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United States Technology

Navy Returns to Compasses and Pencils To Help Avoid Collisions at Sea (nytimes.com) 206

An anonymous reader shares a report: Urgent new orders went out earlier this month for United States Navy warships that have been plagued by deadly mishaps this year. More sleep and no more 100-hour workweeks for sailors. Ships steaming in crowded waters like those near Singapore and Tokyo will now broadcast their positions as do other vessels. And ships whose crews lack basic seamanship certification will probably stay in port until the problems are fixed.[...] The orders issued recently by the Navy's top officer for ships worldwide, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, drew on the lessons that commanders gleaned from a 24-hour fleetwide suspension of operations last month to examine basic seamanship, teamwork and other fundamental safety and operational standards. Collectively, current and former officers said, the new rules mark several significant cultural shifts for the Navy's tradition-bound fleets. At least for the moment, safety and maintenance are on par with operational security, and commanders are requiring sailors to use old-fashioned compasses, pencils and paper to help track potential hazards (alternative source), as well as reducing a captain's discretion to define what rules the watch team follows if the captain is not on the ship's bridge. "Rowden is stomping his foot and saying, 'We've got to get back to basics,'" said Vice Adm.
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Navy Returns to Compasses and Pencils To Help Avoid Collisions at Sea

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  • Sigh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:35AM (#55292925) Homepage

    Please explain why US Navy warhsips have crews who "lack basic seamanship certification".

    I mean.. I understand that they might not have the piece of paper, the same way they might not have passed the official driving test to drive a tank, but surely... surely at some point... someone gave them the equivalent skills and/or sent them on the same kinds of training such that it would be a cinch to acquire such certification?

    • Someone's "basic" is another man's "above expert".
      • It's good the Navy does this, but the corporate world is just as bad. Hiring people based on some certificate covering simplistic skills but which don't certify for competence of deep understanding, versus hiring someone with expertise who knows the fundamentals and can build on top of those.

    • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:54AM (#55293127)
      Because technology is making us lazier and dumber, not more efficient and smarter.
      GPS can be hacked (sidebar: Why the actual FUCK are signals from U.S. GPS SVs not encrypted to prevent hacking?); a magnetic compass, not so much (or at least, not at a distance).
      Are we lowering the bar, in all aspects of our society and not just within the military? Very possibly.
      • by g01d4 ( 888748 )
        I'd say technology lulls management into a false sense of security by making production smarter and more efficient. Since the man on watch has less to do, he can work longer shifts and tours - until he can't (if that indeed was part of the cause) and there's a wake-up call. Unfortunately in the US Navy's case there seems to have been a few. Another wake-up call?
        • by i286NiNJA ( 2558547 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @01:54PM (#55295023)

          It's so much more than that. The bridge is manned by deck, which are the same guys who make the ship pretty and they also have their hands in a bunch of other shit.... but the most important thing to the pissbaby CO is how much paint he can get these kids to put on the ship so the admiral will say "OH BOY THE SHIP LOOKS GREAT". They make these guys sweep and paint nonstop until some of them kill themselves no joke.

          The most relaxing times for these guys are lunch, watch, pooping, and the few hours a day they get for sleep.. and if they have watch during sleep time.. they simply get no sleep! For them free time is measured in minutes a day, they sleep and poop at the same time. It's an absolutely unimaginable way to live. Doing a watch that would be the same as a normal civilian workday might have been the only time these guys weren't doing hard labor in the past 24 hours.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Let me lay it out for you. If you join the Navy and get any kind of decent ASVAB score you will get assigned to a service 'A' school and become a technician. If you don't you get sent to a ship's deck division, where your job is to clean and paint and stand deck watches.
            So basically the deck division consists of the least capable people on the ship. Every officer who stands Officer of the Deck has another job, except for the deck officer who is in charge of deck division. These other officers supervise cook

    • Please explain why US Navy warhsips have crews who "lack basic seamanship certification".

      This jumped out at me, too.

      • by hduff ( 570443 )

        Please explain why US Navy warhsips have crews who "lack basic seamanship certification".

        This jumped out at me, too.

        Reduced time and money for training are the culprits.

        More training is the solution.

    • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:02AM (#55293223) Homepage Journal

      All I ask for is a tall ship and a satellite constellation to steer her by...

      • All modern cellphones have GPS in them. What they *NEED* are apps that emulate a sextant.
        • Re:Sigh. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @01:49PM (#55294969) Homepage Journal

          And will those apps simulate the sun as well so you can bring it down to the horizon?

          Let's be clear in any case what problem we're solving. A sextant is an essential tool (along with a chronometer) in determining latitude and longitude -- position on the Earth. This is where Mercator projection maps are handy: it helps you choose a heading that will get you somewhere you can't see.

