Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems

ICS supports the carriage and use of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) for safe navigation. However, it is apparent that further work is needed before ECDIS is fully accepted as an effective alternative to paper charts. For many companies and their bridge teams, totally paperless navigation is still some way off and continues to be problematic.

The phase-in schedule for the mandatory IMO ECDIS carriage requirement will come to an end in July 2018. But, while the theoretical benefits over paper alternatives for passage planning and monitoring are difficult to challenge, for the moment the reality may be different. In 2015, ICS hosted an ECDIS Forum in order to collate views about the system from users, manufacturers and training organisations. This confirmed that the experience of companies and watchkeepers varies widely, and that the reception which ECDIS has so far received has not always been resoundingly positive.

A particular challenge cited by many users is the complexity and usability of ECDIS. Efforts are underway at IMO to attempt to address this, including consideration of proposals for the development of S-Mode (Standard Mode). However, ICS is cautious about pursuing standardisation of an independent mode only. Bridge Teams should have access to equipment which is designed using human centred design principles, allowing seamless and straightforward use of all available functions. Restricting usability to a particular mode of operation could undermine the potential benefits of innovation and of proprietary functions that enhance safety.

Over-reliance on ECDIS for safe navigation has been highlighted in a number of accident investigations, as well as the new edition of the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide which was published in February 2016. There is still work to be done on ensuring that bridge teams make appropriate use of electronic equipment to maintain their situational awareness. The safety of the ship is compromised by over-reliance on a single system, no matter how effective that system might be. But when used correctly and in conjunction with all other available information sources, ECDIS can be a powerful tool in support of safe and efficient ship operations.

The number of ECDIS systems available also represents a challenge for bridge teams, particularly with respect to training and familiarisation. The requirements for generic training and familiarisation under the STCW Convention and the ISM Code continue to cause some confusion within the industry, and the use of non-mandatory type-specific training is growing. ICS is therefore monitoring developments in this area in order to ensure that mandatory training remains fit for purpose.

In July 2015, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee consolidated seven ECDIS related circulars into a single compendium, ECDIS Guidance for Good Practice. This includes a section on anomalies that have been identified using the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) ECDIS/ENC Data Presentation and Performance Check for Ships. Many of these anomalies have been addressed in the new editions of IHO ECDIS standards which were implemented in September 2015. ICS welcomes this work, and continues to encourage monitoring of anomalies by companies and bridge teams, and the updating of ECDIS software in response.

ECDIS still has the potential to enhance the efficiency of passage planning and monitoring. But it is essential that ICS, manufacturers and international organisations work closely together to ensure that ECDIS is able to deliver on its promise. ECDIS is an important step towards increasing automation and the integration of functions on board ship. It is therefore important that the industry, in conjunction with manufacturers, continues to strive to deliver improvements.

  • International Chamber of Shipping
  • 38 St Mary Axe, London
  • EC3A 8BH