In October, the 80ft maxi-yacht PriceWaterhouseCoopers ran aground and capsized near Flinders Islet, off Port Kembla on the eastern coast of Australia while competing in a 92 nautical mile night race, according to a story a few months ago in the London Times.
The yacht's skipper Andrew Short, 48, and navigator Sally Gordon, 47, drowned while 16 others (including Mr. Short's two sons) were rescued. Both were highly experienced sailors.
A story this week in The Australian is reporting that following an inquiry into the incident by Flinders Islet race organizer the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), that it is warning that the loss of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers "may have been due to a navigation error caused by reliance on a GPS chart plotter."
As a result, Sydney to Hobart yacht racers are being warned not to depend solely upon their GPS systems for navigation. The annual race starts on the 26th of December.
CYCA commodore Matt Allen is quoted in The Australian as telling racers, "... where there is a need to rely on a chart plotter, it should not be assumed that the GPS or chart plotter is necessarily accurate to the degree required for safe navigation."
He reminded the sailors that they "should verify their position by other means, including visual reference, depth soundings and reference to relevant maritime charts," the Australian said.
As I noted in January, for the second time, the British Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which is a part of the UK Department for Transport, had to issue a Safety Flyer warning "about the misuse of computerised navigation systems by ships' officers with insufficient training."
The reason was two recent maritime accidents (one involving the cross-Channel Roll on Roll off passenger ferry Pride of Canterbury hitting a submerged wreck in January 2008, and another involving the grounding of the cargo ship CFL Performer in May 2008) where the ships' officers relied on electronic navigation systems that they were untrained on and didn't know the limitations of.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.