Lessons Learned – by Pat Carson

Lessons Learned

Nautical Acronyms

When we give new boat owners lessons on boat handling, we include the use of common nautical terminology and in some cases its origins and common usage. Although it is not necessary to use the correct nautical terminology to be a competent yachtsman, doing so does show knowledge of a competent mariner. Equally important, but not as common in everyday usage, are nautical acronyms that are used regularly on board our vessels or when talking with other mariners. In some instances, these terms are incorrectly used as a noun when in fact they are an acronym. Let’s take a look at some of the more common maritime acronyms and their history.

This diagram shows the sequence of events from the time a 406 beacon is activated (1) anywhere in the world, to the launch of Search and Rescue (6) assets to the location of the distress.

A1 – When looking at the overall condition of a vessel we may refer to it as in A1 shape. This term originates from the Lloyd’s register of shipping when in 1764 they detailed more than 4,500 ships. The condition of the hull is rated using A, E, I, O or U, and the equipment on board using numbers 1 through 9. Lloyds A-1 was at the top of the list and insurers and merchants knew that ship would be in the very best possible condition. Is your boat A1 or something less?

AIS – Today all mariners have a shipboard product available that broadcasts vessel information much like a transponder. The Automatic Identification System that operates in the VHF maritime radio band is capable of handling over 4,500 ship reports every minute and has information updates as often as every two seconds. On your vessel’s chart plotter or ECDIS, there will be a symbol for every ship within radio range with each showing a speed leader that indicates the ship’s speed and heading. The displayed symbol can reflect the actual size of the ship and is plotted with GPS accuracy. Hovering your cursor over the AIS icon most systems will display the ship’s name, course and speed, as well as registration number, MMSI, CPA, TCPA and other details. For not much more than the cost of a good VHF radio, all mariners can have an AIS receive function easily added to their vessel’s navigation system. For a few dollars more you can add AIS transmit and have all other AIS equipped vessels see your data. The AIS is one of the best collision avoidance tools of the 21st century.

CBDR – Just because I am looking at another ship’s bow does not mean that the possibility of a collision exists unless that other ship’s relative bearing to me does not change but the distance decreases. This condition is referred to as Constant Bearing Decreasing Range and the risk of collision does now exist. You will need to maneuver your vessel according to the navigation rules to change the bearing drift.

COPASS/SARSAT – An international humanitarian search and rescue system that uses space-based technology to detect and locate 406 MHz emergency beacons that are carried by ships, aircraft, or individuals venturing into remote areas that often do not have mobile phone coverage. COPASS is an acronym for the Russian words Cosmicheskaya Sistyema Poiska Avariynich Sudov, which means Space System for the Search of Vessels in Distress while SARSAT is an acronym for Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking.

The system consists of a network of satellites, ground stations, mission control centers and rescue coordination centers that work together when a 406 MHz beacon is activated. The United States is one of the four founding members, and today the system provides a tremendous resource and unparalleled reach for protecting the lives of aviators, mariners and outdoor adventurers that was unimaginable prior to the 21st century. With the press of a button a distress message can be sent from a 406 MHz emergency beacon to the appropriate search and rescue authorities, regardless of weather or terrain conditions, from anywhere on Earth, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

DSC – This is a semi-automated means of establishing initial contact between vessels or land stations. Digital Selective Calling can be considered an upgrade to how marine communication functions and is part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. It allows you to get help faster and provides more accurate information to rescuers at a time when seconds can really save a life. The key to the system operating is programming the ship’s VHF or your handheld VHF with the nine-digit MMSI.

ECDIS – Most recreational vessels have a chart plotter for displaying GPS position data and RADAR information. The grown-up version of our chart plotter is the Electronic Chart Display and Information System. The ECDIS is an integrated electronic navigation system that combines the data obtained from various electronic navigation sensors and displays it on a digital monitor in both a graphic image and alpha-numeric information. The most common sensors providing the data inputs are GPS, AIS, RADAR, depth sounder and the ship’s log. Connect a minimum of three of these sensors and you will have a basic ECDIS which you build from.

