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A navigator is the person on board a ship or aircraft responsible for its navigation. [1] The navigator's primary responsibility is to be aware of ship or aircraft position at all times. Responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the ship's captain or aircraft commander of estimated timing to destinations while en route, and ensuring hazards are avoided. The navigator is in charge of maintaining the aircraft or ship's nautical charts, nautical publications, and navigational equipment, and he/she generally has responsibility for meteorological equipment and communications. With the advent of GPS, the effort required to accurately determine one's position has decreased by orders of magnitude, so the entire field has experienced a revolutionary transition since the 1990s with traditional navigation tasks being used less frequently.

Navigation The process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another

Navigation is a field of study that focuses on the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. The field of navigation includes four general categories: land navigation, marine navigation, aeronautic navigation, and space navigation.

Nautical chart topographic map of a maritime area and adjacent coastal regions

A nautical chart is a graphic representation of a sea area and adjacent coastal regions. Depending on the scale of the chart, it may show depths of water and heights of land, natural features of the seabed, details of the coastline, navigational hazards, locations of natural and human-made aids to navigation, information on tides and currents, local details of the Earth's magnetic field, and human-made structures such as harbours, buildings and bridges. Nautical charts are essential tools for marine navigation; many countries require vessels, especially commercial ships, to carry them. Nautical charting may take the form of charts printed on paper or computerized electronic navigational charts. Recent technologies have made available paper charts which are printed "on demand" with cartographic data that has been downloaded to the commercial printing company as recently as the night before printing. With each daily download, critical data such as Local Notices to Mariners are added to the on-demand chart files so that these charts are up to date at the time of printing.


In naval occupations

Shipborne navigators in the U.S. Navy are normally surface warfare officer qualified with the exception of naval aviators and naval flight officers assigned to ship's navigator billets aboard aircraft carriers and large deck amphibious assault ships and who have been qualified at a level equal to surface warfare officers. U.S. Coast Guard officers that are shipboard navigators are normally cutter qualified at a level analogous to the USN officers previously mentioned. Quartermasters are the navigator's enlisted assistants and perform most of the technical navigation duties.

A Naval Flight Officer (NFO) is a commissioned officer in the United States Navy or United States Marine Corps who specializes in airborne weapons and sensor systems. NFOs are not pilots per se, but they may perform many "co-pilot" functions, depending on the type of aircraft. Until 1966, their duties were performed by both commissioned officer and senior enlisted naval aviation observers (NAO).

Aircraft carrier Warship that serves as a seagoing airbase

An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

Quartermaster army supply officer or naval rank

Quartermaster is a military term, the meaning of which depends on the country and service. In land armies, a quartermaster is generally a relatively senior soldier who supervises stores or barracks and distributes supplies and provisions. In many navies, a quartermaster is an officer with particular responsibility for steering and signals. The seaman is a non-commissioned officer rank; in some others, it is not a rank but a role related to navigation.

Aboard ships in the Merchant Marine and Merchant Navy, the second mate is generally the (senior) navigator.

A second mate or second officer (2/O) is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship holding a Second Mates Certificate of Competency, which is issued by the administration. The second mate is the third in command and a watchkeeping officer, customarily the ship's navigator. Other duties vary, but the second mate is often the medical officer and in charge of maintaining distress signaling equipment. On oil tankers, the second mate usually assists the chief mate with the Cargo operations.

In aviation

Navigators are sometimes also called 'air navigators' or 'flight navigators'. In civil aviation this was a position on older aircraft, typically between the late-1910s and the 1970s, where separate crew members (sometimes two navigation crew members) were often responsible for an aircraft's flight navigation, including its dead reckoning and celestial navigation, especially when flown over oceans or other large featureless areas where radio navigation aids were not originally available. As sophisticated electronic air navigation aids and universal space-based GPS navigation systems came online, the dedicated Navigator's position was discontinued and its function was assumed by dual-licensed Pilot-Navigators, and still later by the aircraft's primary pilots (Captain and FO), resulting in a continued downsizing in the number of aircrew positions on commercial flights. Modern electronic navigation systems made the civil aviation navigators redundant by the early 1980s. [1]

Dead reckoning process of calculating ones current position by using a previously determined position

In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating one's current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. The corresponding term in biology, used to describe the processes by which animals update their estimates of position or heading, is path integration.

