Neptune Tides Review




Having reviewed the UKHO TotalTide program in the July issue I decided to find out whether there were any alternative tidal programs on the market and Neptune Navigation kindly sent me a full program in order that I may review their tidal prediction software.

The Product

As with the TotalTide this product is designed to run on a PC using the MS Windows operating system but Neptune have customers operating the software on MACs fitted with Windows compatibility. A separate version is also available designed to run on Pocket PC or PALM handheld computers.  Separate programs are available for UK only, UK and Europe and USA.

Having purchased the disc it will only activate after registration which provides the user with an activation code. As with TotalTide, Neptune also allows additional unlocks for the users laptop and home PC the proviso being that the program is only for the purchasers use.

Running the program

This is simplicity itself and upon opening the program the tidal curve for the user selected “home” port is displayed for the date and time of the user. As with TotalTide this uses date and time of the computer in use and obviously if this is not set correctly the information displayed will be nonsense.

Setting the home port is very simple since the UK database is divided up into 27 sea areas which are in turn subdivided into a list of the main and secondary ports contained within each area. This makes selecting information for a specific area far simpler than the convoluted process within TotalTide. The information window contains all the required data in a clear and concise format.

_ Tidal curve for the day

_ Current time, tide height and tendency (rise or fall)

_ Alongside the graph the times and heights of HW and LW are


_ The user can select either local time or GMT

Placing the cursor over the graph produces an index line which can be moved over the graph and the resulting time/height is displayed in the area next to the graph. Clicking either mouse button locks / unlocks the index line in any chosen time/height location.

Changing the date is simple and quick process

Comparing the data displayed with my UKHO based tide tables I noticed a discrepancy between the times/heights and upon contacting Neptune they provided the following explanation:

All popular tidal height prediction software with the exception of Total Tide and the Proudman Institute’s Poltips appear to use the same restricted harmonic data from the UKHO and typical accuracy that might be expected is +/- 20 minutes and +/- 0.4metre with greater variations for certain south coast ports particularly in the Solent.

Whilst my own observed discrepancies were much less than those declared parameters this does reveal a drawback for use of this program where the depth / time element is critical and thus may render it of limited use to pilots in some districts.  This is a pity because the additional features of the program include the facility to set up a user depth for a location and use draft and UKC parameters to display times available and lost over a bank etc. The simplicity of entering this data compares favourably with the TotalTide process and the resultant tidal window is displayed as a separate curve on the main display graph.  Several options are available for data to be collated / printed out or copied into other programs such as Word or Excel.  Other additional information is easily accessed and includes times of sunrise / sunset, moon phases, nautical and civil twilight.  The harmonic constants and astronomical data used to produce the data is also available for specialists. Again all of this can be collated / printed if required. The program can also be linked to a GPS receiver and will automatically select and display data from the closest reference port.

An optional add-on to this program is a tidal atlas which consists of a basic (but accurate) outline raster chart with direction /rate arrows, based on the Admiralty chart tidal diamond data, displaying real time flow data. Again this facility is clear and simple to use and if the GPS receiver is connected the GPS position will be displayed on the chart. The facility also exists to integrate a Yeoman plotter into the program and waypoints can also be entered and tracks displayed. Since I do not have a GPS or Yeoman plotter I have been unable to assess the effectiveness of these functions.

All these features create the potential for the program to be used for passage planning and indeed the additional tools to effectively use the program for passage planning are available on the disc and can be unlocked for a further charge. I have not trialled this facility but Neptune advise me that they are currently updating the whole software and an enhanced program is due to be released at the London Boat Show in January.


This is a delightfully simple yet efficient program sold at a reasonable price. There are no additional annual update costs and predictions are available up to 2050! Unfortunately the inaccuracies of predictions resulting from the use of the UKHO limited data release do restrict its effectiveness as a pilotage tool but it is still useful for rough planning purposes and Neptune are currently undertaking market research which may result in a version using the fully accurate UKHO data.  Costs: Tidal Program UK £29.95. Pocket PC tide £39.95 . PALM tides £29.95. Tidal Stream add-on £15 per area. Route Passage Planner £65 + £25 per chart folio (UK is divided into 15 folios and each folio contains approx 10 charts). Route Passage Planner for use with C-MAP charts £99.95 (Release expected January 2005)

Contact: Neptune Navigation, PO Box 5106 , Riseley, Reading

RG7 1FD UK. Tel: +44 (0)118 988 5309. Fax: 087 0056 7329



IMO Resolution A960

IMO RESOLUTION A960 (Replaces A485 XII)

Following the pre-emptive strike by a section of the shipping industry, who last year released a controversial document entitled International Best Practice for Maritime Pilots, the IMO have now released Resolution A960 which represents the “official” document for this topic. IMPA were fully consulted during its drafting but had a long and difficult battle taking it through the IMO procedures. However their hard work has been rewarded by being credited as co-authors on the cover. Having been drafted by pilots, at eleven pages short this resolution is brief and to the point.


