The pros and cons of introducing ECDIS

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

05 June 2016


Thereafter, the market will be limited to newbuildings and replacement systems due to failure or a need to upgrade. Consequently many ECDIS makers will be looking at this single opportunity to profit from a mandatory need to install equipment. For owners, as explained in the previous pages, there are many more aspects to ECDIS than the simple matter of cost. The first thing to consider in planning the migration to ECDIS is when individual ships in a fleet will be affected. The next is deciding whether to opt for installing a singled ECDIS and continuing with paper charts as well or going paperless and opting for a dual ECDIS installation. Before deciding any further it may be necessary to check with the flag state if there are any flag state requirements that apply, particularly if a paperless option was being considered. One factor that has not so far been considered in depth is how an ECDIS might affect an operator’s ISM Code procedures and other QA systems it operates. ISM Code section 6.3 and 6.5 cover familiarisation and training and could be interpreted to cover the type specific aspects of ECDIS in the way that they have been used by PSC officers to record non-compliance issues with other types of equipment. Depending upon a company’s ISM procedures and documents, some actions may be necessary and it may even be that some changes to documents will also be called for (some manuals may include lists of essential equipment, or identify training/certification needs etc.). Involving affected officers and crew at this stage can help to identify issues that may arise and may also turn up navigators who have had experience of ECDIS on other vessels and who can give particular insight into the process.

A matter of choice

With so many systems now available there is almost certain to be a suitable ECDIS for every individual ship even if choosing an appropriate ECDIS will require several factors to be taken into account. Cost will be high on the list as always and for vessels approaching end of life and where ECDIS will not be the primary means of navigation then a basic model may suit best — it may even be that if a scrapping date has been decided the best choice will be to apply to the flag state for an exemption. In a situation where a whole fleet is being equipped, the best answer may be to opt for a single type to be fitted fleet wide. This would reduce issues relating to training requirements, simplify servicing and possibly be a negotiating factor in obtain a best price package. Costs for ECDIS vary depending upon type, if ECDIS is to be used as the primary means of navigation and whether a paperless dual ECDIS sailing option is preferred to save on the cost of paper charts. At one time installing an ECDIS would have involved a capital outlay for the hardware but this is no longer the case. Two makers — Maris and Martek Marine will supply systems on lease and third parties are also joining the fray. Among these is communications provider Singtel with its Secure-ECDIS all-inclusive package that combines electronic chart navigation services with a suite of Singtel satcom services. The service includes remote diagnostics and trouble-shooting, which significantly improves response time and reduces operating costs for shipowners. Partnering with Transas, this solution features a lease-to-own model that bundles monthly recurring charges with other satcom services ensuring no initial capital outlay and repayment over two years. The likely area where a ship is planned to operate may have an influence on the choice of ECDIS. If it is extremely limited range, such as for ferries, coastal cargo and feeder vessels choosing a supplier from the same region may be a wise choice as regards maintenance and servicing. For vessels operating over a wide range, the best choice would likely be one of the major suppliers with an extensive network of agents and service facilities. The background of the ECDIS manufacturer should not be overlooked especially where the ECDIS is being fitted to a new vessel or one that will be in service for a long time in the future. ECDIS is an evolving technology and has already undergone some changes in the ENC standards it uses. Selecting a manufacturer that can offer upgrade facilities could be a wise choice. It is probably fair to say that an ECDIS is unlikely to survive the full lifespan of a new vessel and that at least one replacement will be needed. If the ECDIS is to be used as part of an energy efficiency strategy, then one that has advanced features able to make use of weather routeing, tidal and oceanography information is a good choice over a basic model.

