George Devereese, Loss Prevention Executive at UK
P&I Club, discusses issues of potential reliance on ECDIS,
and advises that seafarers undergo the necessary navigational
While Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS)
have proved extremely helpful for navigation at sea, there are
issues that should be considered when it is in use.
Seafarers should always ensure that ECDIS charts are updated on a
weekly basis. When paper charts were in common usage, this could
be a time consuming and laborious process. With ECDIS, updates
can be downloaded through various applications such as Chart
Tracker in a matter of minutes. While the vast majority of
vessels ensure that charts do remain up to date, failing to do so
can result in significant penalties, including the vessel being
deemed unfit to be put to sea and being detained in port.
An annual test has been proposed to ensure ECDIS is running
correctly, and a test CD can be acquired via an electronical
navigational charts service provider. As several companies
provide these charts, it raises the question of whether the
charts are always identical.
Manufactures of ECDIS are developing uniform standards, which
should mean all information is replicated across all systems.
However, while the information may be the same, ECDIS systems can
be operated in subtly different ways. It is therefore important
for crew to be comfortable on the ECDIS system that they are
operating. A crew's training and experience should be examined,
and an assessment made as to whether they require additional
training on in-house simulators provided by the shipping company.
An issue has been raised that the ECDIS alarm system can be
over-zealous, such as triggering alarms whenever a vessel passes
over an underwater cable, which can lead to complacency when
genuine alarms are sounded. As ECDIS has developed, these
spurious alarms have become less common. An overload of
information should always be avoided, however the most stringent
settings should be employed when passage planning.
A larger problem can be issues with chart ranging, whereby
navigators are able to zoom in or out on charts to access varying
levels of detail (e.g. open sea, coastal, pilotage). When it
comes to passage planning, it can be difficult to ensure no
potential hazards are missed, and there have been cases when
navigators have used the wrong sized charts, adding to the risk
of a vessel hitting an obstacle. Navigators can misunderstand the
ranging of the charts, by zooming too far in or out. It is vital
that navigators are correctly trained in ECDIS chart ranging, as
they may grow complacent regarding the ability of the system to
While ECDIS is an extremely useful aid for seafarer navigation,
seafarers must remember that it is an aid to navigation, and not
a replacement for all navigational skill. It is a seafarer's
responsibility to ensure the safety of a vessel, ECDIS is
fallible, and can contain errors.
There is also the possibility of the system failing, in which
case a seafarer will need to resort to traditional methods of
navigation. Seafarers should continue to be trained in a variety
of navigational techniques, hold a paper chart 'back up'
portfolio, and run table top exercises with the Officer of the
Watch to maintain their familiarity with paper charts and proper
position fixing routines. An over reliance on ECDIS can cause
these traditional skills to fade, and potentially lead to
incidents, and the industry should make sufficient navigational
training widely available.