Celestial navigation navigation using astronomical objects to determine position

Celestial navigation, also known as astronavigation, is the ancient and modern practice of position fixing that enables a navigator to transition through a space without having to rely on estimated calculations, or dead reckoning, to know their position. Celestial navigation uses "sights", or angular measurements taken between a celestial body and the visible horizon. The Sun is most commonly used, but navigators can also use the Moon, a planet, Polaris, or one of 57 other navigational stars whose coordinates are tabulated in the nautical almanac and air almanacs.

A satellite navigation or satnav system is a system that uses satellites to provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location to high precision using time signals transmitted along a line of sight by radio from satellites. The system can be used for providing position, navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver. The signals also allow the electronic receiver to calculate the current local time to high precision, which allows time synchronisation. Satnav systems operate independently of any telephonic or internet reception, though these technologies can enhance the usefulness of the positioning information generated.

Navigators cockpit 1928 Navigators Cockpit 1928.jpg
Navigators cockpit 1928

In military aviation, navigators are still actively trained and licensed in some present day air forces, as electronic navigation aids cannot be assumed to be operational during wartime. In the world's air forces, modern navigators are frequently tasked with weapons and defensive systems operations, along with co-pilot duties such as flight planning and fuel management, depending on the type, model and series of aircraft. In the U.S. Air Force, the aeronautical rating of navigator has been augmented by addition of the combat systems officer, while in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, those officers formerly called navigators, tactical systems officers, or naval aviation observers have been known as naval flight officers since the mid-1960s. USAF navigators/combat systems officers and USN/USMC naval flight officers must be basic mission qualified in their aircraft, or fly with an instructor navigator or instructor NFO to provide the necessary training for their duties.

War Organised and prolonged violent conflict between states

War is a state of armed conflict between states, governments, societies and informal paramilitary groups, such as mercenaries, insurgents and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces. Warfare refers to the common activities and characteristics of types of war, or of wars in general. Total war is warfare that is not restricted to purely legitimate military targets, and can result in massive civilian or other non-combatant suffering and casualties.

A combat systems officer is a member of an aircrew in the United States Air Force and is often the mission commander in many multi-crew aircraft. The combat systems officer manages the mission and integrates systems and crew with the aircraft commander to collectively achieve and maintain situational awareness and mission effectiveness. CSOs are trained in navigation, the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and weapon system employment. Aircrew responsibilities include mission planning, mission timing, weapons targeting and employment, threat reactions, aircraft communications, and hazard avoidance.

Nautical charts

A 1976 United States NOAA chart of part of Puerto Rico NOAA chart 25664 1976.png
A 1976 United States NOAA chart of part of Puerto Rico

A naval ship's navigator is responsible for buying and maintaining its nautical charts. A nautical chart, or simply "chart", is a graphic representation of a maritime or flight region and adjacent coastal regions. Depending on the scale of the chart, it may show depths of water and heights of land, natural features of the seabed, details of the coastline, navigational hazards, locations of natural and man-made aids to navigation, information on tides and currents, local details of the Earth's magnetic field, restricted flying areas, and man-made structures such as harbors, buildings and bridges. Nautical charts are essential tools for marine navigation; many countries require vessels, especially commercial ships, to carry them. Nautical charting may take the form of charts printed on paper or computerised electronic navigational charts.

Ocean current Directional mass flow of oceanic water generated by external or internal forces

An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of sea water generated by a number of forces acting upon the water, including wind, the Coriolis effect, breaking waves, cabbeling, and temperature and salinity differences. Depth contours, shoreline configurations, and interactions with other currents influence a current's direction and strength. Ocean currents are primarily horizontal water movements.

Earths magnetic field Magnetic field that extends from the Earths inner core to where it meets the solar wind

Earth's magnetic field, also known as the geomagnetic field, is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's interior out into space, where it interacts with the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun. The magnetic field is generated by electric currents due to the motion of convection currents of molten iron in the Earth's outer core: these convection currents are caused by heat escaping from the core, a natural process called a geodynamo. The magnitude of the Earth's magnetic field at its surface ranges from 25 to 65 microteslas. As an approximation, it is represented by a field of a magnetic dipole currently tilted at an angle of about 11 degrees with respect to Earth's rotational axis, as if there were a bar magnet placed at that angle at the center of the Earth. The North geomagnetic pole, currently located near Greenland in the northern hemisphere, is actually the south pole of the Earth's magnetic field, and conversely.