EPIRB – There are three types of 406 MHz emergency beacons used to transmit distress signals, EPIRB for maritime use, ELT for aviation use and PLB primarily for personal use. PLB is gaining traction among mariners. Today all Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons operate at 406 MHz and use the COSPAS/SARSAT system of polar orbiting satellites. The advantages of a 406 EPIRB are worldwide coverage, position location accuracy, a reliable transmitted signal, an encoded message that identifies the distressed vessel and a faster response time. For long offshore trips, a 406 EPIRB is the way to go. The more feature rich GPS enabled 406 EPIRB has a position accuracy of roughly 300 feet of the initial alert. When you have an emergency at sea it is nice to know that search and rescue authorities know your exact location, making rescue much quicker.

Boater in distress activates his EPIRB, the SOS is received by the satellite, the signal is sent to the ground station, information is sent to the mission control center and then to the rescue coordination center.

ENC – What is the difference between Electronic Navigational Charts and other electronic charts? ENC’s are one of the two key elements of electronic navigation. An ECDIS or chart plotter functions as the hardware, while an ENC contains the dataset of relevant information for a voyage. Together, these two components create a powerful digital navigation solution. Need updated chart data for your chart plotter or ECDIS, you may be purchasing a ENC chart cartridge from your hardware supplier.

GPS – Satellite Navigation is based on a global network of satellites that transmit radio signals from medium earth orbiting satellites and is collectively referred to as the Global Positioning System. The GPS project was started by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973 and the first prototype spacecraft was launched in 1978. The full constellation of 24 satellites became operational in 1993. Originally limited to use by the United States military, civilian use was allowed in the 1980’s following an executive order from President Ronald Reagan. Most of us are most familiar with the 31 Global Positioning System satellites developed and operated by the United States, but did you know that the U.S. system is just one of six GPS systems?

Satellite Navigation is based on a global network of satellites that transmit radio signals from medium earth orbiting satellites and is collectively referred to as the Global Positioning System.

The Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) was developed contemporaneously with GPS, but suffered from incomplete coverage of the globe until the mid-2000’s. Most modern maritime chart plotters will also receive GLONASS in addition to GPS and can be combined in a receiver providing additional available satellites to enable faster position fixes and improved accuracy. China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System began global services in 2018 and finished its full deployment in 2020. There is also the European Union Galileo navigation satellite system and India’s NavIC.

Soon, Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, QZSS, GPS satellite-based augmentation system to enhance GPS’s accuracy in Asia-Oceania with satellite navigation independent of GPS is scheduled to be operational later this year.

IALA – Most U.S. mariners do not realize that there are two buoyage systems used around the world. The International Association of Lighthouse Authorities has system A and system B.

The IALA Maritime Buoyage System is divided into two regions. Region A includes part of the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and part of the Pacific Ocean. Region B includes North and South America.

The IALA Maritime Buoyage System is divided into two regions. Region A includes part of the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, Europe, Asia, Middle East, Australia and part of the Pacific Ocean. Region B includes North and South America.

As recently as the 1970’s, there were more than 30 buoyage systems in use around the world. This caused confusion and collisions. It was only after two fatal incidents in the Dover Straits in 1971 that the IALA was established and a worldwide effort to develop a safe, unified maritime buoyage system that could be followed by all vessels at sea was created. By 1980, there were just two systems in use, IALA A and IALA B. Although there is not yet one unified system for the whole world, this was a major achievement nonetheless and the differences between IALA A and B are only minor. The IALA chose the two systems to keep the number of changes to existing systems to a minimum and to avoid major conflicts. Have you finally memorized the mnemonic Red Right Return? When you navigate in Europe that will get you in trouble as in IALA-A the greens are kept to right when returning from sea.

IMO – The United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships is the International Maritime Association. The IMO has 171 member states and three associate members. The IMO’s primary purpose is to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping, and its responsibilities include maritime safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. The IMO is governed by an assembly of members which meets every two years.

When activated in an emergency, these devices will alert a nearby vessel by transmitting a series of 12 dots spaced at 0.6 miles on a vessel within RADAR range.

MMSI – If you wish your DSC enabled VHF radio to be fully operational or have an AIS transmitter on board, you will need to program these devices with unique nine-digit codes referred to as the Maritime Mobile Service Identity. The MMSI is a unique nine-digit code programmed into your DSC equipment to identify your vessel, and you need only one MMSI for multiple DSC radios on board. The nine-digit number is registered to the specific radio and vessel that are using it and set up is needed when you purchase a radio using the service.