Ensuring familiarity

Depending upon the crewing strategy of the company, some thought given at an early stage to training will pay dividends when the equipment is eventually installed. Having made the choice of which models of ECDIS are favoured, an operator can begin to investigate the type specific training available. If planning to implement cascade training on board, arrangements should be made for chosen trainers to attend relevant courses on specific ECDIS models. In cases where crewing agents are used to employ navigators, details of the type of equipment likely to be installed can be passed on with a request that only officers with appropriate type specific training be considered for employment. Details of training establishments used by the crewing agency and /or the seafarers themselves for both generic and type specific training should be checked to confirm if they are approved by the flag state.

Installation options

Installing a basic ECDIS does not require much more than some basic connections to a power supply and other equipment such as the GPS and VDR. Such work could normally be carried out during a typical port stay assuming no difficulties are encountered. Installing a dual ECDIS or a system that integrates with all other navigation systems on board is a different prospect and requires careful planning. It may be best to do this type of installation during a scheduled drydocking or when an extended port stay can be arranged. Some preliminary work may be possible before the actual installation. Obviously the delivery of the ECDIS has to be closely coordinated with the supplier and because of likely demand at certain points in the rollout programme, some equipment shortages might occur.

Operational options

Even before its installation, the operator should have decided how to make use of the ECDIS under operational circumstances. With a basic ECDIS the options are limited to the core elements of passage planning and route monitoring but more advanced models offer many benefits. Making the most of an ECDIS’ features may require subscription to tidal and weather forecasting services in addition to the chart updating services that are essential in keeping ENCs current and valid. ECDIS permits data from many sources to be incorporated into passage planning. One example of how this can be exploited is for a ship practicing slow steaming. As well as helping to define a safe route, the capabilities of an ECDIS that can make use of weather and tidal data can also allow for appropriate speeds to be calculated to meet a given ETA. This sort of feature may aid masters and navigators to overcome their natural inclination to build in some reserve of time by progressing faster than necessary at the outset of a voyage. Safety is an area where ECDIS has much to contribute by reason of the alarms that are built in and which sound if the ship deviates from a pre-planned route or encounters depths and obstacles that have been identified as being safety issues. However, recent experience has shown that the inability of some navigators to fully understand the use of ECDIS even when they have received type specific training is an issue that has to be addressed. It is recommended to closely monitor how ECDIS is being used during safety audits and regular drills on board. Following the UK MAIB investigation of the grounding of the chemical tanker Ovit due to an ECDIS related navigational error, Transport Malta, the vessel’s flag state was recommended to propose to the Paris MOU Committee that a Concentrated Inspection Campaign be conducted on ECDIS-fitted ships to establish the standards of system knowledge among navigators using a list of pre- defined questions. The International Chamber of Shipping and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) were recommended to develop and promulgate, in conjunction with ECDIS experts, a set of focused questions for use by surveyors and auditors when conducting audits and inspections on ECDIS fitted ships. The MAIB’s recommendation to the owners of the Ovit, for steps to be taken to monitor the effectiveness of the ECDIS familiarisation provided to its deck officers, is a recommendation that could equally be well heeded by all owners and managers of vessels fitted with ECDIS. Operational matters such as passage planning are frequently included into ISM and as with the training and familiarisation mentioned earlier, some procedures may need to be re-written to take account of the ECDIS. One of these will be the issue of keeping ENCs updated and with valid licences. Choosing a suitable chart supply and updating service is another task that has to be done at this point. Where a fleet has ships that follow similar routes on a regular basis, it is possible for an approved ECDIS passage plan to be distributed to all vessels in the fleet. One ECDIS already has COLREG advice built in and this coupled with the AIS and radar overlays could be another factor in reducing incidents at sea. Charts are not the only thing that needs to be kept up to date as the firmware of the systems themselves are sometimes changed to remove faults that have come to light or to accommodate new technologies. Ensuring this is done should be something that is written in to a company’s safety management system and in practice will require some detective work. The IHO maintains a list of the latest firmware of most systems. Particular attention to chart updating should be paid by buyers of second hand vessels in case the seller’s crew has not been diligent in this regard. More importantly perhaps when acquiring a second hand vessel will be the matter of licencing as licences for charts are not necessarily transferable.