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US Coast Guard Intends To Kill LORAN-C 316

Posted by kdawson
from the we-will-always-have-signals-from-the-sky dept.
adaviel writes "LORAN (Long Range Aids to Navigation) is an electronic navigation system using low-frequency radio, used by many boaters (including me) before GPS. It has an approximately 200m accuracy and is a functional replacement in case GPS fails or the US implements selective availability in time of war. The US Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, intends to turn it off starting February 8." This is in spite of $160M spent on modernizing LORAN stations over the past 10 years.
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US Coast Guard Intends To Kill LORAN-C

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  • by hguorbray (967940) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @08:48PM (#30745338)
    and I speak for the Cs -I mean Seas

    -I'm just sayin'
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by thoolie (442789)

      Yarrrrrgh matey....ye be a blue suiter of the loranimal variety?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      and I speak for the Cs -I mean Seas

      -I'm just sayin'

      Are you going to pick yourself up by your pants and fly through a gap in the clouds?

  • hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld.gmail@com> on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @08:49PM (#30745350) Homepage
    It has an approximately 200m accuracy

    Wow, I didn't know it was that inaccurate.

    and is a functional replacement in case GPS fails or the US implements selective availability in time of war.

    If the US implements selective availability of GPS, they can certainly also just turn off Loran-C.
    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:02PM (#30745488)

      Yes the real answer seems to be a complimentary system, that isn't owned by the US. Fortunately, people realized this and the Galileo project was born. After some initial hissing on both sides, the US and EU have worked it out so they'll be compatible, and a single receiver will be able to get data from both GNSS systems. That way should one be turned off, or break or whatever, the other still works, and when both are up it should be even more accurate.

      Unfortunately, Galileo is being run by the EU who seems to be able to make the US congress look positively efficient by comparison. As such there are currently 0 Galileo satellites operating. The whole system was supposed to be online by the end of 2008, however now they are targeting having a single satellite up by the end of 2010.

      Thus as it stands, the US still does have complete control over GNSS systems.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:30PM (#30745798)

        What a complimentary system sounds like: "My, what a nice position. That lat/long looks so good on you."

        Of course, such a system would only be useful as a complement.

      • The Russians and the Chinese have systems too - I don't know how usable they are by the public.
        • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

          by afidel (530433) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:51PM (#30745970)
          GLONASS has 16 operational satellites currently with 2 new birds coming online and one in the process of being decommissioned, they need 24 for full coverage. There are (expensive) commercial units with support for both GPS and GLONASS primarily targeted at surveyors because having the additional signals available makes very accurate (sub-meter) locks significantly faster. There are also commercial providers of GLONASS only units (Septentrio, Topcon, JAVAD, Magellan Navigation, Novatel, Leica Geosystems and Trimble Inc according to wikipedia) if you wanted them. The only reason the constellation will be back to full coverage is that the Indians pitched in a bunch of money to fly a bunch of the new birds. As of 2007 it has been official that the signals can be used for free by consumers in any country free of charge (not that they could stop you before since most devices don't need the L1 key to get accurate positioning, it just speeds things up).
      • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

        by plover (150551) * on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:46PM (#30745930) Homepage Journal

        The U.S. is not the only country providing GNSS services. Russia has long had the GLONASS satellites; although their constellation has had some problems and does not currently provide 100% coverage over the globe (Russian coverage is at 100%, though, and I suspect U.S. coverage is near 100%.) Magellan makes commercially available GLONASS receivers, and I suppose others do as well. You can purchase dual GPS/GLONASS units, and the U.S. and Russia are in talks regarding bringing them to a common protocol so they'll be interchangeable if you have a receiver that picks up both frequencies. And the GLONASS program is receiving assistance from India, so there's more of an international approach to their program than just a Russian system.

        I also know that China has their COMPASS satellites, but I don't know their status, or if there are commercially available receivers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by argStyopa (232550)

          "You know, I'm suspicious of that darn US government, they might arbitrarily turn off the GPS system at any time...so I'm going to use either the Chinese or Russian systems, because those governments have a FAR longer history of openness, tolerance, and a lack of autocratic behaviors than that darn America!"

