Teamwork essential for charting coastline

Published on CPOB Anthony Martin (author and photographer)

Location(s): Cairns

Topic(s): Australian Hydrographic Service, HMAS Cairns, Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS)

Able Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Nicholas Jackson, a member of the Navy's Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight, located in Cairns, Queensland. (photo: CPOB Tony Martin)
Able Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Nicholas Jackson, a member of the Navy's Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight, located in Cairns, Queensland.

Being part of a highly-specialised team is one of the things Able Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Nicholas Jackson appreciates most about his role with the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight.

The Cairns-based Flight is the airborne unit of the Australian Navy’s Hydrographic Service, which has responsibility for charting more than one eighth of the world's surface, stretching as far west as Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean, east to the Solomon Islands, and from the Equator to the Antarctic.

“We’re a small team but everyone knows their role and I find it a really close-knit and comfortable working environment,” Able Seaman Jackson said.

The eight-person survey team comprises two officers, three senior sailors and three junior sailors. Specialist support is provided under contract by Fugro LADS Corporation and Cobham Aviation Services and includes pilots, aircraft engineers, systems technicians and a field manager.

Together, the Navy and civilian personnel, form a highly skilled team ensuring the Navy remains at the forefront of surveying capability, ensuring safe passage for marine vessels of all sizes.

While the pilots are responsible for flying the aircraft and for navigation while on transit, once approaching the survey area the Navy survey operator team takes charge. Able Seaman Jackson and his fellow operators are responsible for the selection of survey runs, directing the pilots onto each line and directing the aircraft from one area to the next.

His duties also include operating the laser survey system and processing the data before it is sent to the Australian Hydrographic Office in Wollongong to become nautical charts.

Able Seaman Jackson has previously enjoyed his time at sea, but he nominates his current posting to the Flight as the highlight of his naval career to date.

“One of the challenges has been learning a completely new skill set, and then within that skill set we are constantly updating our procedures,” Able Seaman Jackson said.

The nautical charts developed from data gathered by the hydrographic service are essential for safe navigation at sea. Around Australia, less than half of the area has been, however the Navy’s Hydrographic survey ships, in conjunction with the LADS unit, are greatly reducing this figure.