A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2017 Mar 2, 18:29 -0800
Lu Abel, you wrote:
"But this story is seriously flawed."
It certainly is. It's tabloid noise. I can understand the Daily Mail publishing this story. It's just normal "anti-tech / I'm smarter than that guy" click bait. People read stories like these and love stories like these because they themselves have been confounded by technology, and because it's always a dirty pleasure to laugh at someone else when they have too easily trusted technology. People read, and as they do so, the Daily Mail website gets automatic advertising revenue. It's far less reasonable, and indeed quite pathetic, that the RIN picked this up without doing a little journalism on it. Does the RIN get its navigation news from the Daily Mail??
"For example, WiFi is a short range wireless interconnect technology. So how could failure of a WiFi signal cause the nav app on his iPad to fail as is claimed by the Daily Mail?"
I think I have this one figured out. They probably were using (what we call in the US) a "cellular" iPad. This gets its data connection, not from short-range WiFi, but from the mobile phone network, which over open water like the Humber Estuary has a range of five miles or more. For Apple iPads specifically, "cellular" iPads are more desirable because they have true GPS chipsets while other iPad models (at least until recently) did not have GPS. In any case, a "cellular" iPad like this can still lose signal for a variety of reasons, including something as simple as network maintenance which can reduce bandwidth unexpectedly. This can cause apps to become unresponsive or require a re-boot of the device. This is something that navigators using iPads need to understand. Some apps can function off-network. Some cannot at all. And some fill work with reduced functionality.
Many people use tablets like iPads for various navigation apps and the built-in sensors. They're amazing machines. That iPad had GPS, an excellent magnetic compass, and a variety of other sensors. But its primary use in the Humber Estuary would have been AIS. An iPad with a premium AIS app installed is a terrific aid to navigation far, far better than any of the traditional tools of the trade, including the creaky old common compass which was cited as missing in the article, and even better than radar in many circumstances --except for vessels not transmitting AIS. The waters of Narragansett Bay are similar in many ways to the Humber in terms of navigation and risk. They're both mostly protected waters (not ocean). They both have mixed traffic, including recreational boaters and large cargo vessels. And they're both subject to fog. I know many small boaters who swear by the apps on their iPads. They also usually have a backup plan, and that quite reasonably centers on the boater's smartphone.
In the image attached below [please see next message] you can see that the voyage they were attempting was up the estuary, not on open sea, and could have been completed in about four hours. There's a great deal of commercial traffic, and that is clearly the great risk. But if they had a functioning AIS app that risk could have been easily and safely managed.
"I would contend that if the proper charts were pre-loaded into the iPad program then it would have been as good as a chart -- or even better because it would have had the iPad's GPS to locate the boat on the iPad chart. And if the shipping channels were shown on the chart then the skipper should have known that he was in one."
Absolutely true. Greatly superior to paper charts. And that's why I believe that this was an AIS app failure. It's possible that they still had basic chart functionality including that blinking GPS dot. In other words, they probably knew exactly where they were, and knew so far better than they could have done with the "compass" highlighted as missing in the article. But that blinking dot and exact knowledge of your position won't protect you from a giant ferry looming out of the fog.
It's intriguing that the crew of the ferry are not highlighted as more clearly culpable in this article. They ran over a small vessel, which surely was visible on their radar! It's extraordinarily lucky that the boat did not sink immediately drowning the two people on-board.
Finally, I would like to add that the subject line that you chose, David Pike, is a nice example of the entropy that afflicts tales like this one. You described them as "going to sea", but that surely is not an accurate description of the voyage they were taking. You see what I mean, right?