Laying out and designing the bridge of a ship

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

05 March 2016


In older vessels the layout of bridges would seem to have been very much a secondary consideration in the mind of the ship’s designer although the cluttered appearance of some of these bridges has more to do with extra equipment that has been added over time to meet new regulations. Historically, bridge design was a matter for the ship designer, owner and shipyard to agree upon and provided any equipment required under SOLAS or flag state regulations was included there were no obstacles to design. Today there are several regulations affecting bridge design and layout. First among these is SOLAS V regulation 22 that governs navigation bridge visibility and which applies to all vessels over 55m in length built after 1 July 1998. The visibility requirements are quite comprehensive and extend to the layout, material and angle of bridge windows. Ergonomics and improved man machine interfaces have been in vogue for many years and across a whole range of industries including shipping. While there is much to be said in favour of harmonising symbology and controls to some degree, it is an acknowledged fact that humans are individuals and a one-size-fits-all approach must inevitably result in some compromises in design. In December 2000, the IMO distributed MSC/Circ.982 which included the Guidelines on Ergonomic Criteria for Bridge Equipment and Layout. The guidelines had been developed by the MSC to ‘assist designers in realising a sufficient ergonomic design of the bridge, with the objective of improving the reliability and efficiency of navigation’ and were in support of amendments to regulation V/15 of the SOLAS Convention – Principles relating to bridge design, design and arrangement of navigational systems and equipment and bridge procedures, which were to enter into force on 1 July 2002. The 31-page document is extensive in its reach and detail even to the point of laying down minimum and maximum dimensions for specific areas of the bridge and positioning of controls and introducing requirements for placing of pencils and tools around the bridge. There is also an element of transition that can be seen in the guidelines particularly around ECDIS which is now in a mandatory roll-out programme. Most versions of ECDIS now warrant a display at the centre of the integrated bridge system but in December 2000 they were usually standalone systems and might have been found either at the navigation and manoeuvring workstation at the front of the bridge or at the planning and documentation workstation at the rear of the bridge. For obvious reasons, the guidelines only apply to new vessels and identify no less than seven separate workstations which are described below together with a list of equipment, systems and controls that should be found there.

