ECDIS Guidance

A Guidance document “Industry Recommendations for ECDIS Training” has been developed to address confusion in regard to ECDIS training. The guidance has been issued by an industry group made up of leading international shipping industry organisations and organised and coordinated by The Nautical Institute.
The guidance covers issues of training and competency for ECDIS and helps interpret IMO requirements for ECDIS training. Discrepancies have arisen between flag states’ regulations and training that is aimed at meeting the IMO standards. Such discrepancy has led to a concern that training might risk not meeting the minimum standards – something of great concern to the shipping industry
The organisations supporting this guidance want the industry to understand that ECDIS must be taught in the context of navigation, rather than just ECDIS operation. Ship owners and operators will require those who have taken generic training to be capable of demonstrating, in full, the competencies required by the IMO.
The guidance also makes recommendations to ensure that watchkeepers remain competent and that other industry stakeholders such as trainers, inspectors and auditors are capable of assessing such competence.

The ECDIS concept is a total change from using paper charts, and the transition from paper charts to electronic charts poses a challenge for the industry, particularly for those who have no current experience of electronic charts.

All of this new technology will be of very little benefit in enhancing navigational safety if the watchkeeping officer is not fully trained and properly qualified in its use. Undertaking an appropriate generic training course that follows IMO Model course 1.27 is fundamental to understanding the functionality of the ECDIS environment. The recommendation from IMO is that this should be a 40 hour (5 day) course but most colleges have reduced this to 24 hours (3 days). Is this enough time to teach how to use ECDIS effectively as a navigation tool? At best it can only teach the ‘knobology’ of the equipment, how to access menus, display charts, etc.

The ISM code puts the onus firmly on the owners/managers to ensure that mariners on their vessels are competent to carry out the duties they are expected to perform

This has been taken to mean that users of safety-related equipment, such as ECDIS, must be given appropriate familiarisation with the specific equipment used on a particular vessel prior to use at sea. This includes the layout, menus and functions of the particular system in use on board ship.

The familiarity checklist (taken from the Institute publication: ECDIS and Positioning by Dr Andy Norris) will help mariners to understand the functionality and how to access and use the equipment before it is operated at sea. Third column references are to sections in the book. Although users of ECDIS should have an understanding of all the items, the priority for a watchkeeper is to become fully familiar with all items marked W while M signifies items with which those responsible for voyage planning and other ECDIS management activities should become familiar with.

The safe operation of ECDIS necessitates the development of a new user mindset, which in  many ways is quite different to that needed when using paper charts. The makings of a good mindset have to be instilled in users as a major component of basic ECDIS training and must not be obscured by an overemphasis on rote learning the specific operation of any one  particular ECDIS. A firm grip of the fundamentals is essential; it not only helps instil the correct mindset but allows much easier familiarisation when transferring between ships with different ECDIS on board.

Download "The ECDIS Mindset" article published in Seaways (January 2012) 

 Please use the forum to voice your opinion on any issue you find with the use of ECDIS and in particular any training issues, highlighting good and bad practices.