          Basically, if you believe that the Russians or Chinese aren't even MORE likely to turn off their systems when geopolitically convenient than the US, truly, you need
          - a history lesson
          - an understanding of

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      200m is good enough

      hell, 1km is good enough.

      The submitter needs to learn how to use a sextant. They appear to get you about 500m accuracy.
      • Re:hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ivan_w (1115485) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:10PM (#30745578) Homepage

        200m is good for what ?

        - Retrieve a crab/lobstrer pot ?
        - Retrieve a Man Overboard ?
        - Fetch a gill net ?
        - Meet with a sister ship during a seine net operation ? ... No.. lemme tell you.. 200m is NOT good enough !

        (No personal experience here - but my Old Man did !)

        --Ivan

        • I don't know ask sig hansen

        • Re:hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mschuyler (197441) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:38PM (#30745872) Homepage Journal

          Actually, yes. When I was commercial fishing on a troller in Alaska we used Loran grid coordinates, spoken in Danish, to tell our brothers where the fish were. No one else could understand us. If we said "Over and out" the conversation was finished, but if we said "I'm off," that meant to change frequencies, tell how many King's you'd caught, and give the coordinates. Without the Loran our sneaky ways will have to be changed.

          • Re:hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Rorschach1 (174480) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:23AM (#30747016) Homepage

            "Without the Loran our sneaky ways will have to be changed"

            Come up with a list of 100 words. Danish, Esperanto, Klingon, or whatever. Assign numbers from 00 to 99. Read off your GPS coordinates using one word for every two digits. Save time by pre-defining large grids with special names to avoid having to read off more digits than necessary.

            I've got notes around here somewhere on a more sophisticated version of that I was playing with for search and rescue use - not to conceal anything, but to be more efficient and accurate than reading strings of numbers. The words were simple, of a consistent number of syllables, phonetically distinct (long Hamming distance) and with multiple lists you can make it tolerant of transposition of words. The idea was for the encoding to be done on a GPS receiver - you wouldn't need to do it manually.

        • Re:hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

          by geekmux (1040042) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:42PM (#30745900)

          200m is good for what ?

          - Retrieve a crab/lobstrer pot ? - Retrieve a Man Overboard ? - Fetch a gill net ? - Meet with a sister ship during a seine net operation ? ... No.. lemme tell you.. 200m is NOT good enough !

          (No personal experience here - but my Old Man did !)

          --Ivan

          Sit in the middle of the ocean and turn off GPS. Perhaps you'll quickly see the value of "good enough". I'm all for a backup plan, and a backup plan to the backup plan, especially if we can avoid pissing away a $160M investment.

          • That's NUTS (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:54PM (#30745998) Journal

            Hear hear.

            What bugs me is this statement from the Coast Guard:

            If a single, domestic national system to back up GPS is identified as being necessary, the Department of Homeland Security will complete an analysis of potential backups to GPS. The continued active operation of Loran-C is not necessary to advance this evaluation.

            They're studying whether they NEED a backup so they'll turn off the only current backup before the study is finished or (if required) the replacement backup is deployed?

            That's NUTS! What happens if GPS is compromised between the decommissioning of LORAN-C and the deployment of the hypothetical replacement?

            Also: Why deploy a DIFFERENT backup and make all the users buy ANOTHER device when they ALREADY HAVE LORAN-C equipment? Even if the equipment was FREE the cost of obtaining it and installing it, multiplied by the number of users, would be astronomical. Unless something damned cheap, built off some other deployed tech, is designed, the cost of maintaining LORAN-C would be a drop in the bucket.

        • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:46PM (#30745926)

          At least my recollection is that while the absolute accuracy of LORAN isn't nearly as good as GPS, it actually had better repeatability (i.e. the ability to return tomorrow to that fishing spot you found today) than at least pre-DGPS/WAAS GPS did.

          Today's modern GPS systems and supplemental accuracy aids probably make this moot, but it's a major reason why LORAN has survived as long into the GPS era as it did.

          G.

        • How about (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:01PM (#30746056) Journal

          200m is good for what ?
          - Retrieve a crab/lobstrer pot ?
          - Retrieve a Man Overboard ?
          - Fetch a gill net ?
          - Meet with a sister ship during a seine net operation ? ... No.. lemme tell you.. 200m is NOT good enough !

          How about:

          - Find a port when you're somewhere random in an ocean?

