ECDIS benefits are much more than just regulatory compliance, but more ENC standards are on the way
As the majority of merchant shipping has either installed ECDIS or will in the next 12 months, the emphasis has moved to living with and gaining the benefits of this critical navigation aid. All passenger ships of more than 500 gt have ECDIS, as do the majority of tankers greater than 3,000 gt and dry cargo ships of more than 10,000 gt, according to SOLAS, Regulation V/19.2.10.
Those not yet using ECDIS and electronic navigational charts (ENCs) need to do so for regulatory requirements by their first periodic survey after 1 July 2018. From that point, on all SOLAS vessels, ECDIS will be the primary means of navigation and therefore needs to be kept safe, secure and well-maintained.
Shipping companies have come to terms with ECDIS compliance and are gaining the benefits. UK Hydrographic Office’s head of OEM technical support and chair of International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)’s ENC working group, Tom Mellor, provided Marine Electronics & Communications with a round-up of the benefits of ECDIS, and the standards they have to meet.
Key benefits are improvements in navigation safety and more effective voyage planning from using ENCs. “ECDIS prevents accidents,” said Mr Mellor. “Using ENC in ECDIS, seafarers can easily plot routes and automatically check them for dangers such as rocks, wrecks and obstructions or other related navigational hazards.”
ECDIS has three basic components: hardware, software and data. It is important for the safety of navigation that the application software within the ECDIS works in accordance with the performance standards and is capable of displaying the relevant digital information contained within the ENC.
The IHO presentation library used in ECDIS controls the display of the ENC data. Any ECDIS which is not upgraded to be compatible with the latest edition of the IHO presentation library may be unable to correctly display the latest charted features. Additionally, the appropriate alarms and indications may not be activated even though the features have been included in the ENC.
It is important to note that the ECDIS must use official up-to-date ENCs in order to make critical safety decisions. Only when a system is using ENC data from hydrographic offices will it satisfy SOLAS requirements. Mr Mellor explained “ECDIS can not only improve navigational safety by alerting navigating officers to potential dangers but the automatic updating of the ENC information saves time and automatically positions ENC updates in the correct geographic location.”
“Accidents can and do happen when ships fail to set the ECDIS system up correctly and navigate into dangerous areas, which can then in turn lead to insurance claims,” Mr Mellor explained.
“Accidents can and do happen when ships fail to set the ECDIS system up correctly and navigate into dangerous areas”
“ECDIS that are set up correctly display the ship’s position in real-time. The ability to integrate other sensor information such as AIS [automatic identification system] and radar into the system can also improve a mariner’s situational awareness,” said Mr Mellor. “ECDIS can quickly reroute and check that route again. But this depends on the competence of the crew to use ECDIS,” said Mr Mellor. Therefore, familiarisation training of navigating officers to effectively use the installed equipment on board is critical.
ENC updates can be delivered by distributors to ECDIS either by using a USB memory stick, DVD or direct link to the ship’s satellite communications. Shipowners can order ENCs as part of a monthly subscription, as a flat fee, or they can take a pay-as-you-sail (PAYS) approach, where all ENCs are loaded for planning purposes, but pay only for the ones used for voyages.
Another advantage is the ability to overlay metocean information for voyage planning. Radar and AIS data can also be overlaid on ENCs to identify and track surrounding ships.
These benefits can only come from ECDIS and ENCs that comply with the latest IHO standards and those from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). These include:
ENCs from hydrographic offices and distributors must comply with IHO’s S-57 product specification and be validated by organisations such as UKHO to IHO’s S-58 standard. “We check that geometries in ENCs are correct,” said Mr Mellor “And that all the data is compliant with the requirements in the S-57 ENC product specification.”
IHO’s S-63 standard ensures ENC data is secure, authenticated as coming from an official hydrographic office and encrypted so it cannot be pirated or tampered with. S-63 also enables mariners to licence ENC data for three, six or 12 months.
IMO performance standards for ECDIS mean it will satisfy SOLAS carriage requirements. It ensures ECDIS has day, night and dusk modes, can apply automatic ENC updates and follows IHO’s S-52 presentation library standard. ECDIS is tested against IEC’s 61174 standard for ECDIS performance and IEC 62288 for navigation displays.
ECDIS must also be type-approved by a competent authority, such as a classification society. Within the EU, ECDIS are awarded the Wheel Mark of conformance under the Marine Equipment Directive (MED) when they pass all tests in IEC 61174. When an ECDIS is type-approved by a notified body, the OEM and that organisation will use ENC test data from IHO S-64.
If ECDIS is not approved, “then this could lead to ENC data not displaying correctly”, Mr Mellor said, adding that this could be because the ECDIS presentation library software was out of date if ECDIS had not been regularly maintained.
There were changes in 2014 to IHO S-57 ENC specifications and S-52 presentation library that encouraged manufacturers to update ECDIS to version 4.0. There were also changes to S-64 ECDIS test data. This led to the need for software updates, upgrades to hardware and in some cases complete ECDIS replacement on ships by September 2017.
There were benefits to these updates as IHO removed anomalies in ENCs and reduced the ECDIS alarms to just one for the point where a ship crosses a safety depth contour.
According to Mr Mellor, other changes to standards are in the pipeline. One involves plans to change S-63 to improve cyber security of ENCs. The IHO working group (WG) on ENCs is reviewing methods of improving this standard based on feedback from IEC.
“If any changes were made then the release of a new standard would undoubtedly have a big effect on the shipping industry,” said Mr Mellor, which is why the working group is carrying out a full impact assessment on the proposed changes and is engaging with ECDIS manufacturers through CIRM and other shipping organisations, such as BIMCO and Intertanko.
“ENCWG is tasked to completely map out the impact and proposed solution before any decision is made on a new edition,” said Mr Mellor.
New standards are also being developed for ENC specifications with expectations that S-57 could eventually be replaced by S-101. “We are finalising production of specific and data conversion between S-57 and S-101,” said Mr Mellor. This will enable ECDIS manufacturers to build testbeds for trialling S-101 and overlays.
“We are nearing the point of S-101 publication at the IHO but these new ENCs will not replace S-57 data as carriage compliant information for some time,” he explained. “Having testbeds for S-100 based product specifications is important as it ensures interoperability of additional layers when displayed in the same operating systems.” said Mr Mellor.
UKHO is involved with IHO for conversion between S-57 and S-101 ENCs. Both standards will run in parallel with two data services as “there will be mixture of bridges, some running S-57 and some with S-101. There will be a gradual adoption to the new standard,” Mr Mellor concluded.