Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Old data guides mariners into risky waters

Flinders Islet off the New South Wales South Coast (Australia)

From Brisbane Times

Mariners may be putting their lives at risk by relying on electronic navigation charts that are not up-to-date, says the Australian Hydrographic Service (AHS).

The AHS’s director of charting services, Mike Prince said last week an outdated chart could have been the cause of the yachting tragedy last year that claimed the lives of two experienced sailors.

Veteran skipper Andrew Short, 48, and navigator Sally Gordon, 47, both of Sydney died after they were swept from the deck of PWC Shockwave after the yacht struck Flinders Islet off the New South Wales South Coast in October.

The 26-metre multimillion-dollar yacht broke up after the crash, which occurred about 3am as it was about to make the return journey in a 169-kilometre race from Sydney.

“A CYC (Cruising Yacht Club) report (
read Navigation Systems Reliability chapter p.26 to P.31) to said they were using an electronic chart at the time of the crash and there is speculation that there could have been a problem with it,” Mr Prince said.

A yacht race inquiry in January heard some of the boat’s crew before the tragic race had observed errors on the chart plotter in Sydney Harbour and at Hamilton Island in Queensland.

The AHS is working with Yachting Australia and maritime services around the country to raise awareness of the limitations of the commercial charts used within chart plotters and software systems.

Mr Prince estimated that one million Australian boaties used unofficial electronic charts.
‘‘Sailors should use the charts to support navigation, not totally rely on them,’’ he said.

In another case, Timothy O'Neill, 39, died after his motorboat doing 25 knots crashed into a seawall at the mouth of the Brisbane River in 2007.
The boat’s electronic charts had not been updated to show the seawall had been built on reclaimed land.
(see Maritime Safety Queensland SeaScape p. 4 saying the accident was partly to blame due to an over-reliance on an outdated GPS system / Office of the State Coroner - Findings of Inquest)
In 2008, a $1.7m yacht Asolare hit a reef 200 nautical miles east of Cairns and two crew members who had been clinging to the boat’s hull were winched to safety by rescue helicopter.
“The skipper said the reef wasn’t on his electronic chart but it was on the paper chart so he obviously hadn’t updated it,” he said.

The AHS publishes fortnightly updates new and altered information that could affect safety at sea on the Australian Notice to Mariners. It is up to mariners to apply the updates to their charts.

“If people don’t update them they could be ignorant of hazards or dangers that could affect their safety,” he said.

Makers of commercial electronic charts are not legally required to regularly update their charts because they are marked “not for navigation” or “aid to navigation only”.

These unofficial charts might only be updated every few years.

The AHS has published fact sheets to tell mariners how to use official and unofficial charts safely.

Links :
  • Sailingmates : your GPS can kill you (required reading for every sailor who uses a GPS)
  • MAIB Safety Bulletin : Collision between Ash and Dutch Aquamarine south-east of Hastings in the Dover Traffic Separation Scheme (2001)

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