          What's going on here is that ships are running into each other in crowded sea lanes. So somehow the instruments available to the people piloting these ships plus their own eyes aren't enough to prevent a collisions that old-school pilots would have avoided. And I'm fairly sure this is not because it's not physically possible to process the information. It may be that reliance on technology to do most of the hard work has reduced the pilot's habitual engagement and awareness.

          There is another solution, which is to have the ships completely robotically piloted. You'd still train pilots to handle ships manually for unusual situation, but you wouldn't count on having perfect human attention directing the ship 7x24.

          • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

            It could also be that the number of ships in these areas is much larger than old school pilots ever had to cope with.

            Its like more traffic leads to more auto accidents. Insurance companies know this, which is why your address is a major determining factor in insurance rates.

            We have larger population today than we did before AIS and GPS. We have a different economic landscape thanks to globalism that means a lot more commercial traffic out there.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:38AM (#55293669)

      At least for officers, the basic navigational and shiphandling courses got replaced by a dvd set.

      I'm not kidding.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
      Trying to do more without increasing your people count. Eventually something has to give. You end up rushing people into jobs with the hope that they will learn on the job and the chiefs will make sure they know or learn what they need. The focus lately has been on being operational, with lower focus on training.
    • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:50AM (#55293831)

      Please explain why US Navy warhsips have crews who "lack basic seamanship certification".

      I read an article, I think on gcaptain.com, about this not long ago. Basically, it said that they just don't bother training them any more, because of cost-cutting measures in the late 2000s. They used to have some school they'd send them to to learn basic seamanship, but because of Congress's cost-cutting (Congress wants to spend lots of $$$ on weapons systems and shipbuilding, but they don't want to allow the Navy to spend any money on training), they closed the school and replaced it with a self-taught course on a bunch of CD-ROMs that sailors were expected to do on their own, *at sea*, while already way too busy with all their regular shipboard duties.

      Ultimately, I think the blame probably lies with Congress. The military really isn't able to run itself that much and make its own decisions for how to do things and fund things; it's highly micro-managed by Congress.

      • That is both horrifying and scandalous. Really, how much could real training cost? Certainly less than a couple of cruise missiles. It's horrifying to think that our Navy has practically no one who can pilot a ship on their one. It's inconceivable to think you could have a whole bridge crew that doesn't know what they are doing! Everyone should have at least a basic course on navigation and seamanship. Every officer, at the very least, should be able to navigate by sextant, compass, and longitude recordings

        • It's not just the lack of training, there's also a lack of sleep, which can probably be chalked up to being understaffed.

          What are they teaching these crews,--anything at all?

          They're teaching the crews with a self-taught course on CD-ROM, which they have to do at sea, but they don't because they only sleep 3 hours a night.

          Really, how much could real training cost? Certainly less than a couple of cruise missiles.

          Training costs too much. The cost of missiles is irrelevant, because that comes from a different

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by The Snowman ( 116231 )

            After all, if the military could make its own decisions about how to spend money, it'd be "wasted", so it "needs" Congressional "oversight". That's the root of the problem.

            Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution has not one but three clauses that enumerate Congress's authority over the military, including this one:

            To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

            Back in the 18th century, military coups were more common than they are today. In fact the Articles of Confederati

          • They're teaching the crews with a self-taught course on CD-ROM, which they have to do at sea, but they don't because they only sleep 3 hours a night.

            A friggin' CD-ROM course to learn how to pilot a ship...Amazing! Is it narrated by Troy McClure [wikipedia.org], too?

            Some heads need to roll for this... seriously! This is beyond unacceptable.

        • Really, how much could real training cost? Certainly less than a couple of cruise missiles

          The cruise missiles yield profit to the manufacturers, who lobby Congress to buy more cruise missiles. The Navy's internal training departments don't have lobbyists.

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Every officer, at the very least, should be able to navigate by sextant, compass, and longitude recordings based on speed and direction.

          I am not sure that is the problem or solution. Its not like when given the order "navigate to the port of Gibraltar" ships are ending up in Portsmouth, because crews cant plot a course across the Atlantic. This is about collision with other traffic in busy places where vessels are expected to be passing close by each other. I will admit to having never been in the navy or merchant marine but I do sail and I can use a sextant. I don't see how it would help with this problem.

          I am not in the habit of navig

          • Yeah, the maps would have to get updated pretty often to show other ships on them.

            I suspect a few people are confusing this story with the one about the Russians hacking GPS.

        • I so wish I had points.

  • Not to be outdone by the Navy, the army will go back to walking and emergency ration packs.

