ECDIS Risk Mitigation

Remarkably, even though ECDIS has been accepted as a replacement for paper charts since 2002 and despite the resounding benefits of ECDIS navigation, in safety, time and cost, it is believed that only 5000 ships worldwide have an ECDIS fitted so far. So why is that? Cost, confidence or capability?

Well, we all know cost is a major ‘conning’ factor, but according to those who’ve already made the transition (not through mandation but choice) it’s actually found to pan out about equal compared with maintaining a paper chart outfit. So maybe it’s confidence in capability? Well ask anyone who’s made the ‘full’ transition whether they would go back to paper…there might just be a ‘little’ resistance! Even a ‘half way house’ where paper is supposed to remain the primary chart mode – operators would probably start to feel very uncomfortable if you took the ECDIS away. So if that’s the case and you’re sitting on the guard rail, surely it’s time to start investigating what risk is actually involved in moving the paper chart into the archives and letting go.

So as an overview of critical considerations in order to make the transition, the following may help:


There may still be a misunderstanding of what the problem is and why it’s so complicated – surely everyone’s already using electronic charts aren’t they? Well there is a fundamental difference between the two main ‘types’ of electronic chart operating system in the first place – an ECS (Electronic Chart System) and an ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System). The former is not accepted as a replacement for paper charts whereas the latter is. For an ECDIS to be an ECDIS, it must be type approved by a recognized authority to meet performance standards detailed in IMO Resolution A.817(19) as amended – specifically MSC232(82) from 01 Jan 2009 as the latest, (as well as being affected by many other associated bridge equipment standards), which in doing so can allow it to be used in lieu of a traditional paper chart (provided a suitable backup is available). It is also important to realise that if at any time an ECDIS ceases to meet the requirements – for example, by using unofficial charts, having incorrect user settings (non-IMO mode) or losing a critical sensor, the system ceases to meet those performance standards and reverts to being an ECS. Such control measures have been developing for many years now with the first set of performance standards being issued in 1995.

An ECS is useful but an ECDIS can replace paper charts – which could be a cost saving, but one that’s also already been risk assessed by the IMO. Provided it’s used correctly…

Training Vs Effect

So what about the cost of training? Do we really have to be trained in how to use an ‘electronic’ navigational chart? Can’t we just figure it out based on paper skills? Surely digital navigation is easier than paper navigation? Well all of these questions are understandable but there are significant reasons why training is so important, especially if you’re talking about risk reduction. ECDIS navigation is probably easier than paper navigation but it’s only safe once the user knows the limitations and risk of overreliance. However, before it gets easy to get it right, traditional navigators are wary – and for good reason: It’s different and it’s not just simply another new system, it’s a critical system – one that changes the way a bridge is managed. Conversely, young navigators are over confident – all hail GPS! The risk is in how ECDIS is operated – it’s not just money at stake, it’s safety of life as well – it’s safety of navigationit’s a machine and we’re humans…I would recommend for anyone involved in ECDIS navigation to read the MCA’s ‘The Human Element’ after all with 2 ships sinking, 18 collisions groundings and fires costing $4 million every day, two thirds of which humans played the dominant part…the human-machine interface makes a difference.

ECDIS adoption

  • Choose ECDIS and Data.
  • Check flag State requirements for fit, training and accreditation (avoid fit prior to training to prevent untrained ‘de-facto’ ECDIS navigation).
  • Generic training (STCW) IMO1.27 ECDIS Course (check accepted by flag State).
  • Type Specific training (ISM) chosen ECDIS familiarisation course (for each deck officer prior to joining).
  • Fit ECDIS in a timely manner to avoid skill fade from training.
  • Develop Safety Management System including CSOs while maintaining paper primary.
  • Obtain flag State survey and accreditation (if required by flag State) for adoption into Safety Equipment Certificate and approval to operate paperless.
  • Commence using ECDIS as a replacement for paper charts.

ECDIS Ltd (, based in Southampton, UK, are an organisation that specialise in providing ECDIS mandation solutions for a wide range of different manufacturer’s systems, as well as being the world’s leading provider of ECDIS courses. The MCA flagship course, delivered both directly by the company and also by other schools and organisations on a sub-contracted basis, is based on the IMO 1.27 course model, but features additional emphasis on crucial topics such as additional sensor integration and the continued use of ECDIS following the loss of sensor inputs (the minimum being heading (gyro compass), speed (log) and a GNSS system, typically GPS). Once the background and principles of ECDIS have been covered, the primary aim of the course is to discourage over-reliance on a computer and to remind the student that in the same way as paper navigation did not depend on having GPS, neither does ECDIS. Indeed, throughout the course, the continuing emphasis is risk mitigation – an ECDIS is a significant tool for situational awareness and a valuable aid to navigation, but it must be proved correct.

Coverage Vs Implementation

With the latest ECDIS performance standards having been in force since 01 Jan 2009 modern systems are far beyond that of a few years ago, all the 800 major ports and the majority of the world expected to be covered by ENCs mid 2013, the 6 year ECDIS implementation plan of ship fits starting next year coupled with the Manila Amendments clarifying STCW ECDIS training requirements coming into force 01 Jan 2012, the world is moving into the digital age swiftly. The choice of going fully digital or staying with paper is still up to the shipping companies but the fitting and training may not be. The sooner arrangements are in place to start the fleet / on-board development of digital navigation procedures then the better the system will be by the time paper charts start disappearing. The greater the understanding of the complexities, the safer the transition will be. There are now structured ECDIS navigation safety management systems out there which can be used to great effect through lessons learnt.

Variety Vs Quality

There are currently around thirty-two manufacturers of ECDIS systems which, whilst meeting the statutory requirements, do so in considerably different ways. Most systems also include a vast number of additional features, such as sailing directions or ephemeral overlays. The e-Navigation centre, based at ECDIS Ltd’s headquarters in the United Kingdom, an array of different manufacturer’s terminals is on permanent display, including Transas, Kelvin Hughes, OSL, PC Maritime and Totem Plus. Every system can be connected to the on-site simulator which allows potential buyers a unique opportunity to compare and “try before they buy”, as well as giving students the chance to witness some of the system variations.

ECDIS manufacturers: Adveto, Consilium, Dalian LandSea, Danelec Marine*, DMU China, e-MLX, GEM, Headway Marine Technology, Imtech, JRC, Kelvin Hughes, Kongsberg Maritime, L-3 Navigation, Maris*, Navico, Navmarine, Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine, Offshore Systems Ltd (OSI), PC Maritime, Raytheon Anschütz, Rutter Technologies, SAM Electronics, Samsung, Sea Information Systems, Simrad, Sodena, Telko AS, Tokyo Keiki*, Totem plus, Trancomm Technologies, Transas.

Some of ECDIS Ltd’s customers include high-profile shipping companies such as Vela Marine, Ceres LNG and Ventura Petroserv, as well as various navies, pilot authorities, inspecting officers (PCSOs), accident investigation bodies and other training providers.

Competence Vs confidence

At the recent ECDIS Revolution conference held in London, a key point raised was that even after generic and type-specific training, it takes some months of operating with an ECDIS onboard before operators are comfortable enough to go fully paperless. Forcing the pace of this is undesirable but sitting back promotes skill fade.

Risk reduction is in choice of system, timely fitting with proper training and an educated safety management system to set to work digital navigation before skill fade sets in. If in place and used correctly, ECDIS can enhance safety of navigation globally and before too long… be more cost effective than paper charts.

By Peter Thornton

Director, Development, ECDIS Ltd