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UK Hydrographic Office’s ECDIS workshops


Help is at hand for the integration of ECDIS into shipping fleets.




Maritime navigation is going digital. Revisions to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations requiring the carriage of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) on the commercial shipping fleet are ushering in a new era of voyage planning and navigation that relies upon digital charts. However, whilst the adoption of digital navigation may be mandatory, it is not simple. To comply with the revised regulations in a safe, timely and efficient manner, shipping companies need to plan ahead for the integration of ECDIS into their fleets.

The revised SOLAS regulations requiring the carriage of ECDIS on most large vessels mark a historic change to the way that ships navigate.  ECDIS carriage becomes mandatory for different ship types and sizes on a rolling basis that began in 2012 and will be complete in 2018.1

The transition to digital navigation has not only required action by shipowners, operators and officers, it has also placed a greater responsibility on those charged with producing accurate navigational data in a digital format, ready for use on ECDIS-equipped vessels.  The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is working harder than ever to meet the needs of the global fleet.  The Admiralty Vector Chart Service (AVCS) now holds over 12,000 Electronic Navigational Charts, including unique coverage for over 200 of the world’s biggest and busiest ports.  Over 200,000 pieces of information are triple-checked every year, making sure that the available navigational data is as safe as possible.

The key to the digital transition is early preparation. With dozens of ECDIS models on the market and differing flag state and class society requirements on ECDIS Type Approval certificates, installation standards and approved training, there is a huge amount for owners and operators to think about. The picture will continue to evolve during 2013 as shipping companies focus on the practical aspects of how compliance is not only achieved, but also demonstrated.

With all this in mind, 2013 is set to be a significant year in the transition to digital navigation, with the pace of change expected to rapidly accelerate as the shipping industry responds to the scale of the challenge that it faces.  At every stage, there are important decisions to be taken by shipowners and operators over the right approach to take towards integrating ECDIS, with serious repercussions if the wrong choices are made. This is why the UKHO has developed two workshops to assist shipping companies with the transition to digital navigation.2

Digital integration workshop
The first workshop, Admiralty Digital Integration, provides a nine-stage step-by-step process to ensure the ECDIS is compliant, safe and efficient.  This workshop has been delivered world-wide during 2012 attracting over 1,000 representatives of the shipping industry.  Due to its popularity it will continue to be presented in 2013.

Captain Paul Hailwood, an internationally-respected expert on ECDIS and integrated bridge operations, who leads the workshop, explains what delegates can expect: “Many shipping companies are daunted by the prospect of preparing for ECDIS and under-estimate the time required to properly plan for the integration of digital navigation into their fleet.  Our workshop will not only help shipping companies to understand how to comply with the revised SOLAS regulations, it will also help them to arrive at the optimal ECDIS solution that is right for their fleet, right for their crew and right for their operations”.

In the workshop delegates are taken through the nine stages that they need to follow in order to achieve a safe and efficient transition to digital navigation.


 The nine-step process for a safe and efficient transition to digital navigation. 


Stage 1
The first step in the process is to identify the key SOLAS compliance dates for your fleet.  Different vessel types and sizes face different compliance deadlines, with existing vessels required to install ECDIS before their first survey once the regulations are in force. 

Stage 2
With the key compliance dates established, owners should then conduct an initial ECDIS risk assessment that identifies the general risks faced by their fleet during the ECDIS adoption process. This should take on board the views of both seafarers and shore staff, with the purpose of establishing a strategy for the adoption of ECDIS, including a time line.

Stage 3
The third stage in the process is to plan for ECDIS training.  Ensuring that seafarers are compliant and confident in the use of ECDIS is perhaps the biggest challenge of the digital transition.  Between now and 2018, it is estimated that up to 200,000 officers must undertake generic and type-specific ECDIS training.  It is vital to ensure that any course is approved by a marine administration on the STCW white list and is accepted by the flag state of the vessel on which the officer will serve.  It is also important that the relevant ECDIS manufacturer approves type-specific training.