          I'd be HAPPY to live with a 200 meter error if I'm trying to, say, get the Golden Gate Bridge to show over the horizon in time to beat a squall line into San Francisco Bay. Or to know if I'm FAR ENOUGH OFF the west coast of North America that I won't be blown onto it before a storm I can't outrun blows by.

          • Re:How about (Score:5, Informative)

            by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:18PM (#30746580)

            [...]Find a port when you're somewhere random in an ocean?

            LORAN is pretty much useless for this. What almost everyone here seems to be missing is:

            LORAN coverage is very limited.

            There's e.g. none at all on the southern hemisphere, and in the northern it isn't much more than
            a coastal navigation help either.

            Have a look at the map [wikipedia.org].

            LORAN is in no way a useful backup for GPS except in a very small part of the oceans.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              LORAN coverage is very limited. ... Have a look at the map.

              LORAN is in no way a useful backup for GPS except in a very small part of the oceans.Look closer at that map.

              Take a closer look at that map. It goes out a goodly distance from the coasts.

              They say that, in an airplane, you can do anything you want as long as you don't do it close to the ground. Much the same is true for boats and the shore.

              If you're really far out in an ocean you can get back to a continent by sailing east or west until you pick u

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          200m is good for what ?

          Not hitting St. George Reef in the fog.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by djupdal (629381)

        500m accuracy for sextants seems unrealistically good to me. My experience is approximately 2km in good conditions and with an accurate clock available. But even that is good enough for navigation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysidia (191772)

      Does anyone else see the irony? in using LORAN US implements selective availability, when LORAN is only accurate to 200m ?

      Selective availability was a (currently disabled) feature of GPS that adds intentional errors up to 100 meters / 328.08 ft to publicly available GPS signal...

      Before SA was turned off in 2000 the typical SA errors were 32ft horizontal, 98ft vertical.

      SA is easily defeated using Differential GPS [wikipedia.org].

      One thing to note about LORAN, vs GPS, however is: GPS is basically owned by the United

      • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

        by plover (150551) * on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:01PM (#30746064) Homepage Journal

        Are you always this paranoid about the U.S. government? Seriously, the Russians have had their version of GNSS flying for 35 years, and you can buy a completely non-American GLONASS receiver that will give you the same data as an American (made in China, of course) GPS receiver. We know full well that we don't have a monopoly on global navigation.

        They are shutting LORAN-C off because it's expensive to maintain a separate system, especially one that is not nearly as accurate as GPS, and is at risk of terrestrial attack (a determined terrorist group could easily destroy a critical LORAN-C tower, but the same group does not have physical access to the GPS satellites.) In addition, its consumers are not widespread, and are already using GPS for their primary navigation systems.

        You should think before you make up bogus conspiracy theories. They make you look kind of crazy.

        • ...They are shutting LORAN-C off because it's expensive to maintain a separate system, especially one that is not nearly as accurate as GPS, and is at risk of terrestrial attack...

          But -- isn't the Loran C low frequency operation better able to punch a signal through periods of poor RF "weather"? During heavy solar storm activity (sunspots, peaking each 11 years) I hear it's sometimes kind of hard to get signals through, especially the S or K band stuff used for satellite communications. I remember during the Pioneer satellite days that it was sometimes quite a job for us to pull the signal out of the noise (clever use of FFT mostly). Satellites don't have huge power budgets. Lar

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ravenshrike (808508)

            It ain't sexy cause Obammy's trying to squeeze blood out of a stone to shore up the deficit

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eil (82413)

        One thing to note about LORAN, vs GPS, however is: GPS is basically owned by the United States. The US government has full control over it.

        The U.S. has full control over the LORAN-C transmitters in the U.S. too. Hence their ability to shut them down.

        On the other hand, LORAN is an international system, used by many countries... Many countries, the US, Japan, Europe, use LORAN.

        And those countries can continue to use LORAN within their own borders. The U.S. has no power to turn those off.

        I'm sure the US gove

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)

        If the US doesn't like being part of an international system, then why keep a woefully obsolete, far less accurate system running into 2010? It's like complaining that a new Dell doesn't offer built-in floppy drive. One person's redundancy is another's dead weight. There is still GLONASS running now, even in a weakened state it has to be better, and hopefully Galileo will be up soon enough.

