To the editor: Gadgets are becoming more and more prevalent in our everyday lives. We cannot venture outdoors without seeing the masses face-deep into their smart devices oblivious to the outside surroundings. The new generation has become gadget dependent — change the passcode on the family Wi-Fi and witness your teenagers go into DEFCON 4! New mariners and vessel captains are relying on their most updated and advanced technological navigation equipment. How many neglect the paper chart?
Accidents involving collisions at sea, most of which are caused by human error, are due to erroneous navigation points. There are many factors, as in outdated software, un-calibrated or non-functional NAV equipment, etc. Relying solely on electronics is somewhat … dangerous.
In my time with Naval Special Warfare as a special warfare combat crewman (SWCC), I had the responsibility of being the navigator and the radio operator and the primary medic with also having to man the .50 caliber on the bow — this all on an 36-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB). It was a lot of responsibilities on a small craft.
Anything that would assist me in my duties was welcomed, and having an onboard GPS system was a godsend — especially in racetrack mode. Albeit fairly new in 1999, the system had shown its reliability for the most part.
I am absolutely convinced that always having an accurate paper chart readily available will save time, cost and lives. Case in point was an operation I was a part of in 2000. Our mission was to put a platoon of SEALs on board a moving vessel in transit somewhere in the Indian Ocean at night (technically called a “hostile visit board search and seizure”). After the intelligence brief, I compiled all the necessary information and data I needed to create a plan of intended movement (PIM). First and foremost, the PIM had to be plotted on the correct paper chart with all the necessary research, Notice to Mariners, weather, etc. Then the data was entered into the GPS system, and we followed the course dictated by the onboard nav equipment.
About an hour and a half into our transit, I noticed my screen becoming dimmer. (We were a detachment of two RHIBs with a compliment of SEALs on our way to take down bad guys). I was about to tell the Officer in Charge (OIC) that we had a problem.
Using quick thinking, I quickly rebooted the system but to no avail. Next I did some troubleshooting to the best of my ability without having to come to a full stop. I informed the OIC of the issue and asked the second RHIB of his status; he replied that his nav system was nonfunctional as well; Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law was making himself at home. The OIC quickly asked the status of our situation and our intentions — having to tell a very determined SEAL that he may miss his target is something you do NOT want to do.
I had my paper chart readily available, so I told the OIC all was well. Using a red chemlight, my course was promptly noted and in need of an update. Using the “dirty boat guy” formula of 60 D Street, DR and old school navigatin’, my position was corrected. Using teamwork with the second RHIB and the platoon of SEALs, we managed to maintain our objective with an error of only a few hundred yards.
Without my chart, a very important mission would have failed. Lives would have been lost if we could not put those SEALs on board to thwart the shipment of dangerous cargo. The mission reaffirmed that electronics are a backup to your paper chart. As my Chief Petty Officer would constantly state, “I don’t care what that BLEEP BLEEP computer can do, ALWAYS have your chart! Use the BLEEP BLEEP computer to back up your chart! I’m not going to die by GPS.”
—Erek Sanchez is a former U.S. Navy SWCC who is currently employed in maritime security. He is working on establishing his own navigation and exploration company in Orange City, Fla.