Selecting and Using ECDIS

ECDIS is nothing more than a computer based navigation system that complies with IMO regulations and can be used as an alternative to paper navigation charts. Integrating a variety of real time information, ECDIS is an automated decision aid, capable of continuously determining a vessel’s position in relation to land, charted objects, navigation aids and unseen hazards.

2013.12.12 - Selecting and Using ECDIS Figure 1

Apart from the mandatory ECDIS implementation requirements as shown in the table below, it is worth mentioning that there are no mandatory carriage requirements for existing cargo ships of less than 10,000 GT. Furthermore, vessels may be exempted from the requirements of the new regulation by their Flag State, when the vessel is to be permanently withdrawn from service within 2 years of the below mentioned dates.

2013.12.12 - Selecting and Using ECDIS Figure 2

An ECDIS must pass type approval and test procedures based on IMO ECDIS Performance Standards and IHO requirements. There must be a wheel mark approval, as well as compliance with IMO resolution MSC.232 (82), with the International Electro technical Commission standards (IEC 60945, 61162-1 ed.3, 62288 ed.1 and 61174 ed.3) and with IHO standards (S52, S57, Pres. Library V3.4 , S61, S63 and S64).

Someone may wonder what should be done in order to comply with the ECDIS implementation requirements. Initially we must have, an IMO type approved ECDIS with official Electronic Navigation Charts (ENCs) and one of the following back up arrangements:

  • A 2nd type approved ECDIS using ENC,
  • A 2nd type approved ECDIS using Raster Charts (RNC),
  • A full folio of paper charts as per SOLAS requirements.

In any case, the acceptable type of back up arrangements should be in line with vessel’s Flag Administration criteria.

The Operator should have a procedure for the transition from paper charts to ECDIS navigation. To this regard the IMO has released the Circular 276 as a relevant guide (SN.1/Circ.276).

Briefly there are some steps that should be done; a phase-in policy for existing and new build vessels; a management of change in conjunction to a risk assessment related to installation, operation and maintenance, compliance with Flag requirements, subscription with an ENC provider and generic & type specific ECDIS training.

At this point one may wonder why to have both trainings. A few years ago oil majors demanded the type specific training, but at that time the availability of type specific training was limited in many countries. Well, if you have a driving license, why can’t you drive two different cars? Apparently the oil majors were right, as simply each ECDIS brand has a completely different operational menu. Thus, for the safety of navigation the operator should ensure that bridge team members attend the type specific training prior joining to the vessel.

Moreover, the following should be ensured: compliance with IMO resolutions, the manufacturer’s certification of firm’s installation capability to perform such a job, an attestation by the installing firm verifying proper operation of Hardware and Software, a layout diagram of ECDIS primary and back up related to all equipment linked to the ECDIS, copies of type approval certificates and last onboard verification and certification by Classification Society.

Moving to the difficult part, the Operator should establish SMS procedures related to the ECDIS use which should incorporate but not limited the following:

  1. Guidance on ECDIS limitations, emphasizing the danger of, Overreliance, which is often a problem observed in the crew.
  2. Detailed procedure for transition from paper charts to ENC.
  3. Difference between RNC and ENC.
  4. Distinction between official / unofficial data.
  5. Clear policy regarding Company’s training requirements.
  6. Familiarization checklist and crew evaluation.
  7. ECDIS should be incorporated in the change over the watch procedure, concerning to routine inspection on safety settings and performance of ECDIS monitor
  8. Consult of Flag requirements.
  9. Verification through internal audit check lists.
  10. Display of Additional Overlay Information.
  11. Guidance on Alarms, Layers, Guard & Vector settings, passage plan etc., which is highly important.
  12. Drills for loss of ECDIS and other e-navigation systems

There are some key elements for ECDIS equipment selection. Initially it has to be user friendly. Moreover either there must be worldwide service availability, or even better service on exchange basis, without having to pay a shore technician attendance (Plug & Play by the crew without reinstallation or software configuration). In addition global training needs to be available. For example either as Web based or in a training center. The ECDIS maker can provide the Office Superintendents with Instructors’ Certificate (estimated installation saving of 50% over a period of 5 years).