Harbor Sheltered body of water where ships may shelter

A harbor or harbour is a sheltered body of water where ships, boats, and barges can be docked. The term harbor is often used interchangeably with port, which is a man-made facility built for loading and unloading vessels and dropping off and picking up passengers. Ports usually include one or more harbors. Alexandria Port in Egypt is an example of a port with two harbors.

The nature of a waterway depicted by a chart changes regularly, and a mariner navigating on an old or uncorrected chart is courting disaster. Every producer of navigational charts also provides a system to inform mariners and aviators of changes that affect the chart. In the United States, chart corrections and notifications of new editions are provided by various governmental agencies by way of Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), Notice to Mariners, Local Notice to Mariners, Summary of Corrections, and Broadcast Notice to Mariners. Radio broadcasts give advance notice of urgent corrections.

A convenient way to keep track of corrections is with a "chart and publication correction record card" system. Using this system, the navigator does not immediately update every chart in the portfolio when a new Notice to Mariners arrives, instead creating a card for every chart and noting the correction on this card. When the time comes to use the chart, he pulls the chart and chart's card, and makes the indicated corrections on the chart. This system ensures that every chart is properly corrected prior to use. British merchant vessels receive weekly Notices to Mariners issued by the Admiralty. When corrections are received all charts are corrected in the ship's folio and recorded in NP133A (Admiralty Chart Correction Log and Folio Index). This system ensures that all charts are corrected and up to date. In a deep sea vessel with a folio of over three thousand charts this can be a laborious and time-consuming task for the [navigator].

Various and diverse methods exist for the correction of electronic navigational charts.

Nautical publications

This page from a Sailing Directions assists the navigator by providing pictures and descriptions of a harbor approach. Sailing-directions-thumb.jpg
This page from a Sailing Directions assists the navigator by providing pictures and descriptions of a harbor approach.

The term nautical publications is used in maritime circles to describe a set of publications, generally published by national governments, for use in safe navigation of ships, boats, and similar vessels.

The nature of waterways described by any given nautical publication changes regularly, and a mariner navigating by use of an old or uncorrected publication is courting disaster. Every producer of nautical publications also provides a system to inform mariners of changes that affect the chart. In the United States, corrections and notifications of new editions are provided by various governmental agencies by way of Notice to Mariners, Local Notice to Mariners, Summary of Corrections, and Broadcast Notice to Mariners. Radio broadcasts give advance notice of urgent corrections. For ensuring that all publications are fully up-to-date, similar methods are employed as for nautical charts. Various and diverse methods exist for the correction of electronic nautical publications.

Mission and passage planning

The navigator focuses on creating the ship's passage plans (or "mission plans" for USAF purposes). A mission or passage plan can be summarized as a comprehensive, step by step description of how the voyage is to proceed from berth to berth, including unberthing, departure, the en route portion of a voyage, approach, and mooring/arrival at the destination.

Before each voyage begins, the navigator should develop a detailed mental model of how the entire voyage will proceed. In the aviation community, this is known as "chair flying." This mental model includes charting courses, and forecasting weather, tides, and currents. It includes updating and checking aeronautical charts, nautical publications, which could include Sailing Directions and Coast Pilots, and projecting the various future events including landfalls, narrow passages, and course changes that will transpire during the voyage. This mental model becomes the standard by which he will measure progress toward the goal of a safe and efficient voyage, and it is manifested in a written passage plan.

When working in a team environment, the passage/mission plan should be communicated to the navigation team in a pre-voyage conference (USAF term is "mission briefing") in order to ensure that all members of the team share the same mental model of the entire trip.

Passage planning procedures are specified in International Maritime Organization Resolutions, in the laws of IMO signatory countries (for example, Title 33 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations), and a number of professional books and USN/USAF publications. There are some fifty elements of a comprehensive passage plan depending on the size and type of vessel, each applicable according to the individual situation.

Modern navigators often enter passage plans on electronic systems. Navigation system on a merchant ship.jpg
Modern navigators often enter passage plans on electronic systems.

A good passage plan will include a track line laid out upon the largest-scale charts available which cover the vessel's track. The navigator will draw and redraw the track line until it is safe, efficient, and in line with all applicable laws and regulations. When the track is finished, it is becoming common practice to also enter it into electronic navigation tools such as an Electronic Chart Display and Information System, a chartplotter, or a GPS unit.

Once the voyage has begun the progress of the vessel along its planned route must be monitored. This requires that the ship's position be determined, using standard methods including dead reckoning, radar fixing, celestial navigation, pilotage, and electronic navigation, to include usage of GPS and navigation computer equipment.