Stage 4
Once the shipowner has chosen an ECDIS manufacturer, they must ensure the correct installation of ECDIS.  It is important to verify that the ECDIS Type Approval certificate is acceptable to flag state and to comply with both flag state and classification society requirements for the installation process itself.  It is also necessary to consider back-up systems, redundancy and on-going maintenance of ECDIS.

Stage 5
Alongside the installation of ECDIS, each shipping company needs to establish safe and efficient ECDIS operating procedures that are appropriate to its business, its policies and its operational needs, as well as being suitable for its vessels.  Such ECDIS procedures should be incorporated into the Safety Management System. 

Stage 6
Just as safe navigation has always relied upon accurate paper charts, shipping companies operating an ECDIS must ensure the use of up-to-date official Electronic Navigational Charts (ENCs). Where ENCs are not available and flag requirements can be met, Raster Navigational Charts, which are exact digital copies of paper charts, may be used. This requires ships to properly manage their charts, using a tool such as the Admiralty e-Navigator PC application. This is the easiest way to include the Admiralty Information Overlay, which is displayed as a layer on top of the electronic chart, highlighting Admiralty Temporary and Preliminary Notices to Mariners, along with navigationally significant differences between ENCs and paper charts.

Stage 7
Having already undertaken a fleet-wide risk assessment, shipping companies should then conduct individual ship ECDIS risk assessments in order to identify the hazards and procedures specific to the vessel and its ECDIS.  Again, ships’ officers should be involved in this process, with necessary refinements made to ECDIS operating procedures.

Stage 8
Once ECDIS training, procedures and installation are complete, the flag state will need to approve the ECDIS as the primary means of navigation for each ship.  Each vessel will then be ready to make the transition from paper charts to ECDIS.  This transition can take place over several months, in order to build up officers’ experience and confidence.

Stage 9
The final step in the process is to implement ECDIS on board. A good way to support this process is to place an ECDIS-experienced officer on board to assist with the implementation, mentor other officers and develop common standards.

Policy and procedures workshop
The second workshop, Admiralty Guide to policy and procedures for the operational use of ECDIS, is a response to the requests from those attending the first workshop for more detail and assistance with regulatory requirements and development of ECDIS policy and procedure.

To achieve SOLAS carriage requirements for the use of ECDIS as a primary means of navigation, the ship’s Safety Management System shall include procedures for the operational use of ECDIS.  This workshop utilises the expertise of the UKHO to assist shipping companies to achieve this important requirement.

Legal requirements for the adoption of ECDIS may appear complex and vary with interpretation.  The workshop will clarify these issues and provide a checklist of items and issues required by international standards.  This will assist the shipping companies to prepare for any port state inspection or third party audit relating to the ECDIS. 

Policy and procedures for the operational use of ECDIS should be developed through a structured risk analysis process.  The workshop will identify the hazards associated with the operation of ECDIS and control measures to adopt to minimise the risk.  Although the shipping industry is an expert at risk assessment, it is identifying the hazards and control methods which require expertise in ECDIS.  The UKHO is well placed to provide this expertise.

The UKHO has been charting the world’s oceans for more than 200 years and continues to set the global standard for navigational data, with its Admiralty paper and digital chart and publication services used on the majority of international commercial ships.  AVCS, which now holds over 12,000 Electronic Navigational Charts, offers the widest official chart coverage available for major shipping routes and ports.  The UKHO is also playing a vital role in supporting the shipping industry’s transition to digital navigation, including its ECDIS workshops.

The mandatory carriage of ECDIS is just one item on the task-list of the shipping industry’s hard-pressed Superintendents and Fleet Managers. However, a successful digital transition that uses ECDIS to its full capacity can deliver much more than regulatory compliance.  By enhancing situational awareness on the bridge, ECDIS can deliver improved safety and operational efficiency, with the commercial benefits that follow.

For more resources to assist with the transition to digital navigation, including the Admiralty ECDIS workshops taking place throughout 2013, visit www.admiralty.co.uk.

1 See article “ECDIS implementation” in Gard News issue No. 208.

2 The UK Hydrographic Office is the power behind the Admiralty brand of global navigational products and services, which is the official provider of the workshops.


Any comments on this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editorial Team.