Admiralty Manual of Navigation ch 16


\PTER It) Navigational Errors


This chaptcr di.'ic!IS~(,S n;t\·i.1!;ationClI !TroT'S and how til(' navigator ma v rec()gnise .uid deal with the-m. To this end, a broad undcrst.uiding is ncedeo or ih« prohabilit\ or errors a.s it ailccts n;l\·ig·ation. The mat hr-mat ics or one- and two-dimrusional r-rrors arc set out in an annex at the end of the ch.rprcr. The quantification or particular errors in terms or distance, t;IVell certaill paramctCl's, i.s set out in Appendix 7.

Evr-rv rim« ;t position line is obtained from .mv source (celestial observation, visua] bearing, radar range, radio fixing aid), the navigator must be able to judge its likclv accuracy, and thus the accuracy of the ship's position obtained Irorn the intersection of two or more or those position lines. Similarlv, when determining the ship's DR position or the EP, an assessment or the likely ,lccllracy or that position must be made.

For example (Fig. 16-1), the ship's position has been fixed at A at 0600 hv celestial observations. The DR, B, and the EP, C, have been plotted on at 0700, as explaincd in Chapter B .. \t OiOO, a single visual position line DE is obtained from the oil production platform F. What position should be chosen for 0700:



E .s-:


0700 ...---


CH.\PTER lfi- '\.\ VI(;.\TIO'\.\L ERRORS

The navigator may consider: " had a good set or stars at (j1)1)(). I have all accurate plotting table and hottom log so that the course steercd and spccd steamed through the water, .1B, between ()f}UO and 07()() arc, I think, reliable. I am not quite so sure about my estimates oflccwav, set and drift, He. But I know that I am on the line D/:' at 0700. I will therefore take point (; (where Ct, is perpendicular to D/:' and so G is the nearest point to C on the line /)F) as 111\' 0700 EP and work from that for my estimate of future positions.'

Consider, however. the likclv errors in the observed position at 0600, in the DR and the EP at 0700, and in the plotted bearing of the oil production platform at 0700. The navigator needs to take into account the following:

I. The error in the observed position at ()(jOO. The practised observer can normally expect to obtain a celestial fix to within about 2 miles of the true position Oil almost all occasions. But a poor horizon or refraction different from the normal can cause larger errors than this from time to time.

2. The error in the determination of the DR and the EP. Assuming the availability of a gyro-compass whose error has been recently checked and a reliable electromagnetic bottom log, residual errors in a gyro-compass and its associated transmission system could be of the order of!O to I ° while the error in the electromagnetic log could be as much as I % to 2%. * Then there is the error inherent in the evaluation of leeway, tidal stream, current and surface drift. This depends as much on the quality of the available data as on the skill of the navigator in interpreting both those data and the effect of the weather.

It is likely, therefore, that the error in the EP could he as much as 3% to 5% of the distance run since the previous fix. Occasionally the error may be more than this.

3. Atry residual but unknown error in the gyro-compass together with small hut unpredictable errors in the taking and plotting of the visual bearing at 0700. These may be as much as ± 1°.

These effects are shown in Fig. 16--2.

A position circle, radius 2 miles, is drawn around A to show the likely area covered by the observed position. By 0700, this position circle will have grown with time according to the errors in the course steered, the distance steamed, and errors in the estimation of leeway, and the set and rate of the tidal stream, current, etc. The bearing of the oil platform DE is plotted showing the ± 1° limits. The navigator can now reduce his position circle at 0700 to the area KLA/N.

As the chosen point G also lies within the area KLHN, this rather lengthy assessment of the position area at 0700 may seem unnecessary. The plotted bearing of the production platform might, however, fall outside the navigator's estimate of the likely position circle at 0700, e.g. PQ in Fig. 16--2. The navigator must then review the situation to establish what has gone wrong. Has the observed position been calculated correctly; has the DR been plotted correctly; has the production platform been properly identified? In different circumstances, the navigator may be passing close to shoals between him and

* Thi, tTr"r .ixxurnes that the log 11,1' hf't'll cOIT"cdv calihrated.

~ c0 FJ
0 ~
/P Fig. It}'-'L Plotting t lu: position, laking likrlv ('nors into .ucount

the production platform and would he wise to d100SC an ll7()O EP in the art-a KLIIS which assumes the most 'dangerous' position, c.g . .v ill Fig. 16-'2. perhaps calling lill' corrr-cnve action .

. \11 practical navigational work frequently involves dealing with errors of some kind or other. The navigator needs to be able to discriminate between <In error caused by a mistake. an error in a particular piece ofequipment which can he allowed for in SOIne W,lY \c.g. an error ill thc gvro-compass). and an error caused at random.


If ships arc to he navigated safely, there must alwavs he a maximum acceprabklimit to navigational accuracy. The ultimate aim ill any navigational system is to ensure that the ship remains within predetermined acceptable safe limits.


The following definitions apply.

Accuracy. Accuracy may lx- expressed in a number of ways which are explained later, e.g. root mean \"1l'Ulre dis/ana lci'I1IJ: one. two or three sigma (la. 'la. :)ai: circular error probable leEP). Equally and rnore simplv, it mav he expressed in terms of a pern>ntag{' probahility. The accuracy limits or navization position lines. fixes, etc. should be Stich that t herr- is a (I;)'X, probability that the actual position line or lix ronrt-rnr-d is within the limit q uorr-d.

