How Do Cruise Ships Navigate the Seas?


With hundreds, if not thousands, of cruise liners zig-zagging the planet’s oceans and sea floors full of surprising topography elements – cruise navigation is an incredibly complex art. Far removed from the crude method adopted by vessels of yesteryear, placing a shipmate in the crow’s nest to spot upcoming obstacles and threats; modern cruise ships benefit from hugely sophisticated, advanced navigation systems.

So, here we indulge our nerdy side, and explore how cruise ships actually navigate the seas and safely transport passengers all around the world.

Unsurprisingly, cruise ship journeys and passages are heavily regulated – due to the huge number of lives dependent upon safe and responsible operation. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) places strict rules upon almost every aspect of cruising from the navigation to the structure of the vessels.

As one of the few computerised navigation systems which complies with all of the IMO’s strict policies and rulings, the Electronic Chart Display & Information System (ECDIS) is commonly found aboard large cruise ships. Helping ships safely navigate, the ECDIS provides the ship’s continuous position as well as upcoming safety information.

Using electronic and digital navigation charts as well as a series of sensors located around the body of the vessel, ECDIS provides an accurate, as-live account of their position and surroundings. This eliminates the risk of misreading a map or losing the plotted route.

cruise bridge

The ship’s navigator will then use ECDIS to plot a route between ports which offers safe passage. As ECDIS constantly provides the ship’s current position and surroundings; it allows the navigator to change course if circumstances change. The ability to quickly assess the situation and effectively plot an alternate route is central to the navigator’s responsibility of ensuring the ship stays safe at all times.

The ECDIS system has significantly improved on-board safety of cruises – minimising the risk of accidents occurring, and reducing the risk of human error being costly. Providing the navigators with the opportunity to accurately plot routes across the oceans based upon approaching lands, underwater threats or oncoming ships; ECDIS can dramatically reduce the risk of any collision.

Sensors fitted aboard the ships have been carefully placed to provide a comprehensive insight into the movement of the ship – which helps navigators judge suitable turning rates, allowable drafts and other manoeuvrability factors.

Additionally, any ship with ECDIS fitted will be able to send out more effective, up-to-date and accurate distress signals if they do encounter danger. This will allow any nearby ships to quickly alter their route (using ECDIS to stay safe) and offer any necessary assistance and aide to the affected ship.

Now that you’re all clued up about how a cruise ship can get you from your homeport to the destination of your dreams; it’s the best time to book an amazing cruise experience. For a full range of great deals aboard the world’s biggest and most technologically advanced ships in operation, visit our homepage or call our dedicated customer services team on 0800 230 0655.

Image credits: Prayitno, Chris Phutully


About Author

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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