Heritage and the human element

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

05 March 2016


Most regulation regarding bridge equipment and standards are to be found within SOLAS. In the past most regulation was prescriptive laying down performance standards but recently goal based standards have become more common. The exact requirements for individual ships will vary depending upon ship type, size and age. In the case of the communications equipment that must be carried under GMDSS, the area in which the ship operates is also a deciding factor. In addition to the international requirements, flag states are always at liberty to impose additional requirements for vessels on their registry. Such rules should be communicated to ships by the appropriate government department usually by way of Merchant Shipping Notices. Ships joining a flag will normally be subjected to some form of inspection and any deficiencies should be picked up by the surveyor and advised to the operator for immediate rectification. The Merchant Shipping Notices of most flag states are relatively easy to locate but while some countries issue very few, others seem to legislate and advise on a vast number of topics. In the latter case where rules change and notices are superseded regularly, keeping up to date requires careful attention to detail. SOLAS changes are more easily followed but care needs to be taken to ensure that alternatives allowed in SOLAS are also accepted by flag states. There are very few chapters of SOLAS that do not mention the bridge in one way or another even if it is just to require that an alarm or status indicator for a piece of equipment is to be provided. For the majority of systems and equipment as well as for standards for bridge layout, it is Chapters IV and V that are the main source of regulation. Chapter IV of SOLAS covers radio communications and equipment and it is here that the requirements for GMDSS equipment are to be found. When GMDSS replaced the traditional communication arrangements on ships in the late 1990s and into the opening years of the 21st Century, it was controversial because it brought about the demise of the position of Radio Officer. It also heralded the era of universal satellite communications on ships and the long held monopoly of Inmarsat – then an international not for profit organisation – in safety communications. Today there are rival satellite service providers but these currently complement rather than replace the need to carry an Inmarsat terminal on board. This is a situation that is destined to change as competition is introduced under plans to open up the GMDSS. Although not imminent, there is a strong likelihood of Iridium being the first satellite operator being accepted as an alternative GMDSS service provider. As things stand the regulations already allow for some flexibility in the equipment required on board providing there is on-board capability to repair equipment or a contract is in place with a competent service provider. Some of the equipment required under GMDSS will be covered later in this guide. After the arrival of GMDSS, the next items of equipment to be made mandatory under SOLAS were a voyage data recorder (VDR) and automatic identification system (AIS). The VDR is the maritime equivalent of an aircraft black box even though it is usually red or orange in colour. VDRs were made mandatory in 2002 for new vessels above 3,000gt and by 2010 for vessels above 3,000gt existing prior to 2002. For some of the older vessels, an option to install a simplified VDR or S-VDR was given because of the incompatibility of the systems needing to be connected to it. The initial performance standards for VDRs date back to 1997 but since then both AIS and ECDIS have become mandatory equipment on most ships, the latter though is still in a roll out programme that extends some distance into the future. AIS was added to the list of equipment to be recorded in 2004 and in 2006 standards for software download of data were introduced to come into effect in 2008. New performance standards for VDRs were adopted by the IMO in 2012 and apply to all new and replacement VDRs fitted since 1 July 2014. In the main, the newer standards are more concerned with the system data that must be recorded and the means of recording it. They added some new requirements that meant changes to some of the existing models sold by manufacturers, but there was no need for ships to change equipment already on board unless a replacement was necessary for some other reason. Two items of bridge equipment are currently the subject of roll out programmes for mandatory installation. ECDIS is covered in another ShipInsight Guide but BNWAS will be covered by this. The need for BNWAS has come about because of the number of collision and grounding incidents involving ships with one man operated bridges. The systems are intended to monitor activity – or rather lack of activity – on the bridge and to sound an alarm if regular prompts are not acknowledged by the watchkeeper. The requirement for BNWAS is contained in SOLAS Chapter V Reg.19 2.2.3 as amended by resolution MSC.282(86), adopted in 2009. The original rollout programme is as follows:
  • Cargo ships of 150gt and upwards and passenger ships irrespective of size constructed on or after 1 July 2011;
  • Passenger ships irrespective of size constructed before 1 July 2011 not later than the first survey 1 July 2012
  • Cargo ships of 3,000gt and upwards constructed before 1 July 2011, not later than the first survey after 1 July 2012
  • Cargo ships of 500gt and upwards but less than 3,000gt constructed before 1 July 2011, not later than the first survey after 1 July 2013; and
  • Cargo ships of 150gt and upwards but less than 500gt constructed before 1 July 2011, not later than the first survey after 1 July 2014.
Because of a problem with the initial wording of the regulation some flag states may not have interpreted the rules as they were intended, as a consequence a new rollout has been put in place for ships built before 2002 that had not installed a compliant system. This new programme follows the same sequence as the initial version but finalises in 2018. There are performance standards for BNWAS but for ships which fitted systems voluntarily some dispensations are permitted if the system is not fully in accordance with the IMO standard. Often confused with BNWAS but actually quite different are Bridge Alarm (or alert) Management Systems (BAMS). These are not mandatory under SOLAS but the IMO does recommend that flag states promote their installation and use on ships. BAMS are supposed to improve presentation and handling of alerts with a view to aiding the bridge team to identify and prioritise problems to maintain the safe operation of the ship. BAMS should conform to the performance requirements stated in the annex to IMO Resolution MSC.302(87) but beyond that a free hand is given. Some systems that are on the market are stand alone, others are part of an integrated bridge system and at least one is combined with a BNWAS.