Precision. Pn'cisiol1 relates to the rr-Iincmr nt to which a value is stated. For example. a celcstial posirion line- may 1)(' st.urd to til!' nearest O'.'.! hut. bcculsc ()frrrors in refraction. personal error. erc.. it may onlv he accuratf' to ±'.!'.O (1);)% probabilitv) . t'suall\·. there is little point in tabulating a qu.uuitv to a greater prt-r ision rh.ui i lu- aCClIr;ln required, hut c;lil'ltIatiolls i nvolvi nz a 11I11111)('r of fl';lctiolls ,;ilOlild not he 'rounded .)tr too s(Jon, ot hrrwis« a curnul.uiv« (Tror 11Ia\ he inlr(,du('('d.

( IL\PIER III - x.. \ I(,\TI( ),\\1. LRIH )RS

Absolute position. lh« .!h"lllll' p()~ilioll or ,I ,hip i-, t ha t I\ili(h dclilll''' ih po"itioll oil Ihe Earth .uid i" llorlll.t1h ,',\pr('",·<1 ill 11'1111, ,Ii l.u it ut l .. ,111<1 IOlw:irwk. \\'here the hil.',lH'r (lrdIT'> or .uru r.rcx ,11(' rnlllirni. It i, 1]('(1'\,>;11\ III ,Life the l'cJ(orcllc(' duuun II,cd.

Relative position. The rcl.u iv« pmitioll 01,1 ,hip i, ,I 1l1(';1I1.' 01 npn·"illL; II, po,iti()ll with rt'kITIlC,' If) ;t li,\(,(j point (II' url!!'f' ..,hip. I I Illal 1)(' dCIITlllilwd cit her Il\ direct lllt'a,un'IlJ('IIL Ilf' b\ hot h ..,hips I(,illl.', i h .. ,,1111(' 11.J\is,lli'lIl -vstcrn at rhc,anw t imc. or b\ Illlllp;lri'>lIlI lIf Illc;l",ul'('(1 ,lh~()lrll(' po,itioll'> 1,,'1' below) .

Repeatability. Repe;ltahilir\ is Ihe abilirv III the v.un« ,hip II)' dilkrclll ,hip, t() return to a particular position to the x.un« dC!_!T(,{, of ,1('ClII;I('\ ,I, I II!' 'Iri!.!,iILti ship, Ilsing the s amc posi t iona l scnsors.


There are three principal tvpes of error: faults, svstr-ma t ic errors and random errors.

Faults Faults can be caused by any of the following:

1. A blunder on the navigator's part.

2. A malfunction in the equipment. This may often he difficult to recognise.

For example, a gyro may start a slow wander without setting off the alarm system and it may therefore be some time before the fault is discovered.

3. A breakdown in the equipment. This mav be less serious than a malfunction, on the grounds that no information is hcttr-r than the wrong information.

Faults must be guarded against. A reliable cross-check against the particular source of information is always useful. For example, radar may be used as a check against the Decca Navigator and vice versa. The DR/EP is an invaluable means of checking a position line from any source. Regular checks on the accuracy of the gyro-compass, as described in Chapter ~J, may well indicate whether an error has developed, as may comparison with other g-yros or with the magnetic wmpass. The navigator mav keep a log of readings from am particular radio navigational aid to ensure that the pattern of readings is consistent. Anv departure from this consistent pattern may well indicate some kind of malfunction or other fault. For example, suppose the position line readings from a radio fixing aid at equal time intervals ,lrt':+'1, .">.2, 5,B, 7 .. 1, 7.~, 7.8,11..). It should be immediately apparent that the 7 .. ) reading is an incorrect value as it is inconsistent with all the others.


Blunder is the term used to describe a mist ak«. FIJI' cx.unplr-. the ll<l\'igator l11a\ rorget to applv the error in the l'<H11paSS or the deck watch, or he rnav appl\ it ill the wrong direction.

Blunders arc not easil\' 1'C\cakd. Procedures lIced to 1)(' dnf'!()pcd \\hich help to rlim inan- rhein. The lla\H.~·atillllal work should ,dILI\ S Iw <T()~s-\I!('(k('d,



D('sk-(o!> ('(IIllI)tJ(TS .uid hand-held pmgr.l!l1lllahk (';licula(ors rna\ Iw prograllll1wd with rout inr r.i-ks xuch as dstnlll()ll1icti sight [eductiolls, tidal (;ilcula I ions. til!' e;dntla t i(ln or 1'1111111 h-li Ill' .uid ~n';1 (-circle COli rs('s, etc. The 1111(Tf)llialioll ill\'oh-cd w hcu llsillg- t.rhlcs is .1 IiT(PIl'IH C:lIIS(' "I' rrror ill 1l;1\1~.ttloll--lhis mav 1)(' ,I voided 1)\ the lise 01' suit.thk progLlllls.

