasons this is a dangerously incomplete perception. For example, electronic systems may develop faults or the vessel's electricity supply may fail. Even when the equipment is in good working order, the inherent limitations of the system may not be obvious. It is the navigator's responsibility to explore and understand the detailed workings of his equipment. Ships that navigate entirely electronically are required to have completely independent back-up systems (including an independent power supply) and they use approved charts on approved ECDIS.The navigation officers have had formal ECDIS training specific to the system they will be using.

In contrast, leisure sailors are unlikely to have had comparable training and will in any case be using unapproved charts on unapproved systems. Many of us have on board other items of electronic equipment, which will provide back-up in the event of main electronic system failure, and many will also have a comprehensive set of paper charts and the appropriate chart table tools. It is important to retain our familiarity with all of these back-up items so that they can be brought into use immediately and with confidence.

The main content of the booklet is clearly arranged in six densely written but very readable chapters:

  • GNSS in marine navigation
  • Electronic charts and their display systems
  • Using Radar and AIS
  • Guarding against electronic failure on small craft
  • Key navigational skills
  • Future developments

Few of us will read any one of these chapters without learning something new. Appropriately, the main text pages are preceded by a glossary of 37 acronyms with which we ought to be familiar but possibly aren't. It would be difficult to overstate the importance to us all of this publication. A separate but associated document is a set of “Recommendations for official bodies, developers and manufacturers to improve eNavigation systems towards compliance with SOLAS V on leisure vessels.” This too, is well worth reading.

The RIN is now engaging with the MCA over a route to setting such standards for eNavigation equipment on leisure vessels and a means to having compliant systems so recognised, at least in the UK.

You will find the link to these recommendations on the main booklet download page - see below: