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Celestial Navigation

Celestial navigation is still a vital and mandatory skill for navigators and can now be efficiently acquired in a simulated training environment

Today, we preside over a historical tipping point in which manual and analog procedures are gradually but decisively being displaced altogether by digital systems. However, certain time-honoured physical processes can never vanish completely, for the simple reason that human intervention is an essential alternative in the likely event of power outages and other causes of electronic equipment vulnerability or outright failure. In maritime applications, safety has to be the primary consideration: when lives hang in the balance, cutting corners for the sake of convenience is out of the question.

On the one hand, it might seem incongruous that a position-fixing methodology implemented by, for example, the Minoans of ancient Crete should still be a recognized discipline in the modern digital age; but on the other hand, there’s no denying the validity of a technique which has demonstrably worked for centuries. More to the point, there’s still no getting round it: a specified minimum standard of competence in celestial navigation is a mandatory requirement for deck officers on merchant ships, as laid down in sections A-II/1, A-11/2 and B-II/1p.19 of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).

An effective, illustrative and innovative training regime is therefore needed if students are to legally attain the necessary expertise – and in this regard, the celestial navigation functionality within KONGSBERG’s K-Sim Navigation simulator is the perfect tool. For instructors, getting the theory across is one thing; but being able to furnish trainee officers with hands-on experience in a safe, controlled and realistic environment cannot be underestimated.

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“In the simulator you can practice various celestial navigation scenarios in school hours, regardless of actual time of day or night and the weather conditions. Students can be exposed to the exact same scenario for evaluation of skills, and scenarios can efficiently be repeated,” comments Jan Ståle Kauserud, VP Products, Maritime Simulation, Kongsberg Digital. “Ultimate realism is achieved with the simulated vessel’s motion factoring in sea state and weather conditions as set by the instructor.”

Via K-Sim Navigation simulator training, students will become thoroughly well-versed in all aspects of celestial navigation as a means of vessel position fixing and calculating gyro and magnetic compass error, including the deployment of nautical sextants, chronometers and altitude correction tables; the completion of scientific navigational calculations; and the enactment of preparatory route plotting and route monitoring procedures.

Certified by DNV GL, the K-Sim Navigation system provides levels of proficiency which surpass existing STCW requirements – and the adoption of institutional measures has been proposed to ensure that the skills acquired during the training period remain acute and applicable throughout subsequent professional practice.

The celestial navigation competence offered by K-Sim Navigation simulator training is timely, given the use of sophisticated electronic Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) as primary position-fixing sources for oceangoing vessels. The prevalence of such systems is understandable: they are user-friendly, accurate and are habitually integrated with all the navigation equipment on a ship’s bridge.

The ubiquity of this technology can also be interpreted, with some justification, as an area of potential concern. Committing so heavily to a single source of electronic information can leave vessels’ navigational systems wide open to vulnerabilities, ranging from receiver glitches and intermittent or unavailable GPS signals to accidental or targeted interference.

The ever-present risk of onboard systems being hacked by cyber criminals means that officers and crews have to consider the likelihood of situations arising in which they could quite conceivably find themselves acting upon deliberately deceitful information.

The beauty of celestial navigation is, of course, that the processes involved are carried out independently of digital systems, rendering them impervious to the effects of electronic equipment breakdowns or the introduction of malware, spyware, ransomware and other manifestations of cyber-crime. KSim Navigation simulator training in the sphere of celestial navigation provides deck officers with the reassurance that their vessel location can be plotted under any circumstances, as well as connecting them directly with a set of first principles in the natural world that can assist immeasurably in checking for and spotting potentially serious navigational errors.