Journal of Transportation Technologies, 2012, 2, 277-283 Published Online July 2012 (
Eye Tracking during High Speed Navigation at Sea
—Field Trial in Search of Navigational Gaze Behaviour
Fredrik Forsman1,2, Anna Sjörs-Dahlman3,4, Joakim Dahlman1*, Torbjorn Falkmer3,5,6,7, Hoe C. Lee6
1Shipping and Marine Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg, Sweden
2Swedish Sea Rescue Society, Göteborg, Sweden
3Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Medicine and Health Sciences (IMH), Faculty of Health Sciences,
Linköping University & Pain and Rehabilitation Centre, Linköping, Sweden
4The Institute of Stress Medicine, Göteborg, Sweden
5Department of Rehabilitation, School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden
6School of Occupational Therapy & Social Work, CHIRI, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
7School of Occupational Therapy, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
Email: *
Received April 23, 2012; revised May 27, 2012; accepted June 10, 2012
Purpose: Professional high speed sea navigational procedures are based on turn points, courses, dangers and steering
cues in the environment. Since navigational aids have become less expensive and due to the fact that electronic sea
charts can be integrated with both radar and transponder information, it may be assumed that traditional navigation by
using paper based charts and radar will play a less significant role in the future, especially among less experienced
navigators. Possible navigational differences between experienced and non-experienced boat drivers is thus of interest
with regards to their use of navigational aids. It may be assumed that less experienced navigators rely too much on the
information given by the electronic sea chart, despite the fact that it is based on GPS information that can be questioned,
especially in littoral waters close to land. Method: This eye tracking study investigates gaze behaviour from 16 experi-
enced and novice boat drivers during high speed navigation at sea. Results: The results show that the novice drivers
look at objects that are close to themselves, like instrumentation, while the experienced look more at objects far away
from the boat. This is in accordance with previous research on car drivers. Further, novice boat drivers used the elec-
tronic navigational aids to a larger extent than the experienced, especially during high speed conditions. The experienced
drivers focused much of their attention on objects outside the boat. Conclusions: The findings verify that novice boat
drivers tend to rely on electronic navigational aids. Experienced drivers presumably use the navigational aids to verify
what they have observed in the surrounding environment and further use the paper based sea chart to a larger extent
than the novice drivers.
Keywords: Driving; Eye Tracking; Experience; Navigation; Vision
1. Introduction
Over the recent years, the use of high speed boats for
leisure and transportation, as well as the availability of
small powerboats, has increased dramatically. Many coun-
tries, including Sweden, have large archipelagos and many
people use boats that easily reach speeds over 40 knots
(approx. 45 mph) without a legal request for mandatory
boat driver licensing. However, due to a number of seri-
ous crashes, the Swedish maritime administration is cur-
rently investigating the introduction of a driver license
for high speed boats, i.e., boats going faster than 25 knots,
in order to reduce injuries associated with these sea vessels.
Professional high speed navigation uses navigational
procedures based on turn points, courses, hazards and
steering cues in the environment. Studying navigational
differences between experienced and non-experienced
drivers is of great interest with regards to their use of
navigational aids. Since navigational aids have become
less expensive and due to the fact that electronic sea
charts can be integrated with both radar and transponder
information, it may be assumed that traditional naviga-
tion by using paper based charts and radar will play a less
significant role in the future, especially among novice
navigators. Furthermore, it may also be assumed that
novice navigators rely too much on the information given
by the electronic sea chart, despite the fact that it is based
on GPS information that can be questioned, especially in
littoral waters close to land.
Assessments of navigational skills and navigational
*Corresponding author.
opyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
procedures in the field imply many methodological dif-
ficulties when it comes to studying behaviour and per-
formance. Previous studies concerning high speed navi-
gation using objective measures have forced scientists to
use simulators and independent expert observers. How-
ever, the subjects’ behaviours are clearly affected by the
simulated environment, and having to rely solely on ob-
servers and track files from a simulator only offers a
limited picture of the navigational task.