    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Clueless Moron (548336) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:17PM (#30745666)

      200m is the absolute accuracy (and is a bit pessimistic). The repeatable accuracy is much better.

      That is, if you sail into a port's harbour channel and save that as a LORAN-C waypoint you will typically be able to get back to that same spot within 20m or so easily.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Knew a lobsterman who told me he'd steam for two hours, come up on his Loran set point - cut the throttle, stick his gaff out the port side of the boat and grab his trawl, without fail. In the dark. Sounds a bit better than 200 m. He had the lobsters to prove it!
    • So far as I am aware, the error was pretty much the same for everyone in the same area. By which I mean that if you gave a position by Loran the coast guard could find you with excellent accuracy even if the absolute position was 200m off.
    • by afidel (530433)
      And 200m is no better than GPS with SA on! In fact with differential techniques or something like WAAS you can still get ~10m accuracy which is why we don't turn it on any more.
    • by russotto (537200)

      If the US implements selective availability of GPS, they can certainly also just turn off Loran-C.

      Besides, GPS with S/A is accurate to 100m, still better than the figures given for LORAN-C.

    • Re:hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by FlyByPC (841016) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:26PM (#30746620) Homepage
      It has better *resolution* than that, although I can't speak for the accuracy (meaning repeatability).

      Back in the day, I actually rigged up a Loran system and a surplus Compaq Plus luggable computer in my car, and wrote a program in QuickBASIC to log lat/long data points while driving back to college from vacation. Just to see what it would look like, I drove completely around a cloverleaf interchange (four 270-degree turns), and continued on. When I got where I was going and ran the data through a really cheapo plotting program I wrote, I could clearly see all four loops (some a little flattened, probably more due to the 1-second time resolution than anything.)

      Granted, this was in the middle of nowhere (low noise), at night (nice propagation), with a long whip antenna on the top of the car -- but it was still impressive for Loran-C. (And yeah, I know it would be a piece of cake for any half-decent GPS receiver.)

      As for selective availability, I think this could be implemented over Loran -- although Loran's repeatability without modifications is probably no better than the ~50m accuracy of GPS+SA...
  • Loran-C? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Camel Pilot (78781) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @08:50PM (#30745366) Homepage Journal

    What's Loran-C some strange C dialect? Did Loran-C++ eat its lunch or something.

    • by ivan_w (1115485)

      Well.. Guess Loran isn't object Oriented.. Functional is all that's needed for Loran.. (Latitude.. Longigute.. That's all you need to know really)..

      And yes - it's just a troll troll..

      (Although a professional wouldn't really care about that !)

  • by MaXintosh (159753) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @08:54PM (#30745414)
    This is in spite of $160M spent on modernizing LORAN stations over the past 10 years.

    There's this thing called the Concorde Fallacy [wikipedia.org] that is relevant here. It doesn't matter how much money you spent, all that should matter is anticipated future costs and benefits. And I think for a 200m redundant navigation system, future costs >> benefits.
  • Of course you would need an accurate clock and maybe a sextant?

    As for the comment on "only 200 meters", that might not even be all the way to the other end of the ship.

  • by thoolie (442789) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:08PM (#30745558) Homepage

    The USCG has been having its budget strained for decades, this is just one way to free up some money to dedicate it to port security, search and rescue, or maritime control.

    However, of interesting note, the LORAN stations where some of the most far flung US military installations anywhere in the world! Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Spain, Itially....) They've all been handed back, however (most are now derelict).

    Also of interesting note, the USCG LORAN Station Lampedusa was the only US military installation directly attacked in response to the bombing of Libya in the 1980s. They fired a bunch of SCUD missiles a hand full of coasties stationed on an island in the pacific. The guy in charge was a lowly LT.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_Coast_Guard [wikipedia.org]

    Also, if you have some free time, consider asking your congressperson to give the USCG more $$. Right now, they are 1/10 the size of the Navy with 1/15 the funding, yet are responsible for all of our waterways, maritime environment, maritime search and rescue, fishery patrols, drug smugglers, illegal immigration, national security, enforcement of maritime law, port security, and much, much more!

