If you are a business who relies on marine operations to deliver products and services internationally, maybe you are a supplier or manufacturer or you are a marine or military specialist, you will recognise the importance of fast and accurate sea travel, so your goods arrive at the required destination on time and operations are fulfilled in a timely manner. Shipping has been around for thousands of years and marine navigation is crucial, not only for product businesses but also for military applications too. Knowing how to navigate the open seas is important and, in this guide,  we will walk you through the different types of navigation equipment and systems that can make sea journeys safer, quicker and more accurate, combining a range of old and new techniques. 

Sea travel is a complex endeavour, with various tools and technologies that are used to safely navigate and complete operational missions and sea journeys. 

The main types of navigation equipment include: 

  • Inertial and electronic navigation 
  • Dead reckoning 
  • Celestial navigation 

Marine Navigation equipment is crucial for the safe and timely navigation from one place to another. There are four main components in the navigation process; location; course, monitoring and repeat. 

Navigation technique is something that boats will do to identify their position and define the required course. There are lots of different strategies to locate your position as well as defining a course which are known as navigation methods. 

Your Position 

Being able to identify your position is crucial for shipping. There are a few ways that you can do this, either by looking at your previous position or using a landmark or celestial body to determine your position. That said, if you do decide to use objects you can both measure your distance from them and also the direction towards them. The direction towards an object is referred to as a bearing. 

Even if you don’t have a compass you should still be able to identify a directional line. You can use a transit by finding two charted objects that are perfectly aligned such as buoys or rock formations. When you plot the transit or bearing on a chart you can identify the direction in which you are travelling. 

Lines – Best Practice 

Identifying lines are crucial in shipping to be able to plot where you are. There are many techniques to obtain lines and these include a selection of old and new techniques. Different ships will adopt different strategies but some of them are: 

Compass bearings – One of the most popular techniques of finding a line is to use a compass and this is a technique that has been used for hundreds of years. This is quite an easy form of finding a line and it will simply require you to find a point on a chart that you can see on the horizon and then point a compass towards this point. You will need a reliable compass and a marine chart to complete this task. 

Terrestrial range or Transit – Finding two aligned chartered points to give you a directional line. Identify two objects or landmarks. When two chartered points align you can draw a line and follow this to your desired destination. 

Radar range – Calculating the direction and distance to a given object or formation. Radar is really effective because it only requires a single object to achieve an accurate position. It can obtain both the bearing and the range from one object and neatly plot your direction on any chart. This is really beneficial for container ships who need to navigate into busy and challenging ports. 

Celestial bodies – Using the stars to chart your position. This technique will require the use of three tools; a sextant, a marine chronometer and a nautical almanac. First, take the chronometer and the almanac to identify a sub-point. Take the sextant and calculate the angle between the horizon and the celestial body which will give you a distance between the sub-point and your vessel. This is the first line of position that you will need. This process should be repeated a few times with different stars until you find at least two lines that intersect. This will give you a good position. 

GPS – The use of satellites can identify your exact location with precision, and it is by far one of the easiest and accurate ways to identify your location. When using GPS, the receiver will calculate the exact distance taking data from several satellites. GPS is one of the most reliable and accurate methods of plotting lines in navigation and it is a technique that consistently delivers results. 

Echo Sounders 

As well as being able to determine your direction, you must also be able to determine the depth of the water for your vessel, to make sure that it is safe to enter into. One of the best pieces of equipment that allow you to measure this is to use an echo sounder. This equipment is used to measure the depth of the water using sound waves. Echo sounding can be used to estimate a location but for this purpose, it isn’t known for its accuracy. 

Parallel Indexing 

Navigating a vessel safely into a bay or port can be a challenge without the use of technology. There are so many obstacles to avoid such as vessels and landing bays to name a few so you need to carefully monitor your position. Parallel indexing is useful in these situations and it allows you to stay on course as you navigate into a busy area. It is achieved by taking a fixed object and drawing a line that is parallel to your course. Stick to this line using your radar and you will be able to safely navigate into port. 

Using some of these tools, techniques and systems to plot journeys, identify positions and form direction lines are essential skills for today’s captains. The use of technology combined with centuries old shipping techniques only make journeys safer and quicker for everyone in the marine industry.