The increase of technology is seeing more and more captains overwhelmed by the amount and variety of software and equipment available for navigation. So are bridges becoming too overcrowded?

"I came into the industry before Radar was afforded on yachts, and before GPS,” Captain Simon Johnson tells us. “We ran the yacht purely on 'Rule 5' (every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout). Not having a GPS made me constantly space-aware and most of my on-watch activity was monitoring relative bearings. The new technology in the bridge has made it possible for watchmen to sit in comfy chairs and wait for a CPA alarm before tearing themselves away from texting or Facebook.”


Motoryacht Ocean Seven bridge. Credit: Ed Holt

Captain Johnson goes on to show that the downfall of this new technology is evident from the latest regulations. “BNWAS has been brought in to stop watchman dozing off, and to make them physically walk around the bridge to reset it. So with one technology, comes another to check on it. And so it goes on,” he explains. “Does it make yachting safer? 'Rule five' makes seafaring safe; look out of the window, walk around from one side of the bridge to the other, step outside occasionally and listen, use any rudimentary pelorus and make every collision-avoidance decision that way.”

Captain Larry Ciprich also agrees that navigational methods used prior to modern technology are safer. “Using and relying solely on electronics (yes, this often the case) dulls one's senses,” Captain Ciprich worries. “When was the last time you took out the ‘Admiralty List of Lights’ or used dead reckoning in the Med or anywhere else for that matter? Hearing the person on watch shout ‘land’ after a two or three week passage, using only a watch, a sextant and a temperamental Walker Log for navigation did bring a lot more satisfaction than today’s following a course on an electronic chart. Satisfaction and accomplishment besides, the key word here is awareness, a rapidly disappearing sense in yachting."


"The new technology in the bridge has made it possible for watchmen to sit in comfy chairs and wait for a CPA alarm before tearing themselves away from texting or Facebook.”



In issue 146 of The Superyacht Report, a number of captains were asked their opinion about new technology and design on today’s bridges. Captain Kaj Christensen explained how the overcrowding of technology on some bridges should be a safety concern. “I am a bit of a traditionalist and really like a non-complicated and simple bridge,” he explains. “I am very concerned that all the available tools contribute to too much going on and not enough of the basics. All the new electronics have many menus and bells and whistles; it over-complicates the job of simple, effective navigation. The crew tends now to play with all the menus and functions and forgets they are there to navigate the yacht safely without electronic assisted collisions or having their attention taken away from why they are there.” (To subscribe to The Superyacht Report click here.)

But the level of technology in bridges is not without its benefits, explains Captain Joss de Rohan Willner of 62.5m Baton Rouge. “During my three decades in yachting the main change on the bridge has been the massive increase in the amount of information that is instantly available. Some of this helps resolve potentially dangerous situations in seconds rather than the minutes it would have taken in the past,” Willner says, but in turn echoes the sentiment of the other captains that the technology can be distracting: “On the other hand, the extra time that that gives the watchkeeper is fully taken up with plenty of other not so useful or pertinent information, which some may actually see as a distraction from the core job.”

The unquestionable feedback from the captains we spoke to was that simplicity is essential to safe and effective bridge operations. Modern technology has made its way onto bridges and some feel it is increasingly distracting from the sole focus of the bridge, which is ultimately safe navigation. A better dialogue between captains and equipment manufacturers could pave the way to finding the balance on board between enhancing safe operation with advanced technology and using fail-safe, conventional methods.