  • Last time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RedBear (207369) <redbear@redbea[ ]t.com ['rne' in gap]> on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:12PM (#30745604) Homepage

    Last time I saw a LORAN-C device was on my family's sailboat that we used to motor-sail to Alaska from Washington through the Inside Passage. That was 1990. It wasn't much use even at the time. Radar and charts were much more helpful with navigation. I haven't even heard mention of the term LORAN-C for a very long time. I don't think most vessels have a LORAN-C receiver installed anymore. Maybe big ones, but not the hundreds of thousands of small to medium size vessels. Hard to justify keeping it running if nobody is using it. What's the benefit if almost nobody owns the necessary hardware anymore? Just playing Devil's Advocate. I'm sure it's still useful to somebody, somewhere.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:12PM (#30745608)

    LORAN (Long Range Aids to Navigation) is an electronic navigation system using low-frequency radio, used by many boaters (including me) before GPS. It has an approximately 200m accuracy and is a functional replacement in case GPS fails or the US implements selective availability in time of war.

    Wait -- they're talking about decommissioning a redundant technology and relying on one that the military spends millions on and is mission-critical to its functioning (and thus in no danger of suddenly going offline)? Why is this sudden outbreak of common sense being maligned? I wish our government did this more often!

  • by viking80 (697716) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:15PM (#30745644) Journal

    There is absolutely no use for Loran C. You currently have the following systems in place backing each other up. Many cheaper and better. In fact, many of these most likely will vanish soon.
    1. GPS, LAAS, WAAS, DGPS
    2. Galileo, EGNOS,
    (as well as GLONASS and Baidu)
    3. Inertial
    4. Visual navigation (computer with terrain sensors, including sonar and radar)
    5. Also VOR, DME, ADF, NDB, ILS, TLS, MLS, Marker beacon
    with the final fallback
    6. Old fashion navigation with compass, light houses, sextant, chronometer etc.

  • Sunk cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:15PM (#30745646)

    This is in spite of $160M spent on modernizing LORAN stations over the past 10 years.

    Econ 101: don't make decisions on the basis of sunk costs.

  • This isn't terribly shocking. Both agencies also wasted millions of tax payer dollars on the failed "Deep Water" initiative, which sought to modernize some of the Coast Guard's old vessels: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/17/60minutes/main2823448.shtml [cbsnews.com]
  • This is in spite of $160M spent on modernizing LORAN stations over the past 10 years.

    Do you know how many times that the government shits out every day on projects they know will probably never see the light of day? It's so bad at this point that I find 160 million into a 10 year old functional project (open to the public, no less) to be the bargain rate.
  • by sabre86 (730704) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:37PM (#30745860)
    My main worry about this that the GPS system has a particular set of vulnerabilities that either don't exist or are less significant for a terrestrial system. Solar flares and other space environment risks come to mine, as does capture via hacking and attack via interceptor satellites.
  • Coasties all know that the way to get a sweet station assignment like Station Lake Tahoe is to spend a year in attu [uscg.mil]. I wonder what the new pipeline will be.
  • $16M/year is nothing to the government, they've just been keeping it on life support for 10 years. Even if SA is turned back on, GPS will be accurate enough for commercial navigation and the system proven reliable enough. Let LORAN-C pass.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:46PM (#30745932) Homepage
    Frankly, I'm surprised this is still around. Everyone I know has switched over from LORAN-C to GPS or other systems at least a decade ago. Even aside from the cost of maintaining the system to the government, the system is clearly inferior to GPS. For one, since the towers are much lower compared to satelites, it is much easier to have your signal blocked. The system isn't nearly as accurate (as mentioned in the summary) and is also in many contexts much more likely to simply fail. The system also doesn't work if one is far away from land. This is an extremely reasonable cost-saving measure.
  • Kill LORAN? (Score:4, Funny)

    by steveha (103154) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @09:47PM (#30745942) Homepage

    The Coast Guard is going to "kill" LORAN? This choice of words worries me. What if LORAN decides to strike first, out of self-defense?

