The movement towards mandatory use of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) on ships undoubtedly raises significant issues and challenges for all in the industry. An important milestone in this process was reached on 1st July 2012 when mandatory carriage of ECDIS came into force for new build passenger ships over 500gt and tankers over 10,000gt. The requirement will be extended to other vessels during the next six years. This update summarises the forthcoming timetable and considers associated issues.
The introduction of ECDIS is a fundamental change to how ships will navigate as the traditional paper charts are gradually replaced with electronic or vector charts. Unlike paper charts, where all the available information is seen, on vector charts the navigator will decide what and how much data he wants to show on the screen. For example he can decide what depth contours to see, what shape of navigation marks, whether he wants to see details of lights, wreck marks, type of seabed, leading lights, etc. Although ECDIS can offer significant advantages to shipowners and their crews, there are some pitfalls for which considerable care will be needed to avoid. For example, the ability to customise the display can provide an uncluttered screen for the navigator when required but presents the risk that important information can be omitted, leading to a false appreciation of safety. Other relevant issues will be considered further below.
History and timetable
1995 ECDIS Performance standards published
2002 SOLAS V amendments - includes option for use of electronic charts
2009 SOLAS V (19) mandatory carriage requirements.
All ships irrespective of size shall have:
- nautical charts and nautical publications of the intended voyage
- ECDIS may be accepted as a chart
- Back-up arrangements to meet functional requirements if electronic charts used
2012 STCW Manila amendment
n The trainee should gain knowledge of ECDIS in use, characteristics and limitations, including detection of misrepresentation of information .
Mandatory ECDIS Implementation dates - SOLAS V (19) Amendment MSC 282 (86):
1 July 2012: New passenger ships over 500gt and new tankers over 3,000gt
1 July 2013: New cargo ships over 10,000gt
1 July 2014: New cargo ships over 3,000gt and existing passenger ships over 500gt
1 July 2015: Existing tankers over 3,000gt
1 July 2016: Existing cargo ships over 50,000gt
1 July 2017: Existing cargo ships of 20,000gt and under 50,000gt
1 July 2018: Existing cargo ships of 10,000gt and under 20,000gt
One of the main challenges for shipowners and seafarers will be in meeting the training demands posed by the implementation of ECDIS. A striking statistic is that there are currently over 27 manufacturers of ECDIS equipment, many of which have different hardware controls and chart software. The most significant anomaly is some chart symbols are not shown on some systems, such as underwater obstructions. It is therefore crucial that the navigator or operator is fully aware of the system in use and its limitations.
A further issue is that the regulations stipulate that each vessel must have a back-up to the mandatory ECDIS system. This can be a fully independent system or a traditional paper chart folio system which must be kept fully up to date. Due to the unavailability of vector charts for certain areas, together with reliability issues for hard and software and potential loss of GPS input, many prudent owners are opting to use one ECDIS system backed up by paper charts for the area of trading. As the number of manufacturers reduces, hardware becomes more reliable and vector charts cover all paper chart areas, it may be anticipated that increasingly owners will dispose of the paper charts. However, it will remain a requirement that the Flag State must approve the back-up system.
Inevitably, in any legal dispute where navigation becomes an issue, the use of ECDIS in any given situation is likely to come under scrutiny. There are a number of questions which may be relevant, including:
- Is the ECDIS type approved?
- Are only official electronic charts suitable for the voyage installed?
- Are the charts fully up to date?
- Have Flag administration given approval of the back-up?
- Have all navigators/operators completed standard shore-based generic training on ECDIS together with type-specific training either ashore or on board?
- Have all additional requirements of the Flag administration been met?
In the event of an incident an important element that assists with investigation is that all ECDIS systems are required to have a data recorder facility. Presently the requirements for data retention are limited but the IMO is investigating whether a minimum of 72 hours retention should become mandatory. The importance of ECDIS in the context of maritime claims will increase significantly in the coming years as the implementation timetable unwinds.
Clyde & Co already has significant experience of addressing issues relating to ECDIS in the context of maritime claims. In addition, Clyde & Co has its own ECDIS system available for use by its Master Mariners in appropriate cases, as well as for demonstration purposes. Future updates will monitor progress regarding the mandatory use of ECDIS and associated issues which are likely to dominate navigation safety at sea at least for the next six years.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.