Is ECDIS Just Another Charting Program?

3 June 2022 By Ted Morley
bridge on board a yacht

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

The Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) is much more than a charting program — it’s an integrated navigational system designed as an approved alternative to paper charts. The system displays either Raster Navigational Charts (RNCs) or Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs) and usually is connected to the ship’s radar/ARPA, AIS, gyro, speed log, depth sounder, and GPS receiver. ECDIS also displays information such as tide tables and sailing directions, weather, ice conditions, and vessel track.

ECDIS units allow the vessel to comply with IMO Regulation V/19 & V/27 of the SOLAS convention as amended, by displaying selected information from a System Electronic Navigational Chart (SENC). ECDIS equipment complying with SOLAS requirements can be used as an alternative to paper charts, but it’s not enough for a vessel to simply have an ECDIS on board. To be in compliance and to pass a Port State or Class inspection, the ECDIS must contain the appropriate electronic charts for the vessel’s intended voyage, be installed with type-approved hardware and software, must be maintained and have an approved backup, and the vessel must maintain the officers’ training record.

ECDIS units will also provide Voyage Recording with minute-by-minute recording for the voyage’s past 12 hours and have a record of four hourly intervals of voyage tracks for a period of six months. This is a great feature for compliance and class review, as well as Port State compliance checks. The IMO refers to other non-approved electronic charting programs as Electronic Chart Systems; these are not approved and cannot replace the regulatory requirement for charts on board but may be used to supplement the vessel’s navigation.

ECDIS is also an endorsement on a mariner’s credential and a mariner can’t serve as a navigational officer on an ECDIS-equipped vessel without training. Table A-II/1, A-II/2, and A-II/3 of the STCW Code outline the requirements for training for those serving in different capacities on board.

The course should also discuss how the ECDIS integrates into other navigational equipment and be taught in either a partial-task simulator or full-bridge simulator environment. Having equipment to train on is invaluable and will help the mariner not only understand the material faster, but also how to truly utilize the ECDIS to make the watch safer and easier to manage.

The biggest difference between ECDIS and other charting programs is the amount of integration and information available on the ECDIS unit. A properly installed and updated unit will make the watch safer — but remember, an ECDIS unit does not replace safe navigation. Bridge watchstanders must still possess and practice the core competences such as terrestrial plotting, use of radar, collision avoidance, correcting for compass and gyro error, and employing the vital yet simple skill of looking out the window and maintaining situational awareness.

This article originally ran in the January 2022 issue of Dockwalk.


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