3D chartplotters, GPS positions with an accuracy of meters, 3D depth sounders, AIS, waterproof smartphones and tablets with built-in GPS and very usefull Apps, integration of all systems on one big screen, right in front of your nose at the steering wheel in the cockpit with all kinds of alarms in case of any danger, collision course, empty batteries, etc ... Sometimes it seems that you are playing a computer game, when you are sailing. All revolutionary technological developments are excellent, but my question remains: "In recent years, have there been fewer rescue actions caused by navigation errors?"
I had never heard of many technologies in the beginning of my sailing career and I am not even that old. During my first crossings of the North Sea, there was one of the first GPS devices below decks at the chart table. You just used your compass, depth sounder and your log and just looked around, to the water, buoys, lighthouses, the coastline ... Awesome! I still prefer sailing that way.
Anyway, to find the answer to my question, I went to look at the Dutch coastguard annual reports for the last 10 years. And what seems to be the case?
There is no clear downward trend, but rather an upward trend. That can also be because there are more ships on the water or are there more storms? I do not think so, but I don't know. But I can not see a decline in navigational errors that decreases proportionately with the revolutionary technological development in navigation devices.
To my opinion, this has to do with the following.
First, these devices give a wrong sense of security. Sailors think that it is no longer necessary to really learn how to navigate, because they think they can rely for 100% on their chartplotter, AIS, RADAR, etc. I can assure you that this is not possible (jet). At the most critical moments, for example when calling at a port at night where the currents runs around the rocks, I have seen that the GPS position was not at all sowing correctly on the digital chart on the chart plotter, or that the power on board failed, or that the GPS signal was disturbed by some sort of radiation from the shore, or whatever. If at that moment you are not able to easily switch to the "old-fashioned" navigation on a paper chart, it can go wrong very quickly.
Moreover, the technique is incredibly error-prone, for example forgetting to zoom in on the chart plotter, so that a sand bank was not visible. That normally doensn't happen on a paper nautical chart.
Thirdly, skippers take more risks due to these technological improvements. For example, the AIS indicates exactly whether you can pass in front of a seagoing vessel, with how many meters of space between the two ships. Something that is hard to see with the naked eye. A fantastic system, AIS. However, sailors are using it to sail in front of huge container ships, something they would never do without AIS, but with the old-fashioned hand compass bearing. Another example is the misplaced trust in the chartplotters, as a result of which sailors sail between sandbanks, as if Navionics had given a 100% guarantee on the depths in their digital sea charts. And people even get upset when they hit aground at a position where according to their Navionics App should have been just enough water. It just does not work like that: Sandbanks are shifting continuously. So better to sail on a depth line, using the dept sounder rather than staring at the chartplotter.
Am I against technological developments? No of course not. But just sail, as we have done for centuries, with compass, depth sounder and speeds log and look around you at the water, the coastline, buoys and beacons. Really, that's not that difficult. Use the technology as a bonus, but not as a leading way of navigating.