Eye tracking methodology has previously been used to
study behaviour in many applied settings, such as driving
[1], assembly tasks and reading [2]. Human vision in
relation to driving has been thoroughly researched over
the years, (e.g. [3-7]). However, the approaches have
differed considerably, as have the foci of the studies.
Whereas some studies have focused the primary recep-
tors [8,9], others have focused on the visual perceptual
system [8-10]. Seeing is dependent on visual search,
which in turn is dependent on peripheral sampling and
prioritization of cues, prior to seeing, i.e ., the foveal
sampling, which is what can be measured by eye tracking
technology [11] . The foveal sampling directs action [1].
However, exactly how this foveal sampling from the
visual scene is carried out in order to support, body/ve-
hicle/vessel control, has been a matter of debate [12-14].
With respect to steering, locomotor trajectory has been
suggested to be dependent on optic flow and on specific
fixations of targets to steer towards. Nevertheless, eye-
movements are essential to effectively control locomo-
tion, since they do guide the online control of steering
[12-14]. However, the present eye tracking study focuses
on the usage of navigational aids rather than on vessel
steering, and consequently, fixations on onboard instru-
mentation will be in focus.
Although eye tracking technology has been available
for many years, it has not been appropriate in extreme
environments where equipment may be exposed to, for
example, heavy winds, water sprays and sunlight. More-
over, eye tracking technology has recently also under-
gone major advances, with regards to size and optics,
making it possible to wear glasses/shades and even con-
tact lenses and still obtain high quality data. The mobility
of the person wearing the equipment has also improved
and today, data collection can be made wireless, using
equipment similar to a pair of glasses. The aim of the
present study was to investigate gaze behaviour among
novice and experienced navigators on sea in high and
low speeds with focus differences in the use of naviga-
tional aids with regards to speed and experience.
2. Methods
2.1. Subjects
Sixteen subjects (15 male and 1 female) participated in
the study through a stratified selection criteria and each
subject completed two trials, one fast (43 knots) and one
slow (20 knots). They were selected depending on their
previous experience with regards to boat driving skills.
The subjects were divided into two groups, one experi-
enced (8 navigators from the Royal Swedish Navy) and
one novice (8 civilians with limited boat experience).
Every subject in the group of experienced navigators
complied with the Swedish Maritime Authority’s regula-
tions regarding seamen’s health and seeing ability. That
means that they had normal colour vision and binocularly
visual acuity of 0.8 with or without glasses. This physical
exam must be renewed every second year. All partici-
pating subjects in the group of novices had normal vision
and no one reported any visual deficiency. The subjects
ranged from 22 to 47 years of age. Each subject was in-
formed in advance about the purpose of the study and
was informed upon arrival at the test site about the safety
procedures and also given a chance to familiarize with
the boat. Written and informed consent was obtained
from all subjects and the study procedures conformed to
the Declaration of Helsinki.
2.2. Apparatus
The eye tracker used for the study was manufactured by
Arrington Research, Scottsdale Arizona (www.arring-, and recorded eye movements in 60 Hz,
shown as overlay on the video image from a scene cam-
era that was mounted on the top of the eye glass frame.
The scene camera used had a visual angle of 70˚ diagonal,
56˚ horizontal and 42˚ vertical field of view. Further, the
eye tracker had a spatial resolution of 0.15˚ and its accu-
racy was estimated to be 0.25˚ - 1.0˚. Both these numbers
are, however, theoretical and contextually dependent.
The Arrington eye tracker is head mounted, meaning that
it follows head movements and thereby allow the subject
unrestricted movements. Data were collected on a regular
PC that was stored in a water and shock resistant box.
