Safety of Navigation

The early seafarers probably stayed within easy reach of the coast and did not go to sea at night or when the weather was likely to be bad. In the Middle Ages, European seafarers generally did not go to sea during the winter months. But while this seemed sensible at the time, such caution naturally restricted their movements. Long, ocean voyages inevitably involved risk.
Apart from the weather, the greatest challenge for early seafarers was finding their way. Without maps or inadequate experience to guide them, they usually had no way of knowing what lay beyond the horizon. If they did know that something was there, they did not have the knowledge necessary to reach it and to get back. The seafarer might imagine he was going in a straight line, yet winds and currents were always threatening to take the ship off course. Navigation was even more difficult at night and in bad weather, when stars or landmarks such as islands would be hidden from view. For the seafarer, therefore, the most important challenge after simply staying afloat was knowing where he was.
Today, technology has solved many of these problems. But the Lloyd's Register of Shipping Casualty Returns for 1958 - the year before the International Maritime Organization met for the first time - showed that 16 per cent of the merchant shipping tonnage lost that year (56,000 gt) resulted from collisions and a further 32 per cent (115,000 gt) from groundings or striking wrecks. The vast majority of these casualties - nearly half the total for that year - were thus caused or contributed to by navigational error or deficiency. If navigation was such a problem less than half a century ago, it is scarcely surprising that the sea was such a frightening place when man went to sea for the first time.

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