There is a great deal for operators to take on board with the arrival of the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), which is such an integral part of the “e-navigation” world of the future.
There is, of course, the requirement for people to be trained to use the equipment, and not just in generic terms. Ships’ officers must be familiar with the particular equipment that is fitted to the ship they are serving aboard.
This itself introduces complications when appointing people to serve on ships in a fleet where different types of navigation equipment are fitted, even after they have received their generic training in ECDIS. Once flexible people who could serve in their rank in any unit of the fleet at a moment’s notice, officers will now have to be appointed on the basis of their familiarity with the equipment fitted to their prospective ship.
It is a complication that personnel people could probably do without. If officers do not have this “type-training” behind them, they will have to serve in an “auxiliary” role until they have completed it – another complexity, before they are permitted to use the equipment on their own.
Another serious problem seems to be that, now and then in the run-up to full ECDIS operations, operators have been confused over what constitutes “paperless” navigation, sometimes because they have been sold Electronic Navigational Charts which turned out not to have been officially approved. People have been operating in a sort of “hybrid” mode, while thinking that they are electronic navigators.
The Australian administration has recently pointed out some of the inconsistencies they are picking up in their port state control inspections of ships that claim to be ECDIS-equipped, but turn out not to be quite so advanced as their operators claim. Despite being assured that the ship has ECDIS provided, the inspectors then discover that there are in fact no officially approved ENCs aboard, but that the records indicate that the equipment has been used both for passage planning and navigation.
The Australian authorities, aware that mandatory carriage of ECDIS will be phased in from this July, have been tightening up their port state control procedures in this area and have let it be known that they will be looking closely at vessel’s compliance in this respect. They will be seeking evidence of the generic and type specific training undertaken by the Master and navigating officers, along with evidence of familiarization training for the equipment that is carried aboard. Officers will have to be able to demonstrate their operational competency, and the ship will have to show that the ECDIS fitted is type-approved, with the charts properly maintained and up to date.
It is a big change in navigation, which may not have been quite so apparent in the first flush of enthusiasm for e-navigation. Some have suggested that it is as much of a change in navigational practices as was the change from sail to steam or, in engineering terms, the difference between steam and diesel. It could be argued, however, that the level of regulation surrounding this considerable change is far more onerous.
Those young officers who have learned their e-navigation from scratch still have to learn the principles of navigation, which they might find difficult and even apparently irrelevant in the electronic age. For their part, those older officers who have been brought up the “traditional” route using paper charts and are having to “recalibrate” their practices and procedures to cope with ECDIS may also find the change hard.
This time of great navigational change will probably require both caution and care.
BIMCO – Watchkeeper