The boat was a Zodiac 34 ft. rigid inflatable boat (R.I.B.)
with two 225 bhp engines. The subject was standing out-
side behind a wind shield, exposed both to sunlight, wind
and water sprays. The eye tracker was partly covered
using a plastic welding shield in front of the face. Cali-
bration was performed for each subject prior to start of
the first run, and thereafter adjusted if necessary before
the second and last run. The calibration procedure took
approximately 5 minutes under these conditions and was
performed when the subject was positioned at the helm,
having both the boat instrumentation and the environ-
ment in front within visual range. By having the subject
gazing at different places within the visual range, indi-
cated by a laser pointer, the system was guided to cali-
brate the scene camera with the eye camera. Normally,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
the calibration procedure uses between 12 - 20 calibra-
tion points on which the subject directs his/her gaze. In
the present study 16 points were used. During the cali-
bration procedure, the subject was instructed to keep
his/her head still and only follow the dots from the laser
pointer with the eyes. Subsequently to the calibration
procedure, the quality of the calibration was determined
by having the subject looking at objects in the environ-
ment, and at the same time verify the object on the real
time monitoring in the system. After the calibration pro-
cedure was completed, the subject was free to move
around and the eye tracker followed the head movements.
2.3. Procedures
The tests were conducted close to land and performed
among public/civilian traffic, in order to guarantee natu-
ralistic conditions. The subjects were given time to pre-
pare the route by making notes in a paper based sea chart
and were also given the chance to ask questions. First
speed condition (43 kts/20 kts) was randomly assigned to
the subjects. Before leaving the port, the subject was
equipped with a life jacket and also fitted with the eye
tracker. Eye tracking data were collected throughout the
entire two trials that each subject performed. However,
only three areas of interest along the route were analyzed.
These areas were chosen due to their complexity from a
navigational perspective. Throughout the route the sub-
ject was instructed to keep the pre-determined speed (43
kts/20 kts) and when insecure notify the instructor stand-
ing beside and let him reduce the speed or take necessary
actions to ensure safety. After both runs, the eye tracker
was removed from the subject and the boat was put to
2.4. Fixation Analysis
Eye movement data were recorded in 60 Hz with a frame
mounted Arrington ViewPoint EyeTracker®. The mini-
mum duration value was set at 100 millisec [15,16]. The
minimum allowed dispersion value was set at 1 times 1
degree based on the fact that foveal vision is restricted to
a visual angle of approximately 1 degree around a fixa-
tion point [17,18]. Based on these parameter settings,
fixations were generated using a centroid mode algorithm
[16]. For those sets of frames clustered into a fixation,
the video based data were manually analyzed frame by
frame. Each fixation duration was noted and the fixation
was labeled in one of three categories, in order to identify
the focus of attention of the subject while driving the
boat. The first category concerned the object that was
fixated, the second the area of the object that was fixated
and the third the object’s distance from the driver. The
classification of each fixation relied on a matrix [5,19]
comprising of 81 different objects, 81 different areas and
four different distances, i.e., 0 - 1.50 m, 1.51 - 10 m, 11 -
50 m, and >50 m.
2.5. Statistical Analyses
Statistical analyses were performed in SPSS version 17
(SPSS Inc.). The limit of statistical significance was set
at p < 0.05 in all tests. Fixation data were not normally
distributed according to Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests. Dif-
ferences in fixation duration between novice and ex-
perienced drivers and between high and low speed were
analysed using Mann-Whitney U-tests. Chi-squared tests
were employed to compare novice and experienced dri-
vers regarding distance and direction of each fixation.
The participants were divided into four groups for further
analyses: 1) Fast experienced; 2) Fast novice; 3) Slow
experienced; 4) Slow novice. The number of fixations on
regular paper based sea chart, electronic sea chart (GPS
navigator), and radar were compared between groups
using Chi-square tests. Bonferroni adjustments were made
to correct for multiple comparisons.
3. Results
In total, 10,256 fixations were analysed. Novice drivers
tended to look at objects close to themselves to a larger
extent than experienced drivers, whereas experienced
drivers fixated objects in the far distance (χ2 = 229.8, p <
0.0001, Figure 1).
Analyses of the number of fixations on regular paper
based sea chart, electronic sea chart (GPS navigator),
radar, surroundings and other objects showed that the
novice drivers used the navigational aids to a larger ex-
tent than the experienced drivers (χ2 = 251.2, p < 0.0001).