Systematic errors

.\ .vstrmatic rrror is OIlC that lidlows SOIlIt' regular p.rt tcrn. 11\ \\hid] 11](';IIIS that crror mav lx- prcdicn-d. ()ncc ;111 error can 1)(' predicted, it call he eliminated or ;d lowed Ii II'.

The simplest [\ pc of svstcm.uic error is OIlC which is constant, lor example lilt' error resulting from any misulignmcnt het\\'ecn the luhlx-rs line or [he compass and the forc-and-nft line of the ship.

Other examples of xystcmaric error are errors in theg\TO-COll1pass, the deviation of tile magnetic compass, the fixed error in the Decca radio aid. * Errors in the gyro-compass may be rr-duccd or eliminated e1ectronicallv by making the necessary allowances for course, speed and latitude. The deviation ill the magnetic compass may be reduced hv placing small magnets and soft-iron correctors close to the compass and the residual deviation tabulated ill a deviation table. Fixed errors for Decca mav be found from the Decca S{//'iga/or ,Hllrine Dnta Sheets (~p 316),

Svstemaric errors change so slowly with time that they may be measured and corrected. It may well be, however, that certain errors, while fairly constant over a matter of hours, may then bel.{in to change, Such errors may be termed srmi-svstematic. Examples of such errors might he: any residual error in the gyro-compass alter applving the appropriate corrections; changes in dip and refraction of cclest ial bodies observed at low altitudes, caused by unpredictable changes in temperature and pressure.

In practice semi-systematic errors are, of necessity, treated as random errors (see below).

Random errors

Other errors change so rapidly with time that they cannot be predicted. There are many causes of such errors. The taking and plotting of a visual bearing is subject to small unpredictable errors, Short-term variations in the ionosphere affect radio aid readings, A value extracted from a table is only accurate to within the limits set by the table itself For example, if a table is expressed to onlv one decimal point, an extracted value of 3.+ may lie anywhere between 3,:3'> and 3.+5,

Such errors are known as random errors and are governed by the laws of probability, This means that, whereas the sign and magnitude of any particular

• \\'hiisl t h« li,,'d rrror ff'maillS "ollstalll ill all, olle i,)(alioll. it ma v ch a 111;(' 1!)II,ideLIllh Iwl\\"'('1l reLlli\,'" c1os<, pOSllit)IlS. 'Ihu». tilt' rrr or: "ill Ill' n;pefi"IHl'd ill ,I moving ,hip ,IS otiC \\ 111..11 \ ;In,', \\ ir h I ime , lilt' r.u« of change IWlng depelldent "II lilt' 'IH'I'<I,

II is impo"ible to draw" precIS" di\ idilH; line- l)('t\\('(,11 r.uid.un and ,,'mi-S\,tf'matlC errors, ,'iilllilarh. it IS Impossihle 10 draw a pn'f·is,. dividing lin« 1)1'1\\'('('11 "·I1lI-."'Sr.'II1;Hic ,lIld s\q('fllatiC .-rror-. This is l)('call'l' dw dilli'rcIH(' IS 10 do w n h tilt" time "ale O\cr whirl, Iht' e-rror II;!, !)«Iltrf'd, II is r1lt'fd()JT '1111(" pos"bJ... t;)r «x.uupl«. {;,r ,111\ unk nuw n n'"dll,d rrrnr III til<' 1.!,\ r-O-(iJtnpass l(~ tw ,1 r.u n iom i;r ,1 ..,\ SfellLuic ('rrttr,


<H.\I'TER itl- "\.\ \I<;\TI( )"\\1, ERRORS

~ ...
1 ~ C'":
e :.b
E ~
! tor.
Q. I ~
Q. ~
~ :: i i





1';111<1<)111 rrror !;IIIIJ(Jt Iw predicted, the ;1\Tr:a;illg or;t number 01 rcadings .an lu-lp to determille tile 1ll;lgnitudc ()r th;u error.

Composite errors

Faults. s vstrma t ic (<llld \[crnatic) errors .iud random rrror» Illay exist III combinatioll, ill which case tht' error distribution mav look like that shown in Fig. ll)-t. The lx-ll-shapcd pattern or random r-rrurs is cxpl.uucd in the ,11lIH'X to this chapter.

S\sternatic «rrors shift the random dist rihunon curve to the lelt or right or the ('orrect value .\ Iau lt can he or a nv size, and rilt'rdilrt' the distriburion Illay he rcprr-srnu-d hv .t straight line, so adding <I 'skirt' to the nor-mal distribution.

In navigation. it is .ilwavs possible for all thesc errors to exist in «omhinat ion.

Faults, svsu-m.uic and sr-mi-svstcrna t ir errors can, however, be reduced, elimmatcd or allowed filr, leaving in many cases only the random error to be dealt WI rh. Random errors are considered as being in one or two d imcnsions: these arc discussed below.

