Nautical Institute South West of England Branch – November Meeting 2009
Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems
The pages of Seaways have recently carried three useful articles by Captain Harry Gale FNI on the role of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS).
The South West of England Branch was delighted that Committee member, Peter Thornton MBE, along with colleague Mark Broster, Managing Director of ECDIS Ltd, was able to present a talk before a full house of Branch members, members of the Royal Institute of Navigation and students, on the topic of Electronic Charts.
Peter Thornton, a navigating officer with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, presently on secondment to Flag Officer Sea Training Plymouth, has a special interest in electronic charting. With the International Maritime Organisation requiring the start of the mandatory fit of ECDIS to commercial shipping commencing in 2012, he has recognised that a major challenge ahead is to ensure that officers with responsibility for navigation are properly trained in the full understanding of the systems and their operation. The task of equipping the world’s fleet with ECDIS is significant and the cost of training is set to be more than £3 Billion.
Peter’ s talk was comprehensive. He gave consideration to the development of the electronic chart, the difference between Raster and Vector charts, display presentation standards, external sensor requirements and the need for back up facilities. The audience was reminded that the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has already investigated many incidents caused by a lack of understanding of the electronic chart . Cases discussed included the groundings of the Royal Majesty, the Roll on Roll off Passenger ferry Pride of Canterbury, the general cargo ship ‘CFL Performer’ and the jack up barge ‘Octopus’ whilst under tow. Problems associated with the (mis)use of ECDIS were clear and the need for effective training of all users established.
Whilst the cost of transferring from paper to electronic displays is high, Peter is convinced that the adoption of the new technology is wise and will lead to safer seas – if used correctly. The emphasis needs to be on ensuring a rigorous and thorough understanding of a vessel’s ECDIS in order that the mariner can plan, alter and execute navigation safely – ‘what you see is what you get’. It is expected that the lack of present training guidelines will be resolved in the review of the STCW Convention due to be completed in 2010.
The presentation gave rise to many questions from the floor. Peter was joined by his colleague Mark Broster to help provide answers. The main concern seemed to be the variation of ECDIS design and the control of presented information. (Many in the audience had had experience of the introduction of ARPA in the 1980s and the different hardware which was established to display the specified information.) The concern was highlighted by pilots who in the nature of their work will come across different systems. It was expressed that at times of high stress in the navigation of the ship, confusion and mistakes could occur. It was noted that there are already numerous ECDIS manufacturers, 35 of them being compatible with the Admiralty ECDIS service. Alarmingly, the IHO lists 127 original equipment manufacturers already or intending to provide an ENC service! It is unlikely that IMO will demand type specific training, focussing instead on the navigators’ understanding on the principles of the electronic chart structure and its use.
Following the question and answer session members of the meeting were invited to use a training suite, consisting of 6 electronic chart stations, which had kindly been set up for demonstration by ECDIS Ltd.*
Captain Tim Charlesworth, Chairman of the Branch thanked Peter and Mark for their valuable contribution and noted that while many will lament the passing of the paper chart , the future certainly seems to be in the development of electronic chart and data information systems.
Contribution by Paul G Wright. FNI