Another key element is the provided guarantee for labor & spare parts. The ECDIS should be of Solid state technology, future proofed (able to be upgraded) with adequate cooling and military grade performance related to temperature/shock and vibration. In addition there should be a possibility of additional sensors input. The less components are built in, the lower are the possibilities of failure!

In my opinion, you don’t have to be an expert. Software wise, the main principle when choosing ECDIS equipment, is that whatever you could draw or mark on the paper chart, the same flexibility should be provided by the ECDIS menu. In any case you should request from the ECDIS maker to visit their premises for a demonstration and then you should be able to decide accordingly.

The below pie depicts the incidents of defects by manufacturer and vessel. We can see that a total of 27 defects occurred in a fleet of 8 Tankers, over the past 5 years. The fleet average Mean Time Between Failure resulted in 13000hrs, in other words 1,5 years. The total amount spent for the repair of the subject defects was 60,000 USD.

2013.12.12 - Selecting and Using ECDIS Figure 3

According to our experience the main elements when it comes to choose the ENC provider are the following

  1. Authorized user service provider or authorized distributor.
  2. Assessment concerning provider’s ENC Coverage and ENC cost.
  3. Which ENC provider matches best your ECDIS equipment capabilities.
  4. The cost of ECDIS equipment, specific training & ENCs should be placed under the same budget
  5. ENCs supplied in a SENC format.
  6. Availability of PAYS (Pay As You Sail)
  7. Lastly, the availability of additional overlay information such as: plotted discrepancies, Weather/Piracy info, Route finder-optimization, Tides/Stream information and T&P corrections.

To summarize, the feedback from our crew is positive, as ECDIS has contributed in making navigation easier and safer. You should examine the ECDIS capabilities and ENC coverage but moreover the matching of ECDIS and ENC features. Uniformity of ECDIS is a key factor that should be taken into account prior proceeding with ECDIS purchase as it will simplify the ECDIS training program and will offer ideal purchase and service terms. You should ensure specific training availability. The expenses of ECDIS purchase cost, training and ENC should be placed under the same budget. It should be expected that any ECDIS equipment will eventually fail. Worldwide service availability or service of ECDIS on exchange basis is of paramount importance.

Lastly, you should strongly take into consideration the possibility of ECDIS renewal on a 5 years basis, because the equipment will eventually become old due to thousands of running hours, worn out from the continuous operation and with an increased probability of occurring breakdowns. It will be hard to find spare parts and to be updated. After all, we would all consider a 5 year old cell phone or computer as outdated! Why the same principle should not apply in such a critical equipment like ECDIS ?

Above article is an edited version of Capt. Charis Kanellopoulo’s, Marine Superintendent, presentation during 2013 SAFETY4SEA Athes Forum.

You may view relevant video by clicking here.

The article was initally published in SAFETY4SEA.


  1. Rob Sint Nicolaas, AMSUMIS St. Petersburg says:

    As far as I know, flag state requirements regulate the degree of training among seafarers. STCW Manila amendments indicate what courses and experience count as training. Generic (basic) courses are almost everywhere based on the IMO standard course (1.27 – 2010 edition). Most flag states demand so-called type-specific familiarization, which can be covered by type-specific courses, computer based training or company procedures approved by the Flag State.
    Obviously, there are many negative aspects regarding the introduction of ECDIS, but it were unfair to blame ECDIS for IMO driven over regulation, conflicting commercial interests of various hydrographic and cartographic companies or austerity policies within shipping companies. The present and future benefits of ECDIS are quite obvious for those people on watch who are used to trust on their ability to apply common sense. The more feedback to the responsible people ashore, the better. Thank you, Captain Kanellopoulo for the good article.

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