Boat captain relies on iPad as compass, crashes

Commentary: A British man at the helm of a 50-foot boat doesn't realize how unreliable Wi-Fi signals can be. His boat is struck by a huge cargo ship.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

The iPad is not perfect.



The iPad is not perfect.


We've come to believe that technology can do everything for us.

Perhaps that's how we've come to be the thoughtless beings that we are.

I drift into philosophical waters because of David Carlin and a fascinating accident report just released by the UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

Last May, Carlin, 34, was at the helm of a 50-foot oak and mahogany boat named Peggotty. It hailed from the days of World War II and Carlin wanted to sell it. So he decided to sail it from Grimsby to Hull for a survey and brought along a representative for the potential buyer.

The Peggotty was, however, blessed with neither a compass, nor fully working navigational equipment.

Still, what could go wrong? The other man in the boat had an iPad.

iPads have apps that can do everything, after all. And, indeed, his passenger -- who had previously worked as the captain of a safety boat -- opened his navigational app and began directing the way across the Humber Estuary, a waterway that enjoys quite some traffic.

Then the Wi-Fi failed.

The mental navigation system in your mind already tells you that the Peggotty was struck by trouble. More precisely, it was struck by the Petunia Seaways, a cargo ship 1,400 times larger than the 50-footer. Indeed, the Petunia Seaways is so big that she felt nothing. She wafted along to Sweden.

Meanwhile, Carlin, who had heard one lone fog signal but wasn't sure where it had come from, had to issue a mayday as his boat began to sink. He and his passenger were rescued by a passing boat. The Peggotty had, indeed, strayed into a shipping lane.

The report says that the master of the Petunia Seaways reacted too late, as the Peggotty was visible. The master should also have sounded his foghorn more than once.

You might imagine that Carlin wasn't an experienced captain. However, even though this was off-duty activity, he's a pilot with Associated British Ports.

All this happened on the foggy morning of May 19 last year.

The accident report, however, has just been released with sanctions for both captains. Carlin has been suspended from his job. The master of the Petunia Seaways had his master's Pilotage Exemption Certificate for the Humber suspended.

Though many basic errors seem to have been made here -- and the report says that the Peggotty simply wasn't seaworthy -- it's always wise to know the limitations of your gadget.

They can lead your astray, sometimes with terrible results. They can also malfunction and even crash. It helps, therefore, to keep your brain fully engaged and afloat at all times.

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