WAYPOINT - S-Mode into the future

01 Feb 2017 The Navigator

Dr Andy Norris, an active Fellow of the Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Navigation, looks at how ongoing growth in the capabilities of the digital world could affect implementation on the bridge.

We are very accustomed to seeing continual improvements in our personal electronic devices, the things that they can do and how we access them. Matters are very different when it comes to bridge electronic systems. While they embrace extensive digital technology, they have yet to enter the world of fast digital communications. To date, this is simply because broadband usage has not been generally available at sea. However, the situation is rapidly changing. Satellite-provided broadband access is likely to be available on most vessels within the next few years.

In addition to all the immediate business and personal benefits that this will bring, there is a strong possibility that it will enable an excellent implementation of the S-Mode concept. Until the introduction of ECDIS, onboard navigation equipment tended to remain in its originally installed configuration until it was replaced, perhaps after as much as 20 years of use. Bridge equipment is generally only required to meet the legislation requirements that were in place when it was originally fitted.

This has meant that users have needed to be familiar not only with many different brands of current equipment, but also with some installed systems meeting much older standards. This has greatly complicated the process of new users becoming familiar with any particular bridge installation.

ECDIS caught many owners and users by surprise, as it was the first ever navigation system to require software updates. These are needed because ECDIS systems must display all chart data correctly, including any revisions to the requirements since the original date of installation. If a system cannot be updated to display newly designated charted features, it must be replaced.

An S-Mode evolution
S-Mode is specifically directed at how the equipment is controlled and how all derived data is accessed and displayed. This is mainly governed by the installed software within the equipment. It affects just a few physical items, such as switches and rotary controls.

The details of S-Mode will continue to evolve into the future, as better ways of implementing the human interface are developed. Not least, it will ensure conformity in use of the ever-increasing data that broadband will make available. It would make no sense for S-Mode requirements to be frozen at the time of the original installation of the equipment. Future systems need to be updatable to maintain compliance with these requirements.

Of course, the software updates for equipment needed to meet future revisions of S-Mode could be automatically downloaded through a vessel’s secure broadband system. The process would be initiated by an authorised ship’s officer, who would have decided on a suitable update time when the vessel was not underway. The revised software could be remotely monitored via the broadband link to ensure that it has been correctly loaded.

Most importantly, before the change was implemented, all users would be required to become fully familiar with the use of the new data and/or procedures. The huge benefit would be that all vessels could be updated over a relatively short interval of time, with an internationally agreed end-date. This would ensure that S-Mode always remained common on all vessels, greatly aiding the task of bridge familiarisation for users.


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