    Those guys think they're going back to the basics but they are still sailing on their big modern ships with their fancy kitchens. We're real men, we're truly going back to the basics.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:38AM (#55292963)

    Busy shipping lanes are too busy to monitor and track with paper and pencil.

    Modern shipping works because ships are able to use technology like AIS and radar to track other vessels accurately and in real time. Navigation systems -- chotplotting, AIS, radar, autopilot, and weather information -- can be tied together in real time, allowing a ship's heading and course to be altered in real time based on actual conditions at sea.

    I can definitely see the added advantages of humans with binoculars to spot closer in traffic and validate radar tracking and AIS data, but the idea that they'll just do all this in real time with paper and pencil is as silly as the SEC announcing it will combat stock fraud by switching back to pencils and paper spreadsheets.

    • by D.McG. ( 3986101 )
      In the case of espionage, if the nav systems are compromised, it would be good to know how to navigate by hand; to know what the computer is automating. Relying solely on the computer to steer the boat is a point of failure. I'm fine with them learning how to navigate manually. If their data contradicts the computer's, then identify which is wrong, and if it's the computer, that's a huge discovery. It's a backup AND check. TFA does not state that the nav systems are being replaced or shut down.
    • They want to sailors to understand what the software does and why it does it. No different than doing arithmetic with a pencil.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:47AM (#55293049)
    After the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, one of the surprising findings was that adding more inspectors could actually make things less safe. Each inspector figured if they skipped inspecting a part, the other inspector(s) would catch it. So they felt it was not that big a deal to be lazy at their job and skip a few of the harder inspections here and there. But when all the inspectors think this way, the chances of a bad part passing "inspection" increased compared to if there was only one inspector.

    In the same way, if you know there's a computer system which tracks your ship's location and the location of all other ships, and automatically sounds an alarm if it detects a collision course, then you're more likely to slack at your job and start reading slashdot or the latest J.K. Rowling book. OTOH if there is no computer system, and you and ONLY YOU are personally responsible for tracking your and that other ship's position and course to make sure you don't collide, then you're going to have 100% of your attention devoted to that task. Double or multiple redundancy works for equipment, but not always for people.
    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:05AM (#55293251)

      However, there ARE ways to enforce accuracy.... Make the bridge crew enter their manual position observations and calculations and then routinely judge the accuracy of the manual log with the automatic position logs. If there are variances, they will need to be explained. If you are not accurate enough with your manual entries, you don't keep your qualification.

      I always wondered why the Navy gave up the celestial navigation qualification requirement. Never made sense to me.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        on the Great Lakes.
        caught that in an article last year, Celestial navigation has made it back into the curriculum. Now factor in a 3 to 4 year window before you see any results of that into the system (training enough people in the arts, & getting them in enough mustard in chief positions, yada yada. in other words it takes time for solutions to take effect, unlike. Hence it is gonna take a year or two before the navy finally changes course to a core competent naval force,,,, again. Because in the long

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      In 3001, Arthur C. Clarke postulated a future in which nobody really understood how anything works.

      This is entirely plausible to me given my experience growing up along with computers. I started learning about computers in the 1970s by messing around with primitive ICs; I learned to do stuff like build adders out of flip-flops. And I learned about each new technology when it came in; I programmed in assembly language on some of the earliest popular 8 bit microprocessors, but also in FORTRAN and LISP on ea

      • I haven't read Clarke this decade, but I think 'The City and the Stars' might be somewhat closer to a description of "a future in which nobody really understood how anything works."

        I'm deeply impressed by your geek credentials. What sorts of things do you get into these days?

    • That theory is axiomatic - the more people checking the less likely that errors made up front will be caught. We have know that for decades, but "adding another review" has such appeal to management that you never get rid of them. "Let's get more eyes on the problem" just ensures that the mistakes are codified forever, because it becomes so onerous to change something (and take weeks/months/years to get through the review process) that you try to work around it somehow, even if you find the problem.

    • OTOH if there is no computer system, and you and ONLY YOU are personally responsible for tracking your and that other ship's position and course to make sure you don't collide, then you're going to have 100% of your attention devoted to that task.

      Did you miss the part about 100 hour work-weeks? If you're relying on people to be very sharp for a job, that's not how you accomplish that. I very much doubt that most people can focus 100% attention for half that much time, and probably even less than that.