Passage planning software, tide and tidal current predictors, celestial navigational calculators, consumables estimators for fuel, oil, water, and stores, and other useful applications.

The navigator is responsible for the maintenance of the ship's navigational equipment. U.S. Air Force navigators are responsible for troubleshooting problems of the navigation equipment while airborne, but the ground Maintenance personnel are ultimately responsible for repair and upkeep of that aircraft's navigation system.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Aircrew personnel operating an aircraft in flight, including pilots, systems operators, and attendants

Aircrew, also called flight crew, are personnel who operate an aircraft while in flight. The composition of a flight's crew depends on the type of aircraft, plus the flight's duration and purpose.

USS <i>Oklahoma City</i> (SSN-723) Los Angeles-class submarine

USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723), a Los Angeles-class submarine, is the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The contract to build it was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia on 13 August 1981 and its keel was laid down on 4 January 1984. It was launched on 2 November 1985 sponsored by Mrs. Linda M. Nickles, and commissioned on 9 July 1988, with Commander Kevin John Reardon in command.

Chief mate profession

A chief mate (C/M) or chief officer, usually also synonymous with the first mate or first officer, is a licensed member and head of the deck department of a merchant ship. The chief mate is customarily a watchstander and is in charge of the ship's cargo and deck crew. The actual title used will vary by ship's employment, by type of ship, by nationality, and by trade: for instance, chief mate is not usually used in the Commonwealth, although chief officer and first mate are; on passenger ships, the first officer may be a separate position from that of the chief officer that is junior to the latter.

Weapon systems officer flight crew of combat aircraft tasked with operating weapons and other systems

A Weapon Systems Officer is an air flight officer directly involved in all air operations and weapon systems of a military aircraft.

The Australian Hydrographic Service is the Australian Commonwealth Government agency responsible for providing hydrographic services that meet Australia's obligations under the SOLAS convention and the national interest; enabling safe navigation, maritime trade and supporting protection of the marine environment. The agency, headquartered at the Australian Hydrographic Office in Wollongong, New South Wales, is an element of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and serves both military and civilian functions. The names Australian Hydrographic Service and the Australian Hydrographic Office are commonly abbreviated as AHS or AHO respectively.

Passage planning procedure to develop a complete description of a vessels voyage from start to finish

Passage planning or voyage planning is a procedure to develop a complete description of a vessel's voyage from start to finish. The plan includes leaving the dock and harbor area, the en route portion of a voyage, approaching the destination, and mooring, the industry term for this is 'berth to berth'. According to international law, a vessel's captain is legally responsible for passage planning, The duty of passage planning is usually delegated to the ship's navigation officer, typically the second officer on merchant ships.

Sailing Directions

Sailing Directions are written directions, describing the routes to be taken by boats and ships during coastal navigation, and port approaches. There are also products known as Sailing Directions, which are books written by various Hydrographic Offices throughout the world. They are known as Pilot Books, because they provide local knowledge of routes and landmarks, which would typically be provided by a local marine pilot. As such, they are used frequently by naval and government vessels, who are exempted from 'Compulsory Pilotage' in many ports.

Notice to mariners periodical literature

A notice to mariners (NTM) advises mariners of important matters affecting navigational safety, including new hydrographic information, changes in channels and aids to navigation, and other important data.

Local Notice to Mariners

A Local Notice to Mariners is an authoritative instruction issued by a designated official, typically the harbormaster.

History of navigation history of seamanship

The history of navigation is the history of seamanship, the art of directing vessels upon the open sea through the establishment of its position and course by means of traditional practice, geometry, astronomy, or special instruments. A few people have excelled as seafarers, prominent among them the Austronesians, their descendants the Malays, Micronesians, and Polynesians, the Harappans, the Phoenicians, the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the ancient Indians, the Norse, the Chinese, the Venetians, the Genoese, the Hanseatic Germans, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the English, the French, the Dutch and the Danes.

The Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service is a French public establishment of an administrative nature administered by the Ministry of Defence. It is the successor to the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, founded in 1720 which became the Naval Hydrographic Service in 1886 and the Naval and Oceanographic Service in 1971. Its present form was set up by decree number 2007-800 on 11 May 2007. Its board is presided over by the Chief of Staff of the French Navy and the body is directed by a director-general.


  1. 1 2 Grierson, Mike. Aviation History—Demise of the Flight Navigator, website, October 14, 2008. Retrieved August 31, 2014.