Bridge Layout

There is currently an element of regulation connected with bridge design mostly in regard to visibility requirements but there is every chance that some future regulation may be on the cards in this area. Chapter V, Regulation 15 of SOLAS is titled Principles relating to bridge design, design and arrangement of navigational systems and equipment and bridge procedures and requires bridge designers to make decisions with certain aims in mind. Although there are guidelines published by the IMO and classification societies, there are few prescriptions to be observed. Regulation 15 says: Principles relating to bridge design, design and arrangement of navigational systems and equipment and bridge procedures. All decisions which are made for the purpose of applying the requirements of regulations 19(LRIT), 22(Visibility), 24(Heading & Track control systems), 25(steering gear), 27(Charts & Publications) and 28(Logs) and which affect bridge design, the design and arrangement of navigational systems and equipment on the bridge and bridge procedures§ shall be taken with the aim of:
  • facilitating the tasks to be performed by the bridge team and the pilot in making full appraisal of the situation and in navigating the ship safely under all operational conditions;
  • promoting effective and safe bridge resource management;
  • enabling the bridge team and the pilot to have convenient and continuous access to essential information which is presented in a clear and unambiguous manner, using standardized symbols and coding systems for controls and displays;
  • indicating the operational status of automated functions and integrated components, systems and/ or sub-systems;
  • allowing for expeditious, continuous and effective information processing and decision-making by the bridge team and the pilot;
  • preventing or minimizing excessive or unnecessary work and any conditions or distractions on the bridge which may cause fatigue or interfere with the vigilance of the bridge team and the pilot; and
  • minimizing the risk of human error and detecting such error, if it occurs, through monitoring and alarm systems, in time for the bridge team and the pilot to take appropriate action.
The question of ergonomics is explored further in a later chapter but the circular MSC/Circ.982 referred to in the footnote to Regulation 15 is a 33 page guideline document that covers a very wide ranging number of topics from basic layout through to controls and display requirements. Within the guidelines, a large section is devoted to the subject of visibility but while the guidance here is voluntary, Regulation 22 of Chapter V of SOLAS also contains a number of mandatory conditions that must be met with regard to the windows and visibility from the bridge for vessels built since 1998. In addition to rules concerning equipment and performance standards there are regulations governing the qualifications and the number of the people that will be called upon to use them. Crew certification and competencies are beyond the scope of this guide but in general certificates should be issued in accordance with the latest version of the STCW Code (STCW 2010) or an earlier version if the flag state permits although the dispensation given to existing certificate holders expires in 2016. Crew numbers are set by the flag state and are laid down in the ship’s Minimum Safe Manning Certificate. The number and ranks of personnel may vary depending upon area of operations and length of voyages. There are ongoing discussions at the IMO concerning harmonising the flag states’ approach to determining safe manning levels. SOLAS requires that every ship must have a defined working language decided by either the operator or the master as appropriate. Each seafarer on the ship is required to understand and, where appropriate, give orders and instructions and to report back in that language. If the working language is not an official language of the State whose flag the ship is entitled to fly, all plans and lists required to be posted shall include a translation into the working language. However, while there is an element of choice as to the working language of the ship, SOLAS requires that English shall be used on the bridge as the working language for bridge-to-bridge and bridge-to-shore safety communications as well as for communications on board between the pilot and bridge watchkeeping personnel, unless those directly involved in the communication speak a common language other than English. For most vessels, the qualifications and skills needed for navigating officers will be fully covered by STCW 2010 but for ships intending to operate in Arctic waters there are additional requirements contained in the new IMO Polar Code which comes into effect in 2017. Chapter 12 of the Polar Code is devoted to the new requirements covering crew training and numbers that will affect ships subject to its provisions.