NOAA – An agency of the United States government that was formed in 1970 within the Department of Commerce. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was the result of a merger of three governmental organizations originally formed in the 19th century. NOAA’s responsibility is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, ocean and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

PFD – We all know this one, Personal Flotation Device, but did you know that there is a difference between a life jacket and a PFD? Life jackets are PFDs, but not all PFDs are life jackets. Life jackets are designed to turn the wearer face up in the water even if unconscious. PFDs fall into five broad categories:

  • Type I jackets offer the greatest buoyancy (over 20 pounds) and are designed primarily for offshore use. They are bulky to wear but have the distinct advantage of turning an unconscious person face up in the water.
  • Type II jackets are likewise designed to turn an unconscious person face up in the water. They offer a minimum 15.5 pounds of buoyancy and are typically chosen for nearshore boating excursions. Though not exactly fashionable, their inexpensive price and often simple construction make Type II life jackets a longstanding favorite for boaters looking to satisfy U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements.
  • Type III jackets likewise offer 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Often referred to as “ski vests,” their comfortable, formfitting style makes them an excellent choice for watersports as well as general passenger use. Type III jackets typically feature a front entry and buckle, or buckle-and-zipper closure. The catch with Type III jackets is that they are designed for conscious wearers with an imminent chance of rescue; a Type III jacket is not guaranteed to turn an unconscious wearer face up in the water.
  • Type IV PFDs are designed to be held onto, rather than worn by the user. They offer a minimum 16.5 pounds of buoyancy. Avoid using a designated throwable as a seat cushion. Over time, the practice will degrade the foam and reduce the amount of flotation.
  • Type V PFDs are often combined into flotation coats, whitewater rafting vests or even sailboard harnesses. They should be used only for their intended purpose.

RADAR – Radio Detection And Ranging, RADAR, is not a noun but rather an acronym and is not written as radar. RADAR is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the distance, angle and velocity of objects relative to the transmitter and consists of a transmitter that produces electromagnetic waves, an antenna, receiver and processor. Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the objects and return to the receiver giving information about the objects’ locations and speed. Maritime RADAR falls into two broad categories of Pulse and Continuous Wave. Generally, pulse RADAR is better for long range detection.

SART – The Search And Rescue Transponder is becoming more common on recreational vessels. When activated in an emergency, these devices will alert a nearby vessel by transmitting a series of 12 dots spaced at 0.6 miles on a vessel within RADAR range. Most are designed to remain afloat on the water for a long time in case the vessel finds itself submerged in water.

SOLAS – The International Convention for Safety Of Life At Sea is an international maritime treaty that sets minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of merchant ships. The International Maritime Organization convention requires signatory flag states to ensure that ships flagged by them comply with at least these standards. As of April 2022, SOLAS has 167 contracting states which flag about 99% of merchant ships around the world.

USCG – The United States Coast Guard is both a federal law enforcement agency and a military force with missions that include maritime security, search and rescue and law enforcement. The service is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the United States military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission with jurisdictions in both domestic and international waters and a federal regulatory agency mission as part of its duties. It is the largest and most powerful coast guard in the world, rivaling the capabilities and size of most navies.

The 47-foot motor lifeboat is designed as a fast-response rescue vessel in high seas, surf and heavy weather environments. The unique feature of this boat is that it can self-right in only 30 seconds if knocked over by waves or surf.

As one of the country’s six armed services, the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed to support and fight every major U.S. war since 1790 from the Quasi-War with France to the Global War on terrorism. As of Dec 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard’s authorized force strength is 44,500 active-duty personnel and 7,000 reservists.

VDS – A Visual Distress Signal is any device you can use to help others locate your boat quickly in the case of an emergency. Visual distress signals include day signals that are visible in sunlight, night signals that are visible in the dark and anytime signals that can be used both day and night. All recreational boats operating in U.S. Coastal Waters, the Great Lakes or bodies of water directly connected to U.S. Coastal Waters or the Great Lakes up to a point where those waters are less than two miles wide are required by law to be equipped with visual distress signals. There are some exceptions however. During daytime hours vessels less than 16 feet in length, boats participating in organized events, sailboats less than 26 feet in length and not equipped with an engine and manually propelled boats are not required to carry visual distress signals. These boats are only required to carry visual distress signals approved for nighttime use when operating at night.

Time for me to sit back, enjoy a good glass of port and light up a fine cigar. Until next month, please keep those letters coming. Did I miss your favorite acronym? Send man email and I will share with our readers. Contact me at patcarson@yachtsmanmagazine.com