Systematic Error Correct Value ~---~

r ~~~,~

Density of Error

- ve


+ ve

Error Size

Fig, H}.-,t, Combined errors

I n practice, the navigator may not have the time nor the information to analvse the nature of the errors experienced, nor to calculate them. If, however, he understands these conce-pts, he is better equipped to determine his Position Probability Area (PPA) and his Mosr Probable Position (~lPP), For example, he should look upon his Estimated Position (EP) not so much as a position but rather as a 95%, probahility circle with a radius appropriate to the situation and expanding with time, I f he considers his estimate of speed along the track to be less reliable than his estimate of the ground track itself: he may decide to change his Position Probability Area from a circle to an ellipse, the longer axis twing along tilt' track,

Random errors in one dimension

Consider a ship making good an actual grouno track ofOCIO° (Fig. 16--3), Her posirion is fixed at various times hv some navigational aid, Each fix includes r.uidom errors which (:lllSt' it to Ltll either north or south of t hr- actual track.

<H.\I'TER 11>- '\.\ \'J<;\TJ< ),\\1 IRR< )f{S

The crror across til(' ILlI'k {)llh '(T()~,'-tr,I('k ('IT'lI) i" ("lIl,id('('t'(L ,'IT,)rS 10 lilt' north of t l)('in~ i akr-n .1\ +\'" and thos(' 10 lile ,'HUit ,I~ -\("

The cr(),~-Ira(k .rror i\ "il()\\1l at li\{' l'(lll;tlh SPdCl'd point.., ,dlJll!.; t ht: i

Th!' mean (ITl),,-ILI{k) error v.rlu« I,,:

I + II + Ii - I -) ---------- l l I = +l III

Thi~ mean !TWf v.rlu« is known as the !JI III , III Fi~, I ,i-l it is the dilliTI'IHT lw[\\'('{'n the mean ;lppa!'el1t ,~rollnd (Lick .1I1d tile .ut ua l ,l!;!'OIIlHI track, '11)(' hi;ls in any gin'n ,set of ITilciin!.('s is discussed bdow,

Bias, hnwr-vr-r, is insufficient OIl its own to rxplain the nature or the nr()('s, The spread of thost' errors also needs to be considered. The SplT;tcl or errors is obtained by squaring each cross-track error. taking the ;\\TLtge, and t lu-n taking the square root, thus obtaining the roo/ IIlf(llIl(jIUJrf (R.I/S) error. In Fig. Ib-3:

~J.2 + II" + ti" + (_+)" + (_:,!jl R~IS error =


=6,2 m

This figure is known as the R~IS error about the true value.

It is possible to calculate the R~fS error about any other value but the onlv one of interest is that about the mean error value. This is referred to as the (linear) standard deriation (SD).

linear standard = R\fS error about

deviation (SD) the mean error value

j 12 + 8" + 32 + 1-7)l + (-.'»"

- i _

-V _)

I t may also be seen that:

(' R~fS error about)" L' )') + (,S'D)2

the true value . = 1 Illas -

i.e. 16.:2)2 = (3)" + (,').J.)2

.. , 16.1

In practice. however, to determine the linear standard deviation accurar elv, the errors in a large number of readings are rr-quirr-d, as explained in the annex to this chapter.

~fany one-dimensional random navigational errors show it specific hcllshaped pattern I, Fig. 16-{) known as a normal distribution. The normal distribution of errors is explained and illustrated in the annex 1 pp.IHO-l). The bell-shape of this pattern is fixed hv the unbiased estimate of the linear standard deviation, which is olten referred to as the on« li~ma (fa) rnlur . ;IS explained in r he annex, It is possible to \;1\ what percentag(, of errors will lie within ,IllY multiple of this standard deviation, and examples of rhcsr- .rr« ,('t out in the annex t p. tH l I.



III uaviganon. (j!)'i'o probahilit\' is rhe va iur- norrnallv liSCO to ('xpn'ss the ,Iccuracv of one-dimensional position lines, This value mav he considered liJl' most practical purposes as bcing cqui\'aknt to t wo sigma 1'2(T) or {wi('t' the ~(alldard deviation I'2SD), Thus, if a largT nurnlx-r or random I11CaSlJITIlH'lltS ,lIT made which arc or a normal distribution, rhr-n approximately 'J'i% of these measurements may be (,xpencd to fall within the two "i,Rllla 12if) value or twice the linear standard deviation about the mean value, There is a I in 20 chance 1:')'/"0) that the position lint' obtained could lie outside this 2(T limit. For example, In Fig, 16-'2 the navigator should now be able to recognise that:

There is a 95% probability that the plotted hearing or the oil production platform at 0700 is accurate to within 1°, taking into account any unknown residual error in the gyro-compass and any small errors in observing and plotting. There is a I in 20 (or 5%) chance that the position line might lie outside this limit.

When several independent random errors are considered in conjunction, their individual standard deviations may be combined as explained in the annex (pA8!):

a =" 'Crf2 + a} + a/ + . , , + if,/

, , , 16.2

where ai, a-. a; etc. are the individual standard deviations and a the composite standard deviation, For example, if a ship is running a line of bearing when the accuracy of fixing is ± 50 metres, assuming a 95% ('2a) probability but, due to vagaries in course keeping is only maintaining her required track to an accuracy of ±20 metres (95% probability), the combined effect of these two errors will be to produce an overall 2a value of:

2a=" 5CP-+202 = 53,85 m

The chances of the total error being as much as 70 m, which would be the case if both errors had the same sign and maximum value at the same instant, would only be 1/20 X 1/20 or I chance in {OO. The overall error will lie within the limit of ± 54 metres on 95% of occasions. It should never be assumed that, when two random errors are involved, they must necessarily have the same sign at any particular moment.

