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The importance of effective ECDIS management in ongoing compliance

Posted 20.03.2017
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by Tom Mellor, Head of OEM Support & Digital Standards, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, first published on Splash 24/7, July 2016

The shipping world has spent a long time talking about the transition to ECDIS, but digital navigation is now a reality for the majority of the global fleet. With port authorities looking closely at how they enforce compliance with ECDIS regulations, it is vital for ship owners to take the steps required to ensure that their digital navigation systems and procedures remain up to date.

The latest data published by the UKHO at Posidonia confirmed further progress in ECDIS readiness. For the first time, over half (51%) of the global SOLAS fleet is ECDIS-ready, as defined as using an ENC service. Simply put, ECDIS is fast becoming the norm. Of course, those still to switch to digital navigation must remain focused on achieving this in a timely and efficient manner, but attention is rightly shifting to the daily requirements of living with ECDIS and ensuring installed systems are compliant with all regulations. This encompasses how ECDIS is managed on a day-to-day basis and how mariners are equipped with the skills needed to maximise the benefits of digital navigation.

Software management is a vital element in managing risk and ensuring that ECDIS remains up-to-date and SOLAS compliant. Last year, the International Hydrographic Organization launched a revised version of the ECDIS technical standards that are used by all ECDIS manufacturers. The latest version of the IHO S-52 Presentation Library edition 4.0 introduces a number of improvements to ensure greater consistency in how chart data is displayed on the ECDIS screen, as well as other benefits, such as a reduction in the number of audible alarms to help to tackle the important issue of alarm fatigue on the bridge.

The deadline for implementing these new standards in ECDIS is 31 August 2017 after which time a vessel without this update on-board will be outside of SOLAS. This is why we encourage all ship owners to speak to their ECDIS manufacturer and start the process of software updating as soon as possible in order to take advantage of the benefits offered by the new standards.

More generally, the onus is on ship owners and mariners to be aware of their responsibilities for the ongoing management of ECDIS, just as they would maintain their paper charts. This means ensuring that ECDIS hardware and software are up-to-date, that the correct bridge procedures are in place and that crew members have the required generic and type-specific ECDIS training.

This human element must not be overlooked. Port state authorities not only want to know that the onboard systems are compliant, they will also check that the bridge team are certified and capable of operating those systems. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has reported that ECDIS-related detentions are on the rise, with one reason being insufficient familiarity with ECDIS on the part of the crew. In a recent case, a vessel was detained by AMSA for precisely this reason, requiring the ship’s manager to fly in an ECDIS trainer to bring the crew up to the required level of competency.

Such a scenario will have an immediate impact in delaying to the voyage and causing a loss of earnings, as well as the negative impact on the reputation of the organisation. Even more seriously, every instance of non-compliance is a potential risk to the safety of the ship and its crew, as well as other vessels and the marine environment.

ECDIS is delivering major improvements in navigational safety and efficiency, but it is not ‘fit and forget’ system. The ongoing management of ECDIS will go a long way to ensure that your navigation systems remain compliant and that your ships, crew and cargo stay safe.

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