Sit­u­a­tional Aware­ness


Power & Motor Yacht - - SEAMANSHIP -

com­mu­ni­cat­ing with us, it is lulling us into a be­lief that we don’t have to pay close at­ten­tion to our sur­round­ings. As a re­sult, we’re los­ing, or giv­ing up, what is re­ferred to as sit­u­a­tional aware­ness.

Sit­u­a­tional aware­ness, a fa­mil­iar term to pro­fes­sional cap­tains and crew, is de­fined as hav­ing a keen sense of the events and con­di­tions around us, and the abil­ity to ap­ply our aware­ness of those events to our sit­u­a­tion. Sim­ply put, it’s know­ing what is go­ing on around you.

There is good ev­i­dence the in­creas­ing num­ber of de­vices sup­ply­ing in­for­ma­tion at the helm is mak­ing us less ob­ser­vant and more dis­tracted. Look no fur­ther than the re­cent and tragic col­li­sions in­volv­ing Naval ves­sels USS Fitzger­ald and the USS John S. McCain. Ac­cord­ing to the Navy’s Ad­mi­ral Wil­liam F. Mo­ran, vice chief of naval op­er­a­tions, in the case of the USS Fitzger­ald, “the sailors who were on watch in the ship’s bridge lost sit­u­a­tional aware­ness, con­tribut­ing to the col­li­sion.”

Two sit­u­a­tions re­cently caused me to think about how recre­ational boaters in­ter­act with the tech­nol­ogy at the helm and how it can af­fect our sit­u­a­tional aware­ness.

When­ever I am in un­fa­mil­iar wa­ters, I call a tow­boat op­er­a­tor in the area for lo­cal knowl­edge. On one call I made, the tow­boat cap­tain gave the fol­low­ing in­struc­tions: “When you get to red marker num­ber two, put a course line in your GPS straight to the RS junc­tion marker. It’s about two miles in. Just fol­low that route on your GPS and it will keep you in safe wa­ter all the way.”

A few days later, when call­ing for lo­cal knowl­edge at an­other un­fa­mil­iar lo­ca­tion, the tow­boat cap­tain told me: “When you en­ter the river, as soon as you’re even with the Coast Guard sta­tion on your port side, look ahead and you will see a wa­ter tower and a church steeple.” He added that we should cen­ter the steeple un­der the wa­ter tower and hold that course un­til we came even with green marker 11, then look to our port side to find the en­trance chan­nel to the ma­rina.

Both were good in­struc­tions that safely brought us to our des­ti­na­tions. The big dif­fer­ence, of course, was that one op­er­a­tor had us fo­cused on a GPS screen, while the other had us look­ing out the pi­lot­house win­dows.

We are so fo­cused on the in­for­ma­tion from our de­vices,

Keep your eyes on the hori­zon, as well as your MFDs.

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