    "LORAN", "SKYNET", both are short words with an 'N' in them. COINCIDENCE? I think not!

    steveha

  • by m.dillon (147925) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @10:22PM (#30746174) Homepage

    I've been a sailor most of my life. We haven't used Loran C seriously for almost two decades. Most boats don't even have Loran receivers any more. It's GPS all the way whether you are a casual sailor or a commercial ship captain. In fact, large commercial ships are required to use GPS and special transceivers these days (the boater's equivalent of GPS-based aircraft systems). If backup matters one could pack a RDF or maybe even a sextant, but frankly GPS has not failed even once from the day it became available to boaters. Besides, Loran C pretty much only works near the coastline of major industrialized nations (or did)... it wouldn't be all that helpful if you were lost at sea.

    The coast guard should have abandoned Loran C years ago.

    -Matt

  • by the_rajah (749499) * on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:20PM (#30746596) Homepage
    Loran A that I was using around 1970. In mid-Atlantic you couldn't get signals during the day and accuracy was around 1 nm, but it certainly was nice to have.
  • by NuttyBee (90438) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:37PM (#30746704)

    And your GPS satellites got blasted out of orbit or a solar storm wipes out all of those satellite resources?

    Your SONET networks and cell phone stuff are gonna need it. Your 8-VSB exiter may as well. Single Freq. Networks.

    Where do you get an accurate reference from?

    WWV? I haven't seen anything other than a GPS reference at any telco facility/cell site. If there ever is a loss of GPS, it's gonna be interesting.

  • The end of an era (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thethibs (882667) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @11:42PM (#30746748) Homepage

    It's the end of an era I guess. This story throws me back to 1964, wandering the North Atlantic aboard HMSS Hudson, doing marine geophysical surveys.

    When it came to positioning, we left nothing to chance; we had the requisite equipment (pre-computer), tables and charts for LORAN, DECCA, CONSOL and the brand-new, edge of the technical envelope, VLF. Sometimes we used a few of them together, with transparent overlays giving a very small polygon containing, somewhere within it, our little ship. We liked to brag that we could pin down our position within its length.

    One of my favourite duties was radar watch and navigation, especially late at night, lights dimmed, phosphorous glow from both the radar screen and the froth on the waves ahead. Transferring readings from the radios and charting our course made me an integral part of the process, acutely aware of the immensity of the ocean around us and challenged to keep us from losing our way. I can still smell the mixture of diesel, coffee and ammonia (from the weather fax machine) that permeated the bridge.

    Now, with the retiring of LORAN, it's finally all gone, replaced by an LCD display your grandmother can use. Sad.

  • Loran and Decca (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pehrs (690959) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:03AM (#30748556)

    Loran is pretty similar in capabilities and techonology to DECCA, which was widely deployed in Europe. There are some differences in the implementation, but both gives roughly the same precision. The Decca system up here was turned off 1999/2000, as it wasn't considered cost efficient anymore compared to GPS. Decca as I remember it had a number of rather glaring flaws when using it for navigation:

    1: Low precision (several hundreds of meters)
    2: Varying precision (Depending on the distance and position compared to the masts)
    3: Initialization problems (had to be started at a know position, entering the wrong starting location would give you incorrect data)
    4: Unwieldy equipment
    5: Energy consuming
    6: General user-unfriendlyness (you had to be an engineer and take a 2 week course to figure out the equipment we carried on the ships)

    Frankly I don't see the need for Decca anymore. If you are in a ship large enough to use Decca you have DGPS anyway. If GPS Is knocked out you go by Radar. If GPS and Radar are knocked out you most likely don't have any Decca system working.

    On the navy side it's obviously nice with passive navigational aids (unlike Radar that makes you a neat target). However, a large antenna that has to be in a fixed position is not exactly a hard target for an ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile)... Which means the navy trains to navigate without such aids anyway.

    Decca was an impressive system, but it's no longer competitive. Like analog TV we can use the wavelengths for better things. I am pretty sure the situation is the same with Loran.

  • Kinda Sad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MBGMorden (803437) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:27AM (#30748854)

    I've never used it on a boat but I went flying with another pilot once who had a LORAN unit installed in a Kitfox. I didn't even know what it was at the time, but as he explained it, it was much cheaper to install than a VOR receiver. We did a fair amount of flying in Florida navigating using that unit.

    I know that with the prices of handheld GPS (for aviation, boating, and everything else) coming down a lot of such technologies may be shut off, but it still seems a bit sad to me. I love GPS and it certainly is easier to use, but I'd like to see some of the older technologies maintained at least as backups.

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?

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