MAIB, DMAIB publish collaborative study on application and usability of ECDIS

Photo: MAIB

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and the Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board (DMAIB) have published a study to generate an understanding of the practical application and usability of electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) and support future ECDIS design, training strategies, and the development of best practices.

The MAIB said the study followed a qualitative methodology, primarily based on semi-structured interviews with 155 ECDIS users and observation data gathered between February and July 2018 during sea voyages in European waters on 31 ships of various types.

DMAIB head Oessur Hilduberg and MAIB chief inspector of marine accidents Andrew Moll said in a joint statement that investigation of groundings since 2008 have repeatedly shown that where ECDIS was the primary means of navigation, it was not being used to its full potential. There was a significant mismatch between the intention of the performance standards and system designers, and the way the watchkeepers were using the system.

The study set out to understand whether the findings of accident investigations could be extrapolated as representing the wider marine industry and, if so, why.

Hilduberg and Moll added that users were unanimous that the real-time positioning provided by ECDIS was a major contributor to safe navigation. However, despite being in service for nearly two decades, ECDIS could, at best, be described as being in its implementation phase.

Specifically, most of the automated functions designed to alert the watchkeeper to impending dangers were not easy to use and lacked the granularity for navigation in pilotage waters. The consequent high false alarm rate eroded confidence in the automated warning, and most operators disabled the alarms or ignored alerts.

To be an effective tool for safe navigation, ECDIS needs a high degree of operator input but many watchkeepers appeared to have limited understanding of the systems they were using, and in the main only used them to the extent they felt necessary.

The authors said the study does not make specific recommendations but is intended to spur improvements at every level, from the agile setting of performance standards, through human-centred design to ensure users interface effectively with complex technological systems, down to operator training and the setting of procedures and best practice.

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