Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How to Master Electronic Chart Navigation with the Starpath eNav Trainer

Electronic chart navigation means using a software program on a computer or other device that is designed to display electronic charts with built in electronic charting tools and a connected GPS receiver that shows your vessel moving across the chart. There are dozens of such programs available offering various levels of sophistication to assist the navigator in both route planning and navigation underway. Once mastered, these electronic charting systems (ECS) provide the state of the art in navigation safety and efficiency for all vessels, power or sail, commercial or recreational.

But as with all new technology, there is much to be learned before we can take full advantage of all the resources the programs offer. We start with the manuals, and oftentimes detailed videos on the functioning of the programs, to learn the basic operations, such as how to load and view charts, and set up optional displays. And we learn the tools they offer such as setting waypoints and making routes, measuring range and bearing, using range rings, and more.

We learn that most of the ECS programs will also accept AIS signals telling us the location and motion of nearby traffic, and we learn the ECS offers various alarms and alerts we can set for safe navigation underway.

Much of the basic use we can learn from the static situation of just having our vessel at a fixed location on the chart, and then we have to head out onto the water to see how these resources operate when underway.

How eNav Trainer Can Help

The Starpath eNav Trainer offers a way to master the use of ECS underway from the safety of your armchair, desk or classroom. The key is a realistic simulation of the GPS signals you would receive if you were indeed underway and moving. Sitting at your computer, your program thinks you are actually on the water. In another window on your computer or from the screen of your phone or tablet, you have the vessel controls that drive the boat your ECS is monitoring. Just as when on the water in your own boat, you turn right on the controls, and you see your boat turn right on the echart display. Speed up, slow down, drive however you choose. If you run into a charted buoy, you won't get hurt, but you will have something to think about!

With this simulation resource, you can practice with the navigation tools of your program, many of which are vessel centered, and you can practice setting various alarms, and see them work in action. You can make routes and practice following them. For example, often there is an option to set a range ring on a way point and let the program automatically change to the next waypoint along the route when you cross that range. The eNav simulation is a way to see such operations in action under various conditions.

To add more realism to the challenge—and demonstrate the value of practice—the eNav Trainer also adds current flow to the waterway. With current present, you vessel will not make good the course you are steering, so you can practice following a route in these conditions. The eNav simulates a heading sensor, so your echart program knows which way you are headed, as well as the COG you are making good at any time. Learning to read and interpret these two crucial outputs is another thing you can master with this tool. You can even practice docking in current.

The eNav Trainer also offers crucial practice with collision avoidance using either real or simulated AIS traffic. If you have access to live AIS signals—there are numerous Internet connections that provide these—then you could drop your own vessel into, for example, a very busy San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, or Chesapeake Bay, and practice simply driving from one side to the other without violating the Navigation Rules. Or choose the Port of Shanghai or Singapore for even more difficult traffic challenges.

But is it likely best to start out slower with eNav's simulated AIS traffic. When you choose to run several vessels in a simulation, each will appear as an AIS target to the others. Practicing on your own, you can open two control panels, choose one for your own vessel and the other for the AIS target. This way you can present the approaching AIS target as you choose, and then study collision avoidance with it, testing the CPA (closest point of approach) alerts your program offers.

With two or more navigators practicing together, each can control their own vessel, and monitor it in their own ECS program. They can be the same brand of ECS or different. Then each will see in their program their own vessel as well as the other, which will appear as a moving AIS target. Both then practice collision avoidance together.

When practicing from remote locations, the two (or more) navigators can communicate via the eNav's simulated VHF radio, which offers crystal clear audio connections between users.

In short, there are unlimited training exercises users can work through to master the navigation tools of their chosen ECS, just as they will appear when underway. This can lead to expertise and confidence in the use of electronic navigation that is hard to come by without many miles of actual experience—not to mention that you can practice all the scenarios you do not ever want to encounter underway.

In Summary...

The Starpath eNav Trainer is a realistic GPS, AIS, and heading-sensor simulator designed for individuals or groups so they can master the full use of their chosen electronic charting systems (ECS) and to practice realistic navigation maneuvers with other moving vessels, either simulated or real, viewed as AIS targets on their screens.

This Internet based simulation can be used with any brand of ECS, using raster or vector echarts, for any part of the world. Simultaneous users, driving individually simulated vessels, in a mutually chosen waterway, can be located in the same classroom, or they can be located in different parts of the world. They just set their ECS chart displays to that waterway and see each other on the chart.

Modern electronic charting systems are sophisticated software with many powerful options for enhancing safe navigation. Many of these tools, however, are difficult to learn and practice without being underway. With eNav Trainer you can practice navigation and collision avoidance in current and in traffic, learn how various automated safety and convenience features and alarms of your program actually work, practice various display options, and so on. With real-size vessel icons, you can even practice docking or coming along side another moving vessel. When simulating multiple vessels, you can jump the control from one vessel to another to see how each perceives the other in various maneuvers.

Details of how the eNav Trainer is setup in your computer are given at eNav Trainer Help.


  1. That's a.marvelous idea! Where and how do I get it? How much is it?


    1. I apologize for the very long delay. Our interface to our own blog was somehow broken and we could not make comments to any of our articles! Please contact me at helpdesk@starpath.com and we will send you a session to work with.