Familiarisation training is a key requirement for safer e-navigation as seafarers will remain at the forefront of operations for the foreseeable future
Even with the expected development of autonomous vessels and remote control centres, seafarers will be at the heart of ship navigation and need familiarisation training.
Training in navigation technology, remote monitoring and decision support tools will help to prevent technology-assisted accidents. Correct use of navigation electronics, such as ECDIS, radar, autopilot and automatic identification system (AIS) should prevent vessel collisions and groundings, and reduce risk to seafarers’ lives, shipowners’ assets and the environment.
However, there are examples of accidents where investigators have named technology as a causing factor leading to groundings, collisions and seafarer deaths.
One of the most recent was the grounding of Australian Border Force’s cutter Roebuck Bay on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland on 30 September 2017. In Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)’s accident report in June 2019, investigators discovered underlying safety issues with the ineffectiveness of ECDIS type-specific training and a lack of understanding of ECDIS.
ATSB found chart symbology was misinterpreted, including Henry Reef’s chart symbol and label. Officers did not have adequate knowledge to operate the cutter’s VisionMaster FT ECDIS as the primary means of navigation. Also, Roebuck Bay’s ECDIS was not updated to the latest International Hydrographic Organization standards at the time of the grounding.
According to North P&I director of loss prevention Colin Gillespie there have been other maritime accidents where investigators found seafarers’ lack of competence on ECDIS as key factors. “ECDIS errors can lead to groundings,” he says. “They are related to either misunderstanding or misuse of equipment, so seafarers do not understand their ship is close to grounding.”
Inadequate training and familiarisation are major causes of these misunderstandings and errors. “Training is done too quickly and generically, so seafarers do not use ECDIS correctly,” Mr Gillespie says.
“There is a lack of knowledge of safety systems, and they do not set depth safety contours correctly,” he says, adding that in well-trained hands, e-navigation has good capabilities. Understanding and awareness of the set parameters, ensuring safety depth contours are correctly managed and interpreting ECDIS is important. So is training officers to verify ECDIS is updated with the latest electronic navigational charts for the voyage. Officers also need to check planned routes are safe and do not cross navigation hazards.
Regulatory ECDIS training
Regulatory requirements for generic training and familiarisation in ECDIS are covered by international instruments including IMO’s international convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, SOLAS and national laws.
A bridge officer must hold flag state-approved general ECDIS training that follows IMO Model Course 1.27, which involves 40 hours of training, to satisfy STCW. They also need to undertake manufacturer-approved, equipment-specific training according to the ISM Code.
Compliance with these regulations, including having the required competencies, are increasingly being scrutinised by port state control, insurance inspectors, charterers and accident investigators.
According to Martek Marine, familiarisation training enables navigators to apply all aspects of navigation, including the understanding, knowledge and proficiency to transfer these skills to the particular ECDIS on board. This training should be completed prior to taking over navigational duties.
However, with high turnover in crew, familiarisation training could be overlooked, says Mr Gillespie. “A lot of ships have ECDIS incorrectly configured or their interpretation is incorrect,” he says.
“ECDIS is a powerful tool, but it needs to be used correctly and there are knowledge gaps,” he says. “Crew can have online training to pick up and fill in these gaps.”
Online courses can be used for both generic and type-specific ECDIS training,
“There are too many ECDIS-assisted accidents”
Seagull Maritime data protection officer, senior instructor and nautical advisor Torger Tau says computer-based training is cost-effective for ECDIS training. “Type-specific and familiarisation training is required because there is no standardisation between manufacturers, for example in chart symbols – these should be standardised,” he says.
“This leads to misuse of ECDIS as navigators and pilots may not understand all the symbols and this leads to accidents,” says Mr Tau. “There are too many ECDIS-assisted accidents.”
Training is about improving and assessing competence levels. Seagull’s online ECDIS courses include a multiple-choice test at the end that seafarers must achieve 75% correct answers for a pass. Seagull then assesses the test result and issues certification as a printable report.
E-learning courses on ECDIS can only take seafarers so far before they rely on their existing practical experience. This can be advanced and extended in safety through simulator training using desktop ECDIS simulators in classrooms. Skills can be tested along with other navigation aids and teamwork on full bridge simulators, says Stream Marine Training sales director Alex Ponomarev.
“Bridge resource management can be taught in a simulator environment,” he says. “Exercises can be designed with challenges to be overcome and technology can be tested.”
Seafarers can gain experience using different ECDIS makes and models on different ship types using simulation and test their skills with new technology, such as smart docking and decision support tools.
Future training needs
Training in remote control and autonomous vessel technology will be needed in the future “There will be a need for training for the future,” says Mr Ponomarev. “Not for deck officers, but for marine IT system experts as the role of the person on board will change to become a support role.”
A future for e-navigation could involve shore-based masters making voyage decisions and onboard personnel monitoring the systems. “We will need to teach them how to fight fatigue and boredom from the monitoring role,” says Mr Ponomarev. “We will need to find a way to educate and entertain them when autonomous systems take over.”
Mr Gillespie says IMO will need to provide guidance on seafarer and shore-side controller training for autonomous shipping. “We will need another STCW chapter for training for autonomous vessels,” he says. “Technology will need different skillsets and training will not just be about navigation.”
Simulator developed for fast craft navigation
Kongsberg Maritime has developed a training simulator for navigating fast craft and patrol vessels. The first of these K-Sim fast craft simulators was delivered to Singapore Police Coast Guard Training Centre in Singapore.
This simulates vessel operations at speeds of more than 50 knots and integrates with an advanced eye-tracking system in addition to weapons capabilities. It uses an advanced physics engine and customisable hydrodynamic modelling, derived from and validated against recorded vessel performance data.
This duplicates the ways in which high-speed vessels behave in the real world when affected by factors such as wave movements or impacts with other crafts and floating objects, in a range of sea states and at different speeds.
This simulator has a 270° horizontal field of view, low-radius, cylindrical visual projection system and large vertical field of view with extension panels for floor projection covering the hull sides.
Its integrated physical bridge layout can accommodate genuine control and display apparatus such as navigation systems, engine start/stop switches and communications equipment to heighten the sensation of working in a complex onboard operating environment.
This simulator can expose trainees to a comprehensive range of complex scenarios. It supports training on advanced boat handling, navigation and interception techniques, escalation of force and weapons engagement.