Workstation for navigating and manoeuvring

Main workstation for ship’s handling conceived for working in seated/standing position with optimum visibility and integrated presentation of information and operating equipment to control and consider ship’s movement. It should be possible from this place to operate the ship safely, in particular when a fast sequence of actions is required. The workstations and their associated equipment are supposed to allow for the most ergonomic bridge permitted by modern equipment but it is difficult to equate them with the bridge layouts seen on some of the latest vessels which appear minimalistic by comparison with bridges from just a few years ago. Some of that conception has been brought about by integrating the various controls digitally into just a few display screens that allow overlaying of information systems according to user requirements. The principles of ergonomics also seem to be constantly evolving as does the technology that allows new forms of man and machine interfacing such as touch screens and wide screen displays and even the promise of using nothing more than gestures as with some modern computer gaming consoles to operate controls or switch between displays. Bringing information together in fewer places also makes life easier on those ships that have minimum personnel on the bridge. Innovation on the bridge is not confined to the equipment systems and controls contained in consoles as a product such as Alphatron Marine’s AlphaMultiCommand Chair and similar products from other makers, means that some or all of the equipment can be incorporated into a seat. In some vessels – usually offshore types or tugs – the seats are installed so as to be mobile allowing the chair to be moved from the forward position to one better suited to working alongside a rig or second ship with vision through the side windows. The rules and guidelines on ergonomics say little about differences in individual physical characteristics of navigators or those using the equipment. In fact SOLAS in many instances is quiet on this very obvious point although the fact that differences do exist is at least recognised in regard to life jackets and other safety equipment. In SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 22 covering Navigation bridge visibility there is one reference to the difference in heights and that is point 1.8 which reads ‘The upper edge of the navigation bridge front windows shall allow a forward view of the horizon, for a person with a height of eye of 1,800mm above the bridge deck at the conning position, when the ship is pitching in heavy seas. The Administration, if satisfied that a 1,800 mm height of eye is unreasonable and impractical, may allow reduction of the height of eye but not to less than 1,600mm’. It is difficult to say what percentage of seafarers fall outside the range of those two height of eye measurements, but there are undoubtedly quite a few. All of the leading bridge manufacturers and several of the smaller players now offer integrated bridge and navigation systems. In recognition of this, the leading classification societies – who through IACS – played a part in devising the IMO rules and guidelines have also introduced class notations for ships that are fitted with the new systems. An example of the latest bridge type is Rolls-Royce’s new Unified Bridge system for offshore vessels introduced in 2013. As offshore ships have become more technologically advanced and able to perform more highly specialised duties, their bridges, as the command centres for the ship, have become more complex. The Rolls-Royce Unified Bridge has been designed to deal with this issue based on both its own research and feedback from customers. It simplifies the range of controls, panels and displays for the various onboard systems, is claimed to have significantly improved ergonomics and easier operation. The bridge layout can also be tailored to meet the needs of a number of different vessels. Taken further as part of the company’s autonomous ship concept in 2014 Rolls Royce unveiled its Future Operator Experience Concept or ‘oX’. The oX bridge concept was developed in partnership with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. It includes smart workstations, which automatically recognise individual crew members when they arrive on the bridge, adjusting to their own preferences. Other features include bridge windows that serve as augmented reality displays, identifying potential hazards that might otherwise be difficult to see, such as sea ice or tug boats. Similarly futuristic is Ulstein Group’s BRIDGE VISION project undertaken in cooperation with The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), together with Kwant Controls and Aalesund University College. In the project AHO researchers spent time on offshore supply vessels observing how the crew actually used the equipment on the bridge and how they moved between sitting, standing and walking around the bridge. Ulstein BRIDGE VISION’s future work stations offer claimed ergonomic benefits through the combination of an innovative bridge chair design, with multiple sitting positions, and a new console design. In addition, the new bridge adapts both the workspace and software setup to the individual user’s specific requirements. A feature of the pioneering concept system is the use of optical projections that permit vital information to pop up directly on the windows (full frame head-up display) on the aft bridge and on seamless monitors directly below the windows on the front bridge. Operators can then access controls and information by using intuitive touch-commands and gestures. The optical projection of information provides users with all relevant details related to an operation in their line of vision. It also makes coordination between crew members performing interdependent operations much simpler, as they can see the same information even though they positioned apart from one another. The system prioritises information based on the operation and situation of the ship. For example, when the ship is in transit mode, illustrations will be presented on a large, seamless surface below the windows on the front bridge. A real-time overlay is also possible, where the head-up display provides information on operationally critical tasks by showing elements the user cannot spot directly, such as fog, darkness or elements hidden behind objects. The display systems can also turn the bridge into a simulator for training or preparation before a critical operation. Some of these very advanced systems will almost certainly appear at some time in the not too distant future but factors such as robustness and reliability must be proven first. Offshore vessels – probably because excellent all round vision is vital in the roles they undertake – seem to have been at the centre of many recent bridge design projects. In 2015 at NorShipping, local shipbuilder VARD demonstrated another with its integrated SeaQ bridge system. The constellation of the bridge features several innovations including a transparent floor which allows navigators to view the deck and helipad of the ship without any blind spots caused by the consoles and displays and haptic controls from Lillas. While any individual bridge can be customised, that on display featured two seated command workstations each of which was served by two touch panel displays within easy reach and a trio of multifunction displays for the likes of ECDIS, radar and conning and helm controls. In addition a comprehensive overhead display allows for an optimal workspace. The chair and console are good examples of ergonomics as the seat is adjustable for comfort and size of user and features a foot rest which allows for regular shifting of position. An integrated microphone is incorporated into the chair allowing for hands-free communication if required. The armrests on each side of the chairs are also adjustable vertically and horizontally and wide enough to provide comfortable resting positions as well as housing levers and the touchscreen displays. Touch interfaces allow for some controls to be selected at the movement of a finger. The touch screens incorporated into the armrests are fully integrated with the bridge operating system. Screen content can be selected from a user-friendly interface and pushed to the larger bridge displays to create custom dashboard of information from all systems. The main displays are visible from either seating position and from elsewhere on the bridge. Another ergonomic bridge feature was at the same show where US-based Marine Technologies was presenting the adjustable version of its Bridge Mate IBS. Although many systems are claimed to be ergonomic, the fact that the human frame comes in many shapes and sizes means that they must be optimised to one particular standard. The Marine Technologies bridge goes some way to addressing the problem faced by navigators that do not meet the norm by incorporating a mechanism that allows the console and displays to be raised or lowered to suit. Another manufacturer that has added features to an integrated system is Raytheon Anschütz which has upgraded its Synapsis integrated bridge family with regard to network structure and integration capability. A new feature that can easily be incorporated is the maker’s Synapsis ShipGuard which combines navigation systems such as AIS and radar together with a suite of surveillance cameras. This offers the crew a means for early detection and identification of approaching contacts, classification and alarm zone monitoring and is intended to be used to increase safety on offshore vessels operating around oil and gas platforms and wind farms as well as the more obvious security applications.