Why would a ship sail into a hurricane?

This time last year the American ship SS El Faro went down in a hurricane with the loss of all thirty-three crew (Wikipedia page). It seems impossible ‘in this day and age’ that such a thing could happen. It wasn’t a mechanical issue, or a rogue crew, or pirates, or a freak storm. The Washington Post reported one of the deck officers voiced concern prior to sailing, emailing friends and family, “there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it.” Yankee magazine has published a deep read that is worth the time for any pilot to … Continue reading Why would a ship sail into a hurricane?

Light bulbs, red lines, and rotten onions

I’ve talked about the MV Hoegh Osaka incident before. A huge ship that left port out of balance and soon was grounded on the Bramble Bank sandbar off the Isle of Wight. The official British Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report determined that a “fundamental principle of seamanship appears to have been allowed to drift, giving rise to potential unsafe practices.” Today I read an excellent analysis of the accident report and what it means for Safety Management Systems and safety/production balance in the real world. It’s titled Light bulbs, red lines, and rotten onions, by Nippin Anand. It was originally published in The Seaways of the … Continue reading Light bulbs, red lines, and rotten onions

Procedural drift and the sandbar

On 3 January 2015, the large ship MV Hoegh Osaka left the British port of Southhampton. An hour later she made a turn to port, then began listing markedly to one side. Soon enough the rudder and propellor were out the water. In flying terms, ‘departure from controlled float’ we could say. Fifteen minutes after the turn she was grounded on the Bramble Bank sandbar off the Isle of Wight. Settling down with a list that would eventually reach 52°. The ship was about half full, loaded with 1,200 Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles worth over $45 million. Now, this accident isn’t as serious as … Continue reading Procedural drift and the sandbar

The Secrets of the Wave Pilots

There is a wonderful long-read article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine titled The Secrets of the Wave Pilots. It never mentions flying or airmanship, but it’s thought-provoking contemplative stuff for any aviator concerned about visual flying skills. And it’s an in-depth romp through animal navigation, GPS, modern brain science and almost lost ancient knowledge. The glue of the story is Alson Kelen, “potentially the world’s last-ever apprentice in the ancient art of wave-piloting”. That’s the science and art of navigating among the Marshall Islands with no modern tools. Once thought impossible, we know now that somehow it is possible, but … Continue reading The Secrets of the Wave Pilots

Celestial navigation is back!

Redundancy is the best policy. Lt. Alex Reardon US Naval Academy instructor. And by redundancy I don’t think he means two GPS units! The US Navy, who has long relied on GPS and electronic mapping for all navigation needs, is now going to start spending valuable teaching time on something really old school—sextants and celestial navigation. I’m not suggesting we all start leaning how to shoot the stars (something that remained an airline skill up to the first B747s), but the idea that we can continue to fly should we have total loss of GPS and electronic nav is strong. We … Continue reading Celestial navigation is back!