If several small errors are combined with one which is large by comparison, the small errors can often be disregarded as having little or no practical significance. For exam ple (.lee a/so p.+84) , the accuracy of a gyro bearing allowing for any random gyro error may be ± 1°, assuming a 95% probability and normal distribution, However, the gyro bearing can only be read to the nearest to, i.e. the maximum rounding-off error is ±to, The gyro bearing itself can be plotted to an accuracy of ±to, What is the likely total 95% error?

The standard deviations of these three values are as follows (the full details art' set out in the annex, p,{84):

Gvro bearing Rounding-off error Plotting error

(f.5 I 2 a! :::: ,0 .'. a I :::: (j0,:»)

0°.15 approx, We = 0,6 X 0°.25)

(l0, 15 approx, I (T; = (J,t) X (f,25)


(IL\I'TER 11>- \i\ \'I(;\T10".;,\L ERRORS

(ornbil1cd standard d('\'iatioll cr=>. (0 .. 1).' + dJ.l:i)! + (().I:J)..! = n°.'i~

:!'(T= IO.lll{

The r.mdorn l.(\TO ('IT()r ()r lOis onlv illcrcas('d hv ,( 1l('u,ligihlc .unount whe-n the taking .mcl the plotting of the hearing arc a lso c()micicrcd. For mos t practical jlurpm!'s. tlte total qcJ% «rror is still onlv 1°.


Ifa series olreadiugs is taken. a bias ill these readings about [he [rue value mav be revealed. This hi as can occur Ior various reasons. The number of' readings may be small, as in FiR. 16-3. The number of readings mav be large but be take-n over a relatively short time scale and may include an as yet unrevr-a k-d systematic or sr-mi-systernatic error. This systematic or semi-systematic error, which may well be constant over the time scale concerned, will be revealed as a bias, that is, a difference between the mean value of the readings and their true value.

If the errors are truly random, and if an infinite number of observations are made, then mean and true values of the readings will coincide, that is, there will be no bias. In practice, however, it is not possible to take an infinite number of readings. The navigator must always remember, therefore, that his set of readings, which appears random, may in fact be biased one side or the other of the true value.

A. bias will be present in many readings from radio navigation and inertial navigation systems. Moreover, this bias will not be constant but will change with time, the rate of change of the bias depending on the type of navigational aid. For example, a 2+ hour related bias will be experienced with the Ship Inertial Navigation System (SINS), Omega and also Decca. A more rapidly changing bias will also be experienced with Decca, the bias being associated with the course and speed of the ship across the Decca chain.

Random errors in two dimensions

Radial error

Although the navigator is interested in the likely error in anyone position line, he is also concerned with the likely error in his fix.

Fig. 16-5 shows a situation where a ship stopped in position B has obtained a series of fixes using some navigational aid. Position A represents the mean of these fixes, the difference between the individual fix and A being shown as rio r : r i, T, and !,.

The total error between positions A and B may be regarded as being made up of one-dimensional distributions in two mutually perpendicular directions, e.g, ;'-J-S and E-\V, through the mean position A. Thus, there is a component of bias in each of these directions.o: and .r, and these determine the true position B. If there is no bias, then A and B coincide,

A measure of the spread of these errors is found by calculating the radial error i (Tr) about the mean or true position. Radial error is known as the root mean square R.tfS) error. or rout m{'(1!llquare distance I d"H') about the true or mean value. The radial error about the mean position is often rcfcrn'd [0 as the radial standard



Radial Error about the Mean Position


Radial Error about the True Position




Fig. 16-5. Errors in two dimensions

deviation" (rad ial SD):

radial error about the mean position (Id,m,)

r,,:2 + ... +

.) Tn -

... 16.3


where n is the total number of individual errors. In Fig. 16-5 the radial error is shown for live values of r (" to r;). Also:

(.radial error .d?Out )2 the true positIOn

(1')2 (radial error about )2

= )Ias + h ..

t e mean positIOn

... 16.4

For example, suppose the errors around the mean position A are as follows: r = ·4-0 m; r:! = 24 rn: 'I = 30 m; 'I = 18 m; '; = 23 m. The bias (A.B) is 19 m.

From formula (16.3): radial error about the mean position (I d"m)

ItO:.! + 242 + 301 + 182 + 232

- / ------------

-V .5

= 28.03 m

From formula (16.4): radial error about the true position I. I dnnJ

:::: \. (19)2 + (28J)3)2 = 33.86 rn

• Ht' c:trt'lid to diflt-rt'ntia!C 1,..IW("'11 lilw,tr sl.wdard dn;atioll and r;tdial standard d",;at;<JIl. Hoth tr-rms .rr e ""pl,lJ!wd ill r hr- ;"lIlt·'" Th .. "hhr('\;atiolls (l>l·d ill Ihls "hapt"r .ue:

I (T lilw;lr .slandard <1,'\';,11;011

Id"lIl" 1)1" (T. r.tdi.ll -t.urd.ud dC\'iatioll


CH.\PTER 11l- :\,\ V[(;,\TIO:\,\L ERRORS

Orthogonal position lines

Orthol;onai position lines are position lines (Fig, I t}-t)) intersecting at right angles where the individual linear standard deviations (Ia) of the error values in those position lines are the same.

