Captain Don Cockrill explains how augmented reality wearable technology would enhance the pilot and master’s situational awareness without distracting them from critical operations
Shared mental model has become a commonplace expression within the maritime community, particularly when considering ship manoeuvring operations. Bridge resource management regarding pilotage operations places shared mental models between pilots and bridge teams high on the priority list to achieve a successful passage.
But it does not stop there. The most critical point of a ship’s voyage is the period when it finally approaches or leaves its berth. It is paramount that when utilised, ship assist tug masters and crews are also kept appraised of the current and intended status of the vessel’s movement through close liaison with the pilot. They too must share the relevant mental model.
Historically, this has predominantly been achieved via sound communication, today generally via VHF radio, but in some quarters, still by ship’s and/or pilot’s whistle signals.
For tug masters ‘looking out of the window’ and maintaining situational awareness using visual and aural clues wherever possible during a ship towage manoeuvring operation remains paramount.
However, visual and aural clues alone are often not sufficient to ensure maximum situational awareness, particularly in complex, demanding conditions. Various tools have been developed to address this.
For example, radar, ECDIS, portable pilot units (PPU) and their supporting systems such as global navigation satellite system positioning and Automatic Identification System (AIS) give invaluable situational awareness input. They enable plan views of the ship’s manoeuvre and the positioning of tugs to be observed with ease by all parties, be it on the ship’s and tugs’ electronic navigational charts or the pilot’s PPU.
This is a critical issue when manoeuvring ultra-large container ships and car carriers where it is not possible to see the individual tugs directly.
All these tools, along with other information sources, have a common impediment in that they require the tug master to look away from their focus of concentration to observe whatever data is required or being displayed.
Some require the operator to physically change position or even leave the operation station to clearly view a display (ECDIS and radar for example) while others have portability (PPUs), but may still dictate distraction during a critical period such as during a swing or the final moments of a berthing manoeuvre.
Such situations are not limited to maritime, and augmented reality (AR) wearable technology and specialist software is available from several manufacturers and are becoming commonplace, particularly within high-reliability industries, organisations and operations, thus their relevance to towage and pilotage.
Of significance to maritime operations, hands-free software has been developed that integrates numerous elements of an operator’s support equipment, both aural and visual so they can be referred to at any time without needing to leave the conning position or even change sight direction.
One such solution, designed for use in maritime environments, utilises a rugged head-mounted device that can be worn with or without safety helmets and can be used with safety glasses or corrective eyewear.
Taking feeds from numerous sources (aural and visual) commonly found on a navigating bridge or other control station, and by utilising hands-free voice control, the software enables the operator to select and view the required input through one eye simulating a 7-in tablet display while maintaining an uninterrupted visual observation of the critical operation via the other.
Tug masters may often be faced with situations demanding multi-tasking capabilities and an octopus’s physique. This technology potentially offers a safe and economic solution to these challenges.
A chartered master mariner, Captain Don Cockrill MBE CMMar FNI retired from pilotage after 28 years of service with the Port of London Authority and was secretary general of the UK Maritime Pilots’ Association 2015-2020
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