Navigating the Ocean: Passage Planning with Marine Technology

passage planning
Marine Passage Planning technology

It is important to be able to navigate the ocean with precision and without fear. But how do you know which way to go? Passage planner software can help make that decision a lot easier for you, as it uses GPS and other mapping programs to show you where you are in relation to your destination and the current sea state.  

This blog post will discuss what passage planning is, what factors need to be considered when passage planning, and how navigators can benefit from using passage planner technology. 

What is passage planning? 

Essentially, a passage plan is a written document that lays out how a boat will get from one point to another and clearly describes every step of the voyage from dock to dock. It is an important practice that should be done by all sailors, whether they are travelling for leisure or they are sailing large commercial cargo transport ships. 

In the UK, it is a legal requirement for all skippers or ship navigators to produce a passage plan before they begin their journey. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), who are responsible for setting safety and regulating standards for marine activities, require all ships to have physical copy of their passage plan written down before any voyage commences.  

This comes under the IMO’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty which was created in response to the sinking of the Titanic in 1914. It is regularly updated with new safety measures when it is required. For example, in 2012, following the Costa Concordia disaster, the treaty was updated making it mandatory for all ships of a certain size to have Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) technology onboard. 

These regulations are in place to ensure all factors have been carefully considered and that contingency plans are in place should things go wrong at sea. Failure to plan effectively can lead to navigational errors and risk the safety of the crew, passengers and/ or cargo. 

Factors to Consider When Creating a Passage Plan? 

Whether you are following the traditional passage planning methods with physical maps and charts or you are utilising passage planning software, these are the factors you must consider: 

The Route 

Where are you starting? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? A clear route should be mapped out and should include details such as distances and estimated journey time. 

A risk assessment should be completed with consideration given to any potential on-route hazards such as rocks, shallows, overfalls, and sandbanks. Popular shipping routes that are frequently used by a large number of vessels on a daily basis should be noted. 

In addition, alternative routes should also be mapped out as a contingency plan should there be any disruption on the intended route. 

The Weather 

The weather can significantly impact the ease of a ship’s journey. Adverse weather conditions can be extremely dangerous if you are not properly prepared and equipped. As a result, weather forecasts should be carefully monitored in the days leading up to a trip and whilst onboard. 

The Met Office provides an analysis of the weather conditions over the next 24 hours for each individual area you will pass through on your route. In addition, the Passage Weather website will give you a 7-day overview of weather, wind and wave conditions. However, it is important to note that the further ahead you look, the less accurate the forecasts will be, as the weather is often unpredictable and can change quickly. 

Waves 

The weather and the waves go hand in hand when it comes to passage planning for voyages across the sea. Stronger winds that blow over a larger distance for a longer period of time result in bigger waves. Waves over a height of 15 feet can be very dangerous, and it is best to avoid them when possible. Looking at wave height and wind predictions in the days leading up to a trip can reduce the chances of you unexpectedly running into rough waters. 

Tides 

Tidal streams can be advantageous if you are going in the same direction as the current, as it can reduce your journey time and uses less of the ship’s fuel. On the other hand, going against the tidal stream will slow you down and make for a rough and uncomfortable voyage. 

Furthermore, you need to know whether the tide is in or out as you approach the shore. The water level must be high enough as you prepare to dock and enter a port as otherwise your ship may get stuck which, could cause major disruption. 

In light of this, it is critical to research tidal streams and current using the appropriate charts prior to any upcoming journey. Likewise, tidal times must be noted. The Tides Times website provides tidal time predictions for the next 7-days for individual locations. 

Seasonality 

Seasonality may need to be considered as different routes are sometimes recommended during winter as opposed to those recommended in summer due to prevailing winds, currents and ice hazard risks. 

How Can Passage Planning Software Make For Smoother Sailing? 

Advancement in passage planner software has revolutionised sailing, making voyages across the sea safer and smoother. Technologies such as Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), Marine Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and Passage Planner apps have had a big impact on how ships are navigated today. 

ECDIS 

ECDIS, for example, is a computer-based system that provides up to date information on weather conditions and tide time tables, as well as geographical data about the ship’s position in relation to land and unseen hazards. It helps to inform decision making and can help with route correction should the ship begin to go off course ECDIS can be used as an alternative or in addition to traditional paper nautical charts and maps.  

AIS 

AIS is a satellite-based system that provides early warning of other ships in the vicinity as well as their position. Moreover, it broadcasts your ship’s identification information and current position to other nearby vessels. This technology helps to avoid collisions and assists with navigation at night when visibility may be impaired. 

Passage Planner Software 

In recent years, software has been developed to assist specifically with passage planning, such as the SEALL Passage Planner (SPP) tool. Passage planner software integrates existing ECDIS and brings together all the relevant information together on one user-friendly, touch-screen device. It takes data from various sources and provides real-time sea state information, weather forecasts and tidal predictions, as well as tracking and monitoring your progress towards your destination. 

Conclusion 

Passage planning software has undoubtedly elevated some of the stresses ship’s navigators previously faced when they relied heavily on outdated forecasts and predictions. It is hoped that as passage planner and navigation software continues to progress that sailing across the seas or oceans will become safer for everyone. 

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