Recommendation on training andcertification for maritime pilots other than deep sea pilots.

This annex recommends that Governments establish “Competent Pilotage Authorities” to administer or provide a pilotage service. It details proposals to ensure that every pilot is licensed and that entry qualifications and training and are appropriate for the applicant’s pilotage district. It also recommends that these criteria are established in co-operation with the national and local pilots’ associations. Basic guidelines for training are set out which emphasise the practical experience gained by accompanying experienced pilots and it identifies 28 topics that should form part of a syllabus for certification.


Recommendation on operational procedures for maritime pilots other than deep sea pilots.

The annex covers the following topics:

· Duties of master, bridge officers and pilot

· Pilot boarding point

· Procedures for requesting a pilot

· Master Pilot information exchange

· Communications language

· Reporting of incidents and accidents

· Refusal of pilotage services

· Fitness for duty

One welcome point made in the Master pilot exchange section qualifies the recommendation of IMO resolution A893 which states that “ … a detailed voyage or

passage plan should be prepared which should cover the entire voyage or passage from berth to berth, including those areas where the services of a pilot will be used”.

Pilots’ Associations have always disagreed with this viewpoint because it is impossible for the Master to be in possession of all the information necessary to prepare such a detailed plan. Such plans must assume that the vessel will arrive off the port at a fixed time, will undertake the passage at a set speed and arrive of the berth at a precise time! We all know that this is unrealistic and Resolution A960 acknowledges the impracticalities of the vessel preparing a detailed plan by stating that “… This (master/pilot) information exchange should be a continuous process that generally continues for the duration of the pilotage.” This concept of a flexible and dynamic plan is further emphasised by the clause stating “It should be clearly understood that any passage plan is a basic indication of preferred intention and both the pilot and master should be prepared to depart from it when circumstances so dictate”.

Any pilots left who are reluctant to adopt a formal passage plan exchange with the master (my passage plan is in my head syndrome!!) should read a few recent pilotage incident reports and all pilots should be aware that an increasing number of vessels are being fitted with voyage data recorders and some wheelhouses are also covered by video cameras!

Resolution A960 provides simple and common sense guidelines and all pilots should make themselves familiar with its contents and in particular the page covering the master pilot information exchange.

The full Resolution can be downloaded from the (new and improved) IMPA


TotalTide Review


With the requirement for a pilot to produce a passage plan now more or less mandatory

anything that can make the task easier is to be welcomed. For example in London we

have four main approach channels and the majority of ships are restricted by their draft

at some stage of their passage so a computer tidal program to save thumbing through

printed hourly predictions and interpolating times and levels has obvious appeal! Some

districts have set up specialist passage planning programs to run on a laptop or handheld

unit (I’m hoping to review a couple of these in the future) but these “custom” units

represent a major investment since they have to be specifically tailored to the pilotage


Having seen TotalTide program running on several ships I have obtained a review

copy from the UKHO in order to establish whether or not it could be a useful, passage

planning tool for pilots. The immediate answer is that in its present format with

comprehensive tidal heights and streams it has potential but in my opinion is somewhat

frustrating in that although all the information necessary to create a pilotage passage

plan seems to be contained within the program it cannot easily be used for that purpose.


The product

The program is provided on a single CD Rom which will only run on the MS Windows operating system although the UKHO inform me that it will run on later versions of the “MAC” fitted with Windows compatibility.

With the tidal data protected by Crown Copyright The UKHO are understandably paranoid about piracy and the (too long) access code provided with the program needs to be supplemented by a permanent key code obtained by registration either by email or post. Once the permanent key code is entered the use of the program is limited to two computers and each one requires its own permanent key, however, the UKHO are currently working on an edition which will be able to run on networked computers. Once the permanent key is obtained the program use is unlimited but updates for additional ports can be obtained annually for an extra charge.

