WATCHOUT Know your ECDIS- or risk detention

01 Feb 2017 The Navigator

In this issue, we take a look at the issues surrounding a lack of familiarisation with different ECDIS systems. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is taking a strong stance on ECDIS competency as part of Port State Control inspections, as outlined in the following report.

What is the current situation?
In Australia, there have been 87 ECDIS-related detentions since 2001. Most of the issues relate to the ISM system on board and include officers being unfamiliar with the operation of the ECDIS or units being defective, unofficial or unapproved for navigation. A recent case saw officers unable to demonstrate even the most basic functions, such as plotting a manual fix and changing the input from dead reckoning (DR) to GPS. The vessel had been operating on DR for three days without the knowledge of her navigating officers. The ECDIS, on board for training purposes, was being used as the primary means of navigating and the officers had been plotting the position displayed on it on the paper chart, which could have led to serious consequences.

What are the issues?
Many of the issues leading to ships being detained due to unfamiliarity with the ECDIS may be attributed to training deficiencies. Lengths of on-board familiarisation have varied from one hour to over a week. The ECDIS is not just a navigational aid, it can be / often is the fundamental tool underpinning safe navigation. Therefore, adequate familiarisation is crucial. There is also a disparity between different generations of seafarers. Many officers who sailed as second officers on an ECDIS ship and who have since risen to Chief Officer or Master have tended to show a better understanding of ECDIS than Masters without this experience.

What can be done?
ECDIS improves the safety of navigation when operated correctly. Inspections have revealed officers who are unable to identify fundamental functions on the ECDIS; poor navigator knowledge about the system’s abilities and limitations; over-reliance on GNSS and problems resulting from differences in design and interface. The interface of each ECDIS can differ wildly, not only by generation but also by manufacturer. First and foremost, the company should provide appropriate support, which means ensuring that all relevant personnel have appropriate operational knowledge and understanding of the ECDIS. If an ECDIS is on board, it should be used and practised with (when not being used for navigation) to ensure familiarity. All officers should be engaged in this, and officers should not be afraid to ask questions if unsure.


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