The 95% circle of error around these two position lines may be found, as shown in the annex (page ·lS7), from the Iorrnula:

= 2.Lia = 1,23a

where a is the linear standard deviation of each position line and (/ is the 9S% or 'Icr value of the error in each.

, 16.5



a a
(20) (20)
.>: r--,
a (20) ( E~ ~
a (20) \ ~
"-- ---- o


Fibi. In-6. Thr (J5'];, error circle around two orthogonal position lines

The error ellipse and the equivalent probability circle

Orthogonal position lines do not often occur in practice, It is more likelv that the error distribution will he in the form ofan error ellipse (Fig. 16-7), where the position lines do not cur at a right angle and have different standard deviations.






The Error Ellipse


Fig. 16-7, The error ellipse

The two position lines AB and CD intersect at E at an angle a; a, is the linear standard deviation or l rr value of the error in AB, and rT:! is the linear standard deviation or lrr value of the error in CD. The intersection of the standard deviation position line bands forms a diamond of error FGHJ.

The exact shape of the error ellipse varies with the magnitude of the errors a, and er2 as well as the angle of cut a. The development of the 95% ellipse is explained in the annex (page 488).

I t is more helpful to the navigator if this error ellipse is adjusted to form a circle around the position where the probability of error is the same as that for the ellipse. Such a circle is known as an equivalent probability circle.

The radial error or I drm, (err) value of this circle may be found from the formula:

Idrms = cosec a

. , . 16.6

where a, and ere are the individual linear standard deviations and a is the angle of cut between the two position lines. Similarly, the 2drms (2err) value, illustrated in Fig. 16-8 (page 468), is:

T ~'.}

2drm, = :2 cosec a , erl" + a-:

= cosec a, a2 + //'

16.7 16.8

where a = 2er, and b = 2er:!.

The 2drms value is of particular interest to the navigator because its percentage probability lies between 95.4% and 98.2%, dependent on the shape of the ellipse. The navigator may therefore use the 2drms value for the 95% probability circle for most practical purposes as, in so doing, he is always taking a more pessimistic but safer view of the likely circle of error. An example is ~i\'en later in the section on the practical application of navigational errors.

(.H.\PTER 11)- :\.\ \'IC.\TI():\.\1. ERRORS

\ \

\ \

/ / /



/ /

/ /

/ /

/ /


/ / /


/ a,

/ a, /

/ /


2drma error Circle

= 2 cosec a va,' + a,'

Fig. 16-8. The 2dlll" error circle around the position

Circular error probable (CEP)

The navigator may encounter the term circular error probable (CEP) as the accuracy of navigational equipment is often expressed using this term, The CEP may be defined as being the 50% probability circle, That is to say, there is an equal chance that the position lies outside or within the circle.

When the position lines are orthogonal, the radius of the CEP approximates to 1.20', where 0' is the standard deviation of the two position lines. The 95% probability circle may be found by multiplying the CEP radius by a factor of approximately 2.1. This factor may also be used to find the 95% equivalent probability circle from the CEP around an error ellipse, provided that the latter is not too elongated. The relationship between the CEP and the shape of the ellipse is set out in the annex (p.+93).


Allowing for faults and systematic errors

Errors arising from faults and systematic errors need to be' eliminated or allowed fix. Various ways of achieving this have already been discussed in this chapter and are summarised below:

I. Cross-checking one svsrern against another, Examples are: cross-checking radar against the Decca Navigator and "icc versa: cross-checking the DR/EP against a position line from anv source.



THE I'R,\(_T[C,\L\I'PLlC\T[Ol\i OF ~,\ \'I(;,\T[():'\i\L ERRORS


'j '\a\i~ational procedures which help to ciirninatc mistakes, 11)1' example. cross-\!Jcckilll{ the '\;t\'igating Olfivcrs work,

,). c),he rr-durtion or elimination of svstcrn.uic errors in na\'i~ationaJ "quipnwllt such :IS the gvro- and magnetic compasses. radio .iids. (·te Examples arc:

f Ii) The nccr ssarv adjustments to the g\TO-COmpass [or course, speed and latitude .I11d the drn-rmin.uion of anv residual error hv the methods described in Chapter (},

I h) The reduction of the devia tion in the mugncti« com pass hv means of small magnets and soft-iron correctors and the tabulation of the residual deviation.

II) The allowance IIII' fixed errors in the Decca :--.iavigator. (d) The a llowancr- lor personal error.

Allowing for random errors

Once faults and systematic errors have been allowed for , the navigator is left with random errors. In general, these may be expected to have a normal distribution (Fig. 16-4) and those which arc rectangular (pAS2) can often be disregarded because they add so little to the total random error.

As far as random errors in navigation arc concerned, the accuracy limits of a position line or fix should be such that there is a 95% probability that the actual position line or fix is within the limit quoted. This means that there is always a :)% or I in 20 chance that the position line or fix lies outside this limit and the practical navigator always needs to bear this in mind. It is a matter of navigational prudence to choose that position in an area of uncertainty which places the ship closest to danger.

