Navigation: Now and Then

Weary eyes gaze over the dreary haze gray creeping over an expanse of empty blue. Standing watch on the bridge, staring out onto this barren scene they are able to perceive a wealth of underwater topography, ghostly artifacts resting on the seabed and all manner of life floating, swimming and sailing nearby. They can define the ship’s location, identify nearby landmarks and passersby.

“I love my job, I get to stand here navigating the ship and have this beautiful view on the bridge, it’s a wonderful experience,” said Quartermaster 2nd Class Christopher Lewis. “I enjoy everything I do. You could say QMs drive the ship, so I could say I drove the aircraft carrier during flight ops and in and out of port.”

Navigation department’s quartermasters aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) combine traditional forms of navigation with new technologies to help ensure the ship is where it matters when it matters.

“The most important input, I think, is GPS [global positioning system]. It gives us a picture of where we are anytime, anywhere. Voyage Management System (VMS) shows where the ship is and where the ship is headed,” said Quartermaster 2nd Class Meghan Carter. “That’s our main navigation tool now. We are required to use it as our primary source of navigation. If I am going to give the OOD [officer of the deck] any info it has to come from VMS.”

Piloting the ship requires QMs to collect, process and disseminate geographic information to the OOD for safe transit.

“Using VMS alleviates a lot of the stress when going through strenuous areas because you can see exactly where you are,” said Carter. “The paper chart represents where you were, not where you are, so you have to rely on past information. So that makes it a little stressful.”

VMS also supports accountability and procedure. The supplemental system also reduces the likelihood of human error.

“We are a direct representative of the navigator,” said Carter. “On the bridge we assist the OOD with our plan of intended movement and course and speed recommendations.”

Quartermasters still employ the more traditional approach of measuring and tracking observable atmospheric elements and celestial bodies.

“I have been on sea duty for five years, so I like to do the celestial stuff because that is not something we usually do every day,” said Carter. “I love that stuff. It blows my mind to think about how they figured out how to use the sun and the stars to navigate. We still use the Nautical Almanac to compute sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset.”

The Nautical Almanac is a publication describing the positions of celestial bodies to assist navigators in determining their position.

“We do a daily azimuth, the difference between true and magnetic north, to get our gyrocompass error,” said Lewis. “We put a bearing circle on the gyrocompass repeater to reflect sunlight onto the repeater to get a bearing to the sun.”
Predetermined functional zones ensure safe navigation. These designated safe zones, or operating boxes, are where TR can most efficiently execute her mission.

“Canal transit and pulling in and out of port can be stressful,” said Lewis. “Our navigation team is really knowledgeable. Our senior chief and our LPO [leading petty officer] they have done this a thousand times, so there isn’t too much stress. Our team is really experienced, we make it look easy.”

The frothy wake of where quartermasters have been is plain to see, but what lies over the horizon remains to be seen.

Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG), which is composed of Carrier Strike Group 12, Carrier Air Wing 1, Destroyer Squadron 2 staff, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), USS Farragut (DDG 90) and USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98).

Roosevelt is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the region.

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