Improving cruise ship navigation with innovation

 New technologies are simplifying route planning, improving ship handling and making cruising safer

Improving cruise ship navigation with innovation
Captain Nick Nash believes traditional navigation skills will always be important

By Nick Nash |

Although the cruise industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, innovations continue to be introduced thanks to remote training, research and testing. Many of us in the industry are waiting quietly, ready for launch when cruising resumes.  

Our goal, with proper training and the pilot’s agreement, is to be able drive a ship into port using our track control system which functions as a sophisticated autopilot. We hope to use this to get into position just off the berth, and then use the mini wheel or tillers along with thrusters and pods to swing and dock the vessel. This will bypass the need for any helmsman and place the pilot in an indirect or advising role, creating three major advantages. Firstly, the ship can follow a pre-planned track which has been thoroughly checked and can be explained in advance to the team. Secondly, the bridge team will be in a monitoring role and can concentrate on where the ship is and where it will be in the future. And finally, the bridge will be a much quieter place, enabling the team to concentrate on actual ship response.  

At present, ships don’t have the luxury of the instrument landing system glide slopes, radio navigational aids and visual approach lights that aircraft have when approaching runways. Some ports have leading lights to assist ships on narrow transits, but these cannot be seen in fog. Generally, we must navigate very large ships into ports that were not originally designed for them. Captains have to rely on good planning, competent bridge teams, training, experience and pilots. But new technology is on the horizon. 

With the future beckoning the marine industry towards autonomous ships, the cruise sector has embraced efforts to become a truly safe, efficient and environmentally compliant industry. An example is Wärtsilä’s Nacos Platinum system, which facilitates centralised control of navigation and propulsion systems. The system allows for a number of multi-pilots to be located at the conning position, pilot’s position and bridge wings, which ensures a flawless transfer of control throughout the manoeuvre.  

As we have no glide slope or air traffic control assistance, the use of a predictor – which shows the ship’s predicted path – has been a great advancement in safely piloting a ship through tight turns and manoeuvring to dock the vessel. These predictors consider inputs from controllable forces, such as speed and rate of turn, and uncontrollable forces like wind and current. Wärtsilä has developed a second version of its system, which now addresses more of these controllable and uncontrollable forces, allowing for a more accurate predictor. 

As the world becomes more environmentally aware, cruise ships must comply with a multitude of regulations. To ensure compliance, accurate navigation is essential, along with clearly defined baselines, sensitive areas and approved discharge areas. Mistakes can result in heavy penalties, so real-time information, which can assist passage planning and monitoring, is vital.  

All these innovations are aimed at making navigating and manoeuvring these large ships as safe, efficient and environmentally compliant as possible. They are useful, but we should never forget the adage: “embrace the future, but never forget the past”. Traditional seamanship and navigation skills are paramount and must be used alongside – and sometimes even to override – electronic systems.  

Captain Nick Nash was president of The Nautical Institute from 2018 to 2020 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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