Because position lines usually cross at an angle other than a right angle and because the amount of error in individual position lines may well be different when expressed in n miles, the navigator is often left with a diamond of error and an error ellipse, as shown in Fig. 16-7. For all practical purposes, provided the ellipse is not too elongated, he may determine the radius of his 95% probability circle around his position by using the procedure described on p.489, particularly if that procedure has been programmed as suggested on p.492. Alternatively, he may use the 2drrns formulae (16.7) or (16.8), which produce a slightly larger error circle and so err on the side of caution.

The navigator may then use the 95% probability circle in preference to the 95% error ellipse. Thus, in Fig. 16-9 (pA·70) a position Fmay be obtained from the intersection of two position lines AB and CD, each considered accurate to ± 1° (95(1'0 probability), AB and CD cut at 65° and the distances of the two objects observed * are: lighthouse 12 miles; chimney 15 miles.

One df'gree at 12' subtends 0' .2. at IS'. 0' .25. From formula (16.8), the radius of the ..!d"", pI ohal)ilitv ,ink ;1f'llIllld F is 0'.).). L'sing formulae (16.27) and (16.28), the radius of the '):)'/'0 probability circle is 0'.33.

In the special case where position lint's cross at right angles and the standard linear deviations arc the same, a circle or radius I i times the 9,)% or '20' value of the linear error is the 95%) probability circle.

• Tht' di,tanCl's of thest' "hit'cts art' g;n';jt{'r r han would norm.rllv Ill' "xfJ,>(t{'d in ,oastal 11;(\ ll(.ltiOfl, hut tht'\' .1ft> ,h()st'll to illuxrr.u e tilt' lnhllHpw. II t hr: ('H' (lhlens .IIT '!' .iud ti' .rw a v, 'ill' r.i.Iiu-, "I' il1<' ')","1" pr"h,tlHlit, nrd,> i.s ,1I)<1l11 ..'.)1) Illl'ln·.s,


CII.\PTLR Iti- '\.\ Vl(;.\TIO:\.\1. ERRORS






15' \

I / I


\ \



/ I



2drm• (95% approx) Probability Circle






Fig. 16-9.

Plotting the 2d,Ol' (95% approx.) probability circle

Limits of random errors

As explained earlier. there is a 95% probability that the random error in any position line is within the two sigma (20') value selected; that is to say, there is a I in 20 chance that the position line lies outside this limit. If it appears that the error in a position line is greater than three sigma (30'), for example from its juxtaposition with other position lines, it is more likely that the error has been caused by a mistake rather than by a random error. This is because the likelihood of there being a normally distributed random error equal to 30' is onlv about 0.27% or I chance in 370. The likelihood of the error being as great as +0' is only about I chance in 16,000.

In practice. therefore, if the random error in anyone position line appears to lie between 20' and 30', that position line should be treated with caution. Some kind of mistake may have been made and the possibility should be investigated. I f the error appt'ars to be grearer than :30'. then almost certain Iv a mistake has occurred unless there is supporting evidence to the contrary. The navigator will need to investigate the reason, lor example:

He may have made a blunder such as misreading an instrument Of misidentifying an object.

He rna'.' have made an incorrect assessment of the sigma values of OIlC or more ,)f his position lines Of position areas.





His assessment or r-xrcrnal factors such as current and tidal stream may be In error .

.\11 unsuspected semi-systematic error mav han' arisen .

Most Probable Position (MPP)

The navigator is now ahlc to dr-rerrninc his 9.')0/" Position Proh(Jbili~)! .lrea (1'PA). PPA was defined in Chapter H (page I HI) and four examples of finding this are given below. Within this area, he needs to choose his Jlosl Probable Position l~tPP) (Fig. 16-10), which he may treat as a fix, an EPora DR dependent on the quality of the input. MPP may be defined as that position which takes into account the probability of error in each piece of positional information


Judgement is all-important when dealing in a practical way with errors in position lines in order to arrive at an ~1PP. The magnitudes of the 95% errors in the DR and the EP, and in the position lines obtained by visual observation of celestial and terrestrial objects, are largely a matter of judgement based upon experience. Some idea of the likely extent of these errors has already been given earlier in this chapter (see page 456) and example 4 shows how these values may be used.

Example /

In Fig. 16-10 E is the ship's estimated position, considered accurate to within a radius 01'3 miles (95% probability). At this time a position line AB is obtained, considered accurate to within I! miles (95% probability). The PPA will be the sector CDFG, the overlapping area created by the EP probability circle and the band of error around the position line.










a' Note: HJ = 81 + b2 d

Fi~. 16-10. Position Probability Are-a (I): !\[PP within the PP.\

CH,\PTER Ilj- :\,\ \'I(;.\IIO:\,\L ERRORS

Ij the orerall fl/eet ofeac]: error is considered 10 be II/a random ,/1117//(/1 distributi.m, the I'//nl 0/ tach error 1.1 proportional If) the s(lullfe o! ill li.:t'. Thus, if the likelv error in the position line is a miles and that in the EP is h miles, the ~t()st Probable Position fI is nearer the position line .IB at a disranr«:



, I d

11- + h-

where d is the perpendicular distance I~J between the EP. H. .md the position line .1B in Fig. 16--10.