The display

Once the program is running the screen consists of a chart of the world along with two sub windows: List and Filter The “List” provides a list of all the ports and streams purchased The “Filter” provides configurable data for selected use from the list of ports and streams.

The whole display can be configured with open data panels to individual user requirements.

The chart display

Upon opening, the display default is for tidal stream data using the current date / time from the computer’s clock so in common with all time based programs if your computer clock is incorrectly set then the data displayed will be rubbish! Once the program is running the time zone required by the operator can easily be chosen and set. Scrolling the chart is the easiest way to navigate around the various areas / ports and there are various ways of panning and zooming around the display. If data is required for a port whose location is not known then typing in the port’s name or part of it in the search box will highlight the port on the list if it is in the database. Right clicking on the port will provide an option for that port to be centred on the chart.  This basic display is suitable for most usage since upon zooming in on the chart, local “standard” and “Secondary” ports and other tidal data points are displayed and clicking on these brings up an additional data window. However in the interests of research (I do suffer for my readership!) I decided to customise a “Filter” for the Thames Estuary. One word sums up this exercise and that is: perverse!! Wishing just to produce a display for the Thames Estuary with a dozen or so tidal data centres involved working through the whole list of areas and ports right clicking on hundreds to exclude the data points not required in order to select those that were!! Why on earth a simple select system of just clicking on the data points required is not used totally defies logic! There also doesn’t appear to be any facility to edit this filter data once it has been saved without creating a new list.

The tidal data

Zooming in on the chart display firstly brings up the standard ports then the secondary ports and tidal streams for an area.  Further zooming brings up additional data for the ports providing information as to whether the tide is flooding or ebbing plus the time and height of the next high or low water. The tidal streams have a tag displaying the direction and rate of the tide.  The time / date for a tidal calculation can be changed by various means but I found them all rather fiddly. In my opinion, a simple request box for entering the required date and time would be more user friendly!

However, once the default or input time and date is selected additional information is easily acquired. Double clicking on either port or stream data brings up a window containing much useful supplementary data.

Tidal streams

The additional data on the tidal stream “diamonds” is a table of direction and rate as found on a normal chart along with detailed tables of predicted future data which can be set for intervals between 5 minutes and 1 hour.

Ports: This is where this program is of value to pilots and includes standard and secondary ports along with data reference locations such as buoys and structures. Double clicking on one of these “ports” brings up a wealth of data but of particular interest to pilots are the tidal curve graph and vessel UKC features. The “graph” tab brings up tidal curves for an adjustable period around the date / time selected and a cursor can be run along the curve to either provide the time a certain level will be available / lost or the level predicted at a certain time.

The “local” tab permits the user to enter data critical data for that port such as a ruling depth and bridge height. Once this data has been set the “clearance” tab enables the user to enter a vessel’s draught, under keel clearance and air draught and once these have been entered the graph function will produce a line across the graph showing the “minimum safe height” for navigating that vessel. It is then a simple matter to locate the cursor over the intersection of this line on the graph to obtain the tide available and lost times.

Sounds good! – Where’s the problem?

The “clearance” function is good as far as it goes but what I found frustrating is that there is a vast amount of information contained within this program and although I have no technical knowledge of how the program works I feel sure that with a fairly simple program upgrade the data could be used to provide a comprehensive passage planning programme, not just for pilots but for all users. How? My suggestions would be as follows:

Tidal target points: There is a facility for users to create a “custom” port in any location but this requires input of harmonic constants and such data is not readily available to the average user.  Critical depth points often lie between two tidal data points on the chart and mariners currently interpolate between these points. The predictions in this program will be based on the co-tidal curves for an area and so surely it should be possible for a user to enter the Latitude and Longitude of a “target” spot and have the program undertake the interpolation between the nearest data reference points in the same manner as we do manually and the UKHO have confirmed that they are looking at this facility. If such a facility were added a simple table facility could possibly be added which would enable a user to enter several such target points along with the ETA at each one to provide UKC data for a passage. There should also be a facility to save plans with an edit facility should the critical depths change.

Tidal surge compensation: The program provides standard predictions but for planning it should be possible to manually enter anticipated tidal variations and thus amend the standard predictions prior to a passage being undertaken. 

Clearances: The current clearances facility permits a vessel’s draft and UKC paramenters to be entered. Once this is done the data page displays the UKC for the time when the data is entered. This is pretty useless. Why not display the available and lost times on this page which would remove the necessity to switch to the graph page to read them off by means of the cursor?

