I had the following mailed to me recently in draft form, as it was to be presented to the Institute of Seamanship for publication.
Posters thoughts would be appreciated whilst I am considering a response."After reading an article recently regarding the effects of â€˜solar stormsâ€™, I was intrigued enough to start asking a few questions, the first of which I put to an Extra-Master Mariner, with 40+ years of experience, was,
â€œIf the satellites go down, what happens?â€ I was floored by the response,
â€œWell, there are plenty more of them up there, so itâ€™ll be OK.â€
â€œSo what happens if they all go down simultaneously, possibly due to a blast of solar radiation?â€
â€œIn that case, then, weâ€™re buggered!â€ was the reply!
The following paragraph is from the NASA website, which contains some fascinating informationâ€¦
â€œIf a coronal mass ejection (CME) collides with the Earth, it can excite a geomagnetic storm. Large geomagnetic storms have, among other things, caused electrical power outages and damaged communications satellites. In space CMEs typically drive shock waves that produce energetic particles that can be damaging to both electronic equipment and astronauts that venture outside the protection of the Earth's magnetic field. Solar flares, on the other hand, directly affect the ionosphere and radio communications at the Earth, and also release energetic particles into space. Therefore, to understand and predict "space weather" and the effect of solar activity on the Earth, an understanding of both CMEs and flares is requiredâ€. (http://hesperia.gsfc.nasa.gov/sftheory/cme.htm)
That then started me thinkingâ€¦
The key words, to my mind are â€œâ€¦.caused electrical power outages and damaged communications satellitesâ€
In these days of increased transportation of goods and raw materials by sea, an exponential growth in cruise liners, and a year on year increase in leisure boating, would we still retain the requisite personal skills demanded to move a vessel from â€˜Aâ€™ to â€˜Bâ€™, should the electronic systems suddenly go off?
We are not talking here about the power simply being, effectively turned off. We are discussing the probability of the power surging to such a level that it effectively â€˜friesâ€™ all of the electronic components prior to burning out the generation equipment! Even unplugging the equipment from the power source would make no difference, as the electro-magnetic pulse would have sufficient power to burn out the equipment at component level!
Just imagine a large commercial vessel moving at 40Kts, when the Master finds that suddenly he has no electrics, which means no lighting, no GPS, no radio, no fluxgate compass, no RADAR, no SONAR, no echo sounder, no on-board computers, no engine-room telemetry, and in many cases no steering!
The engineers should in a few hours, be able to jury-rig and bypass the controls to manual, which would allow them to control speed and steering. Within 80 miles ??? Hopefully, the engine controls will â€˜fail safeâ€™, and maybe drop down to a â€˜tick-overâ€™. If all propulsion stops, then whatâ€¦â€¦..??
Let us turn the clock back, not to the days of cat and hammocks, but rather look at the tools available at the time, which were updated with each new practical discovery.
â€œThe skill and the art of navigation is to get from any starting point, to a position when pilotage takes overâ€
Starting with the Chronometer and the Sextant. I have grouped these together because, in navigation, the one will not work without the other.
The sextant combined with a chronometer, is one of the most powerful tools employed by the navigator, as it allows him to work out his longitudinal position â€“ although, I must confess that even at my own most precise, the nearest I managed to work out our position was within 25 miles! If only they had kept the vessel still!
It has been noted that the Royal Navy is â€˜downgrading the importanceâ€™ of the use of sextants for navigation, and in the commercial world of shipping, the use of radar alarms, satellite navigation systems, and satellite communications systems is now the norm.
Increasingly, the sextant is being â€˜downgradedâ€™ into a pretty mantelpiece ornament, rather than being kept as a fully functioning precision tool for the purposes of navigation.
ColRegs state that a â€œgood lookout shall be maintained at all times by whatever means are availableâ€
With no RADAR, SONAR or echo-sounder, reliance would revert, once again to the â€˜Mark One Eyeballâ€™. A precision piece of equipment which when fully trained, is able to compute the approximate speed, closing range, distance and bearing of another vessel, landfall, etc.
The standard â€˜Mark One Eyeballâ€™ can also be trained to read, decipher and respond to semaphore, flag-code signals and Morse Code. Semaphore is no longer used for signalling. Morse Code is no longer a prerequisite for communications, and the use of single and multiple-letter code flags has now all but disappeared â€“ with the possible exceptions of â€˜Aâ€™ (I have a diver down: Keep well clear at slow speed), â€˜Bâ€™ (I am taking in, discharging or carrying dangerous goods), â€˜Pâ€™ (In harbour â€“ all persons to report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea), and â€˜Qâ€™ (My vessel is â€œhealthy and I request free pratique)."