If a = I! miles and h = :5 miles lin a 95'1"0 probability and EJ is I'. then /I will

. 16.9


2,25 -----x I' 2.25 + 9

()'.2 from ..tB*

Example 2

If the position line falls outside the probability circle, although the error bands overlap (Fig. 16-11), the NIPP as calculated above may fall outside the PPA.




\ d

\ \ \

82 Note: HJ = 82 + b2 d











Fig. 16-11. Position Probability Area (2): \IPP outside the PP.\

The Most Probable Position 11, as calculated above, lies outside the Position Probability Area CDF. Although the two areas overlap. the fact that AB lies

• ,\lth()lI~h an error band and an error cirrle m.iv intt'rscer..1' ill Fil{, !t}-!(). it dor. nul al.cnv: jnl!IJi/' that they can fw combined in 1I1Is wav to ~i\'(' a brt tr-r t'stim:lte of the position. Statistical ,()nti<i"llct, interval ,tits mav indicate that the two sets of data .ir« illconsi,,{t'llt with t':leh ot lu-r.

THE PR.\CTIC,\L .\PPLlC.\T[()1\j OF;\i.\ VIG,HIO:-.i.\L ERRORS


outside the probability circle around the EP means that some kind of mistake may have occurred, and so (he navigator must treat the result with caution. He needs to investigate the possibility of a mistake and, if possible, resolve it. All other things being equal, he would probablv choose the position F as the ~IPP. This is the point where the probability area CDF is closest to fl.

Example 3

If the two error bands do not overlap at all (Fig. 16-12), then almost certainly some mistake must have occurred which should be invcsrigarcd. The :\avigating- Officer may have erred in his estimate of the 95% probability limits, or he may have made a blunder.



---1---- --Ht-

8 I


Fig. 16-12. Position Probability Area (3): error bands do not overlap

If these matters cannot be resolved and the navigator is forced to choose between the two, his choice of position must depend on the circumstances at the time. For example, if he is in the vicinity of dangers, he should choose that position G which puts him closest to these. Alternatively, no dangers being present, he may choose j, the position on AB closest to E. On the other hand, if he decides to weight each error in proportion to its square, then he may choose l/ as the .\fPP_ calculating this from formula (16.9). In short, no hard and fast rule as to what the navigator should do can be laid down; he has to use his own judgement.


o \\

\ \ \ \. \




\0 .~§

0\ ... _

...... I

+ .~

R 0.

o <W



! !




Example 4

Consider the application of the principles of probability to the example given at the beginning of this chapter (Fig. 16-1), and how these principles may be used to determine the PPA and ~t PP at 0700 (Fig. 16-13).

The error in the observed position at 06{)()

Assume this was obtained from two astronomical positron lines" each considered correct to within 1'.5 (95% probability) crossing at 60°. Then, from formula (16.8):

--r ._- -2 = cosec 60° " (1. 5 )' + (1. 5 )'

= 2'.45

At 0600, therefore, the navigator should be able to assume that there is a 95% probability that his actual position will lie within 2'.45 of position A.

The error in the determination of the EP at 0700

The magnitude of the error in the EP depends upon those factors mentioned on page 456. Assuming that there is a 95% probability that the error in the EP is within 5% of the distance run since the previous fix at 0600, this error should therefore amount to 5% of 17' or 0'.85.

Assuming a 95% probability, the overall error at 0700 is therefore, from formula (16.2), equal to v-(2.4SP+-(0.85f or 2'.59. The radius of the position circle around Cat 0700 is then about 2'.6, again assuming a 95% probability.

Note: The two errors 2'.45 and 0'.85 must not be added together to obtain the combined error. The likelihood that the maximum error could be as much as 2'.45 + 0'.85 = 3'.3 is 1/20 X 1/20 or 11400 or 0.25%. The probability that the 0700 position lies within 3'.3 of C is therefore 99.75%, a much higher percentage than is needed for most practical purposes.

The error in the bearing at 0700

If the bearing of the oil production platform is accurate to within 1°, given a 95% probability, and assuming that the distance of the platform is about 18', the position line DE will be correct to within 0'.3. The distance CG may be measured, 1'.2 (CG is perpendicular to DE).

The navigator can now reduce the position circle at U700 to the Position Probability Area KLMN. The Most Probable Position H may be calculated, using formula (16.9), as shown in the example on page 471 (Fig. 16-10).

In Fig. 16-13:


GH = 2 b:2X CG

a +



= (0.3)2 + (2.6):2 X =0'.016 = 0'.02

• An astronomical fix frequently comprises more than two position lines. The method of obtaining the Most Probable Position from a number of position lines that are subject to normally distributed errors is given in the annex.


CH,\PTER Jlj- x.v \'IG;\TIO'i.\L ERRORS

Position H may now be plotted and the ship's future track developed lrorn this posinon.

In this particular case, the EP (G) and the ~IPP (Ii) are virtuallv identical. \() fix all practical purposes the navigator may plot from G, I t would be unwise. however. to assume that the two positions will alwavs be so close togcther, as Examples I to 3 make clear. Each position line should he weighted to take account of its probability of error, belcm' an assessment of the )'IPP is made,

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