The safe use of ECDIS


Published: 25 July 2014

The situation

The use of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems has become a permanent feature of modern shipping, having been enshrined in the revised chapter V of SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and in particular IMO Resolution MSC.282(86) which mandates the phased introduction of such systems on board.

When used properly ECDIS is a useful aid to navigation, although there have already been incidents where its use - or misuse - have contributed to an accident.

In the attached memo, Andrew Shannon of HFW explores some of the issues and problems that have arisen out of the use of ECDIS and considers case examples of past events where ECDIS and its use featured in the chain of events leading to a maritime incident.

Loss prevention advice

The common themes that were identified in past collisions and groundings include:

  1. crew unfamiliarly with the ECDIS system on board the vessel
  2. lack of training and competence with ECDIS, both general and system specific
  3. over reliance by bridge teams and OOW on electronic aids to navigation to the exclusion of other methods
  4. wrongly setting up the ECDIS system with respect to information layers and alarm settings
  5. bridge team management and passage planning issues, including inadequate discussions between masters and pilots

The key to ensuring the safe use of ECDIS, and deriving the full benefit of a system, rests in having well trained crew, with knowledge of the specific system on board, and the following of clear procedures for passage planning, bridge team management and safe navigation.

VDR performance standards and ECDIS equipment

Separately members are advised to note that pursuant to IMO Resolution MSC.333 (90). This sets out a number of requirements for the on board VDR and its operation, including the following provision on ECDIS:

5.5.8 ECDIS
Where a vessel is fitted with an ECDIS installation, the VDR should record the electronic signals of the ECDIS display in use at the time as the primary means of navigation. The recording method should be such that, on playback, it is possible to present a faithful replica of the entire ECDIS display that was on view at the time of recording, albeit within the limitations of any bandwidth compression techniques that are essential to the working of the VDR and in addition the source of the chart data and the version used.

In order for these standards to be met, ECDIS equipment will have to be able to correctly interface with the VDR. Members should check with both their ECDIS provider as well as the VDR manufacturer that the two systems can appropriately function together.

These new standards came in to force on 1 July 2014 for equipment installed on or after that date. For equipment installed prior to that date, reference should be had to the annex in resolution A.861 (20) as amended by MSC.214(81).

The Association is grateful to Andrew Shannon of Messrs. Holman Fenwick Willan Singapore LLP for contributing to this update.