      Attention is a commodity with finite resource. Brains need to rest. I'd bet that this factor alone was a major cause of these incidents. If they do what you're suggesting and don't significantly adjust the workload, that's just adding fuel to t

    • You will never actually have 100% of your attention devoted to a task full-time. There are known good ways to manage this sort of thing, but they require actual effort at system design, training, and validation, not just doing things ad-hoc and hoping for the best. That the "new" things mentioned in the article weren't already standard is rather sad.
  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @10:51AM (#55293089)
    An uncle who served on destroyers long ago told me that "Navy regulations are written in blood". That regulations and training say this is the proper way to do something and you will do it in no other way. That the "proper way" was determined by people dying when it was done otherwise. That some ways of doing things are more than "tradition".
    • by hduff ( 570443 )

      An uncle who served on destroyers long ago told me that "Navy regulations are written in blood". That regulations and training say this is the proper way to do something and you will do it in no other way. That the "proper way" was determined by people dying when it was done otherwise. That some ways of doing things are more than "tradition".

      The right way.

      The wrong way.

      The NAVY way.

  • planing for a North Korea attack where GPS may not work right in some worst case scenarios.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:22AM (#55293469)

    "...will now broadcast their positions as do other vessels. "

    So the 'other vessels' will have to take care of avoiding them, what about lighthouses and islands and other dangerous pieces of 'land'?
    And they are supposed to notice missiles coming at them from hundreds of miles at supersonic speeds?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, my family was Air Force and not Navy. However I can imagine at least one reason why Navy ships might not have been transmitting position information.

      During times of conflict you don't want to be doing this. It's great for your team and it's even greater for the opposition, during a war, to know where you are.

      In places and at times when there is no conflict however, perhaps cooperating with civilian locator systems might be a good idea. Ultimately the Navy needs to determine how that will work.

  • All it takes is for people to pay attention.

  • by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:35AM (#55293645)
    Does make some sense to have humans in the loop, with both the knowledge and the manual tools to at the least double check and keep an eye on things.

    So where does that leave the "RAPID AT ALL COSTS PUSH" to autonomous unmanned ships at sea, airliners in the air, heavy trucks on the roads and cars with no drivers or controls for manual use.

    I am not against these things, I just think the path to get there is longer than most think. Since you often have to alter code for the exceptions that were not predicted or expected during the design and testing phases.
  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @11:45AM (#55293751)
    How about we just stop with all the "war on X"s? When you are constantly on a war footing training takes a backseat and duty patterns change, leading to fatigue. In the Navy's case ships are kept out of port for much longer than they should, meaning many repairs are done underway which leads to a further reduction of training time and off duty time for the sailors. Stop wasting money on massively overbudget projects like the DDX/Zumwalt program (only 3 ships produced for a cost of almost $4 billion per ship) or the LCSs which are under-gunned, have engine issues, and have hulls so poorly made that one got cracked from a champagne bottle at the christening. $12 billion just from the DDX program would have gone a long way towards refitting ships and training current/more crews for said ships. And let's not even get started on the F-35 program.....
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @01:10PM (#55294541) Homepage

    It's hilarious to read comments and posts about how this is due to "budget cutting". These cuts are not perceptible at taxpayer level. https://www.statista.com/stati... [statista.com] ...yes, there's a "drop" in there from 2011-2016, but I believe that's in overseas adventuring. Far more importantly, the "drop" is to the 2008 budget, more than double the 2000 budget, when there were few of these collisions. It's now nearly $2000 per American citizen. Add up all spending on Pentagon, DOE (nukes), DVA, and the spy/surveillance services, debt servicing, and it's a trillion a year, nearly $10,000 per household.

    And yet, there isn't enough money for the PEOPLE in the American military, not even enough for their really basic training. Is is really all blown on overpriced weapons systems? Can't you include training in the weapons-system budget or something? Sneak it in.

  • In digital world, your security and privacy can be compromised by others even if you do all due diligence. Many of my friends and relatives have my birthdate, phone, address, email, anniversary etc in their contacts. They readily give permission to read contacts to every imaginable app. How do I keep this info private? I can't.

    Navy can go to pencil and drawing board, but how will it prevent other ships getting fooled by GPS spoofing? The only benefit I see here is that they will be able to file a civil suit

  • NPR had an interesting take [npr.org] on this recently. It seems that seamen have received less and less training over the last few years, an effort to save money. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

  • it does not matter how fancy your nav stuff is worst case you should be able to run with

    "Is the Sun Coming UP?? PUT IT ON THE LEFT"

    and if you have to post seaman with Lanterns then a Captain might want to be current on the correct colors and such

  • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 ) on Monday October 02, 2017 @02:57PM (#55295763)

    ... is to make the Navy ship hulls and engines stronger, so they can just drive though any other boat.

    Then they can just pilot around at ramming speed all the time!

  • Give me a stopwatch and a map and I'll fly the Alps in a plane with no windows.

  • GPS denial or GPS spoofing are very real and very much in view of military planners, trainers, etc.

    Maybe some ship captains were not keeping up with training for these cases as they should have been?

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