From paper to digital: life onboard and ashore
Growing up in the Southern Indian port city of Tuticorin, fishing, shipping and shipbuilding were part of the everyday landscape for Noel Fernando.
Inspired to study the industry, Noel completed a BsC in Nautical Science, a course that introduced him to maritime law, ship operations and seamanship techniques. Recruited by Maersk Line in 2005 he spent the next 10 years at sea climbing through the ranks before the inevitable decision came.
“The transition to a shore-based job was a difficult decision in some ways, but I saw the potential of bringing what I’d learned as a Chief Officer to a role ashore,” he says. “Sailing was very close to my heart but I was excited to share the insight from a decade onboard with the next generation.”
Noel worked as a marine consultant and by 2021 was promoted to Head of Quality Systems and last year to Product Manager at Voyager Worldwide, a role in which he has overseen the development of the Voyager product line.
It’s a far cry from his initial experience onboard ships, despite working for a well-known and forward-thinking company.
“Things have definitely changed and they are changing faster now. A few years back, we would be very paper-heavy and update tracings would often be received weeks after publication,” he explains. “We did not always have the most up to data navigation data because it wasn’t available to us, we had to pick it up along the way.”
From there to where the industry sits today, he sees as a positive change, despite the shift in practice that digital navigation has ushered in. The transition to digital passage planning with the ability to easily make changes is a huge plus, but the ability to plan and navigate on the most up to date information is key.
“We’re now talking about daily updates rather than weekly or monthly, so mariners have faster access to the latest ENC information resulting in better passage planning and can be well-prepared for any issue. Daily updates mean any issue on the voyage can easily be introduced into the ECDIS and navigators can respond because they have the best available data, to help keep vessels safe.” he points out.
Looking further ahead the industry is set for another change, as digital charts take over completely from paper over the next decade. He sees tools like the Voyager product suite as critical in supporting this transition. Mariners want reliable tools, so it’s important that they feel they can trust what digital gives them.
“For smooth adoption of digital navigation data we need to streamline processes, with easy onboarding to make it simple as possible,” he says. “Mariners should be able to relate how they worked in past to the changes coming up.”
To Noel, there is no question that using digital planning and navigation tools is benefit to seafarers; for anyone used to manual processes, adopting fully digital navigation can have immediate benefits.
“Planning a voyage on paper was a lot of work – looking at small and large scale charts, checking every step was compliant with company requirements. A Singapore to LA plan could easily take 2-3 hours on paper, now it’s 10-15 minutes with easy validation and amendment. For a busy mariner that’s the kind of time saving that makes a huge difference.”