Conclusions I am not a computer expert so am not sure how complex such additions to the program would be. However, many dedicated passage planning programs use the data provided by the UKHO for tidal calculations so it would seem logical to me that the UKHO should be able to utilise their own data in such a manner!  I therefore get the impression that this program has comprehensively and successfully converted the data from their printed tide tables into a computer program but in limiting itself to that function it has, in my opinion, missed an opportunity to produce a really useful tool to bridge the gap between basic tidal data and a full electronic chart with tidal planning facilities.  However, upon raising this point with the UKHO they have confirmed that they are currently working on a program that can be integrated into other navigational programs so watch this space! My verdict 7/10 (with great potential). TotalTide. Each area (e.g. NW Europe) costs £70. Annual updates cost £56. Available from chart agents and cannot be purchased

directly from the UKHO. (Pilots purchasing this program may be able to offset the cost against tax.) Weblink:   JCB


This book is an enlarged version of John’s previous book: The Illustrated Diary of a Thames Pilot but with John’s own illustrations or photographs on almost every page of the book, those of you who already own the Illustrated Diary will enjoy this new edition as much. For those who havn’t got the original book Marine Pilot is an essential addition to any book shelf. With half the book dedicated to John’s sea-going career the account will stir nostalgia for the heyday of the British Merchant Navy in the 50’s and 60’s. However, John’s account is not all sunny climes and calm seas and the dangers of a seagoing career are vividly brought home with accounts of collisions and groundings which even in these days of GPS navigation and hi-tech bridges are sadly all too common. The second half of the book begins in 1967 when John was “called” to begin training as a Trinity House Cinque Ports pilot serving vessels for London arriving from the English Channel. As well as his own experiences in “tripping” and piloting John provides vivid accounts of the varied vessels, trades and topography of the Thames and also details disasters and incidents from which all pilots can learn valuable lessons. Because of this the book’s appeal will extend beyond those in London and John’s descriptive writing style and delightful illustrations will appeal not just to pilots but also to all those who are interested in seafaring.

180 pages £12.95 ISBN 0-86025-922-6 Ian Henry Publications Ltd. 20 Park Drive, Romford, Essex RM1 4LH. Telephone: 01708 749119



Great Liners: New Zealand (4)

 It was with delight that I have discovered the “Great Liner” series of videos produced by Snowbow Productions. This remarkable series of videos now form part of the world’s most comprehensive collection of film records of our once glorious Merchant Navy when British ships from an enormous and diverse range of shipping companies were to be found in every port around the World. The searching out and collating of film and archive footage by the director Des Cox started out 15 years ago as a small project to try to collate and preserve as many records as possible of the ships and seafaring life on video before they were lost forever. Being presented on a series of one hour videos the collection, produced by Des, his wife and a small production team have now reached video number 21 with number 22 in the pipeline to be released as funds permit. Like many such projects born from a dedicated purpose and a professional knowledge of the subject matter, the results are more than just a mere record with the images being enlivened by an informative commentary detailing the names of the ships, cargoes carried and contemporary anecdotes. Reviewing the latest video in the series on shipping companies trading to New Zealand the wry commentary revived nostalgic memories of the days when ships still had large crews and jolly Jack Tar made the most of lengthy stays in port to enjoy a good run ashore to sample all the available delights! Interspersed with some contemporary footage of NZ ports and shipping, this video brings the dramatic changes of the last 50 years starkly into perspective. With today’s fast port turnarounds, 24 hour working and virtually no time for shore leave it all begs the question have we really progressed? Watching these videos the answer is a resounding NO! From a pilot’s viewpoint this particular video is worth buying for the last few seconds that depict an acrobatic pilot mimicking Tarzan transferring from the pilot ladder to cutter by means of a single manrope and then vaulting over the cutter‘s rails before giving a cheery wave to the Rangitata leaving NZ waters on its final voyage in 1962. Priceless, and I look forward to being contacted by someone who can provide me with the name of the pilot! The 21 videos so far produced contain footage of all the major shipping companies, much of which has come from private collections never before shown. With each video having a specific theme the contents of each one are too numerous to list here but a catalogue containing full details can be obtained from:

Snowbow Productions (2000) Ltd.

145 The promenade, Peacehaven, E. Sussex BN10 7HN

The cost of each video is :

£16.95 plus £1.00 P&P for the UK, £2.00 EEC and £4.00 overseas.

Tel/ credit card order line: 01273 585391

Fax: 01273 584470


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