The relative distribution of fixations is summarized in
Figure 2.
Further scrutinizing the use of different navigational
aids in the four groups (defined above) revealed that
Figure 1. Distribution of fixations with respect to distance.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
novice drivers looked at the paper chart and digital sea
chart to a larger extent and less at the surroundings both
in the fast run and the slow run, compared with the ex-
perienced drivers (χ2 = 308.4, p < 0.0001, Fi gur e 3).
The direction of fixations differed between novice and
experienced drivers (χ2 = 199.3, p < 0.0001, Figure 4).
Experienced drivers had a more even distribution of fixa-
tions in the starboard and port directions, although star-
board dominated in both groups.
With respect to eye gaze behaviour, novice drivers had
shorter fixation durations than experienced drivers (147
msec. (SD = 77) versus 150 msec. (SD = 80)), but the
difference was not statistically significant (Z = –1.99, p =
0.281). Fixation durations was on average 16 msec.
shorter in high speed compared with low speed (138
msec. (SD = 62) versus 154 msec. (SD = 85), Z = –8.72,
p < 0.0001).
4. Discussion
A common finding is that novice drivers, in comparison
to experienced drivers, tend to fixate closer to the vehicle
Figure 2. Distribution of fixations with respect to objects.
Figure 3. Distribution of fixations with respect to objects
Figure 4. Distribution of fixations with respect to direc tion.
ey are manoeuvring, fixate more on “in-vehicle objects”
y more on help from the
[20-22] and that their visual search strategies become
less flexible as the workload increases [3-5,19], as it did
in the high speed condition in the present study. Conse-
quently, our results suggest that driving a boat may rely
on the same skill development as car driving does [23-
25]. Fixation durations were, however, not affected by
speed, although speed affected the prioritisation of visual
cues and apparently also the foveal sampling. Previous
research regarding novice and experienced car drivers do
also confirm these results [5,19]. Our results suggest that
the experienced drivers tend put less emphasis on steer-
ing control through navigational aids, in order to allocate
dwell time to environmental cues along the route that
guided the online control of steering [12,14]. We found
minor differences in fixation duration between novice
and experienced drivers across both conditions, but these
differences were too small (Cohen’s d, 0.04 - 0.22) to
draw any conclusions from.
Novice drivers tended to rel
PS navigational aids in both high and low speeds. Fur-
thermore, the novice drivers gazed more often at the
navigational aids compared with experienced drivers,
especially at the electronic sea chart. The novice drivers
used the electronic sea chart more than twice as much as
the experienced drivers during the fast run. The results
confirm that experienced navigators rely more on envi-
ronmental cues together with the paper based chart and
less on other navigational aids compared with the less ex-
perienced, which is in line with previous findings [12,14].
As shown in Figure 3, the novice drivers used the
dar almost three times as much as the experienced in
the high speed condition. This is somewhat surprising
and could be a result of the desire to confirm the image
seen on the electronic chart. It is also likely that some of
the novice participants were uncertain about what infor-
mation was actually displayed in the electronic chart and
across the two trials.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
that it was assumed that it also included a radar overlay.
Further, a somewhat surprising finding was that both
groups tended to look more to starboard throughout the
route. This can possibly be explained by the fact that the
paper based sea chart was placed to the starboard side of
the steering console in the boat and that the driver had to
move his/her head to the right in order to look at the pa-
per based chart.
Since the use of regular paper based sea charts seemed
in gaze behaviour found may be partly
n of the present study was that of any study
t study was performed during daylight and
randomized order, it is possi-
decrease with increased speed in the present study, it is
reasonable to assume that it reflects the uncertainty and
added cognitive demands that follow with increased
speed [16,24]. The complexity of driving in high speeds
forced the novice drivers to rely on electronic sea charts
rather than on paper based charts. If no electronic sea
charts had been available for the novice drivers, he/she
would most likely have reduced the speed in attempts of
regaining orientation. In order to understand the limita-
tions of the electronic sea charts, the driver would have
had to have experienced a situation prior to the trials, in
which the navigational information given by the elec-
tronic sea chart was incorrect. Considering the fact that
the navigational information displayed is based on GPS
information, it may display errors that potentially could
result in crashes.
