types of navigational equipment
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Types of Navigation Equipment Found on Ships


Navigating at sea is a specialized task and a ships officer needs to be trained in the use of myriad marine navigation equipment in order to plan and navigate a sea voyage. This equipment uses the latest technology in seafaring and makes the ships officers job much easier than his predecessors who simply had paper charts, sextants and the stars to guide him.  


Gyro Compass

This is used to find the right direction. It is not reliant on an external magnetic field but uses a fast-spinning disc and the rotation of the earth to find the correct North Position.


Magnetic Compass

This compass works with the magnetic field of the earth and is essential in navigation. The magnetic compass is used to get a planned course for the ships voyage.



Ships depend on S-band and X-band frequency radar systems for navigation due to the fact that it can pick up targets and display the information on a screen – for example, how far the ship is from land, if there are any floating objects nearby, detection of other ships etc.


Auto Pilot

The autopilot is situated on the ships bridge. It is a combination of hydraulic, mechanical and electrical systems and is one of the most effective pieces of navigational equipment because it aids the ships officer in controlling the vessel by keeping the steering in autopilot allowing the officer to concentrate on other aspects of the ships operation.



This stands for Automatic Radar Plotting Aid and it displays the position of a vessel and other ships close by. The radar assists in selecting a course for the ship in order to avoid a collision. This piece of navigational equipment is found on the bridge and it monitors the ship’s surroundings continuously.


Automatic Tracking Aid

Similar to the ARPA, the ATA automatically tracks and displays information on targets in both graphic and numeric form in order to generate a layout for a safer course for the ship.


Speed and Distance Log Device

Kept on the bridge, this piece of equipment measures the speed and distance that the ship travels from a set point. This is essential in giving an estimated time of arrival to port authorities and agents.


Echo Sounder

The echo sounder has been part of a ships navigation equipment for around 100 years. Is measures the depth of the water below the ship using sound waves. The sound waves bounce off a reflecting layer and the audio pulse is returned as an echo.


Electronic Chart Display Information System

A development in the chart system used by naval ships, the ECDIS has made it easier for the crew of a ship to pinpoint locations and attain directions.



The Long Range Tracking and Identification System is an international system incorporated by the International Maritime Organisation to ensure a thorough tracking system for ships of 300 tons or more that are making voyages across the world.


Voyage Data Recorder

This piece of ship’s equipment continuously records important information related to the operation of the ship. It has a voice recording system which, in the event of an accident, can be recovered and used by investigators to determine what happened in the last 12 hours before the accident occurred.



The Automatic Identification System is made up of a short-range radio and a transponder that is activated when other ships or vessels transmit in the vicinity. The AIS sends details of each ships course and speed to each other. The AIS is mounted near the radar display on the bridge.


Radio Direction Finder

The RDF system is made up of a MF radio receiver and a direction finder. It can determine the bearing of both fixed and mobile radio stations that use the MF band to transmit.



A Global Positioning Systems receiver is a system that ships use to show their location with the aid of global positioning satellites.


Navigational Lights

Navigational lights are a requirement for all ships and boats. It is a system introduced in 1838 in the USA and then adopted by the UK in 1849. Proper guidelines were established in 1889 at the International Maritime Conference. These rules were adopted internationally in 1897. The navigational lights are critical for ships sailing in high seas because they enable the vessel to be clearly seen by other ships close by.


Ships Whistle

There are generally two whistles on a ship – one is driven by air and the other is electric. They are both operated from the bridge. The whistle is used in bad weather or situations of high traffic to alert nearby vessels of the ship’s presence.


Daylight Signaling Lamp

These are used for emergency signaling in the daytime. The lamp enclosure is weather and waterproof.


Pilot Card

This informative booklet is provided to the ships pilot and consists of various information necessary for the safe maneuvering of the ship such as turning circle, draught, dimensions, propulsion equipment etc.


Record of Navigational Activities

All navigational activities performed by the ship’s crew and officers using the navigational equipment on the bridge have to be recorded. It is a vital logbook.


Record of Maintenance

A hard copy of the ships navigation system and list of equipment has to be onboard for port authorities to reference. It must be signed by the master and duty officer of the vessel.


Wheelhouse Poster

This poster is situated on the bridge and shows detailed info on the maneuvering characteristics of the ship such as it’s turning circle and stopping.


Transmitting Heading Device

The THD is an electronic device that is used to show the ships true heading.



Ship flags use different colours and signs to indicate a ship’s position. Naval personnel use flags to communicate with other navy ships and allied forces. Boats use them to notify approaching craft of situations such as a diver in the water or of an emergency.



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