The differences
plained by how familiar the driver was in interpreting
navigational information. As previously mentioned, no-
vice drivers did look more at the radar than the experi-
enced drivers did, which might indicate well-developed
navigational tactics. During good visibility it is possible
that the radar will not be as crucial as during poor visibi-
lity. Furthermore, it might be more efficient to direct
attention towards other information sources like the vis-
ual cues in the environment. We believe that experts
have a more efficient way of extracting information from
the instruments, and therefore do not need to look at the
instrument in the same extent and manor as the novice
drivers did.
A limitatio
sed on eye tracker generated data. Eye movements,
however precisely measured by eye trackers, only reflect
the foveal direction of the eye [18]. Thus, analyses of eye
movement data needs to take into account the anatomy
and physiology of the human visual system [16]. The
visual system consists of two sub-systems, foveal and
peripheral vision. Foveal vision is restricted to a visual
angle of approximately 1 around a fixation point [17,18].
It provides a person with high-resolution information,
which supports capabilities such as recognition [26]. Pe-
ripheral vision enables a person to detect changes in con-
trast and movement, but with decreased visual acuity.
Peripheral vision supports capabilities such as the per-
son’s orientation, but without the person being fully
conscious of this process [27]. These two systems oper-
ate simultaneously and are dependent on each other. For
example, when driving, the driver uses his foveal vision
to detect directional cues [28], which may labelled as
focal or the “what”, since it is fixating a stimulus to ap-
preciate its fine detail [29], while the peripheral system is
used to maintain lateral control of the vehicle [22], that in
turn could be labeled ambient, or the “where” in human
the visual system, since it detects of motion, optic flow,
changes in objects. Peripheral vision also provides the
driver with a wide range of visual information from
which the foveal sampling of features takes place. The
visual sampling is based on cognitive processes [18]. The
sampling process is dependent on eye movements [11].
Eye movements are directed by an individual schema of
the driver [30], which is updated with information ga-
thered both by peripheral and foveal sampling. The goal
of this information gathering is to identify certain fea-
tures in the environment, in order to control a vehicle/
vessel. There is laboratory evidence that a foveal fixation
point, which is what we measured in the present study,
does not necessarily represent visual attention [31,32]. A
change in the focus of visual attention is possible without
a change in the point of fixation. However, it is not pos-
sible to change the fixation point without changing the
focus of visual attention [33], which suggests that every
time a new object was fixated, it represented a shift of
visual focus.
The presen
ost often under optimal conditions with regards to
wave height and weather, which of course, to some ex-
tent, facilitated the use of the eye tracker and also made
navigation easier, but on the other hand also made eye
tracking more difficult with regards to sunlight, etc. Al-
though the eye tracker used allows the subject to move
around and also follow the head movements, the drivers
were informed not only to gaze but also to follow the
gaze direction with the head. Gaze behaviour normally
does not require head movements if the object of interest
is within visual range. However with regards to the eye
trackers limited visual angle of 70˚ diagonal, 56˚ hori-
zontal and 42˚ vertical it will not detect fixations outside
this unless the head follows the gaze direction. Further,
the participants could have been influenced by the fact
that we informed them about the purpose of the study
prior to the trials. This might have resulted in a biased
behaviour and that a potential overreliance in any one of
the navigational aids was reduced. The fact that we also
had an onboard navigational instructor during the trials
might have influenced the participants both to become
more or less risk taking.
Lastly, despite having a
e that the participants experienced a learning effect
when conducting the second round of the leg. Future
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. JTTs
studies using eye tracking during high speed navigation
should study gaze order effects of which navigational aid
that is used, at what time, in order to answer were the
information processing starts and ends.
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