ECDIS needs to be continuously maintained, with software updated and regularly upgraded
Once ECDIS and electronic navigational charts are compliant with regulations and standards, it is down to ship operators to ensure ECDIS is continuously maintained. ECDIS needs regular software updates, perhaps some hardware replacements and in some cases wholesale replacement of ECDIS.
ECDIS should be considered an onboard computer, critical operational technology to navigating and sailing the ship. As such, shipowners, managers and operators need to acquire an ECDIS mindset, said former chairman of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and member of the French Maritime Academy, Gilles Bessero.
He said an ECDIS mindset includes recognition that an ECDIS is a software-based system and effective maintenance should become best-practice. “It is essential to ensure safe and efficient operation of the ECDIS,” he told Marine Electronics & Communications.
Annual costs to the ship operator cover software upgrades, ENC updates, equipment servicing and officer refresher courses. Owners cannot apply a “buy and forget mentality” to ECDIS said Mr Bessero. “As any software-based device, an ECDIS may require updates for a number of reasons.” He categorises them as:
Preventive and corrective maintenance relate to ensuring the equipment is in satisfactory operating condition in accordance with the applicable performance standards. Mr Bessero noted that ECDIS is a highly complex system with a central processor and memory like a personal computer. “Preventive maintenance may be conducted through annual performance tests, periodic clean-ups or diagnostics,” he said.
“Preventive maintenance may be conducted through annual performance tests, periodic clean-ups or diagnostics”
Corrective maintenance may be required to address faults or failures that may occasionally occur despite the care taken through type-approval procedures and individual equipment checks.
“Software updates may be required for the purpose of maintaining regulatory compliance” said Mr Bessero. They may also be required to ensure ECDIS continues to operate in an optimal condition and meets the provision of IMO ECDIS performance standards, which dictate that ECDIS is able to display ENCs, and all updates provided, in conformity with the relevant IHO and IEC standards.
“The appropriate alarms and indications may not be activated”
“Failure to do so may lead to improper display of the latest charted features,” said Mr Bessero. Additionally, he said “the appropriate alarms and indications may not be activated”. This could be dangerous to ship navigation as it puts the vessel at risk of grounding or striking obstructions.
To avoid such shortcomings, ECDIS must operate with the latest versions of the IHO ENC product specification and presentation library. If not, then ship operators must update or replace the ECDIS to comply.
Mr Bessero said improvements in ECDIS performance are either user-driven or regulation-driven depending on whether ship operators want additional functionality in ECDIS from manufacturers, or regulators revise them. A mixture of these two drivers is in the development of a standard S-mode that could reduce the need for speciality familiarisation training.
ECDIS performance standards could be affected in future by the development of e-navigation functionalities, said Mr Bessero. This is driven by the IMO e-navigation strategy implementation plan.
In all cases, and as set out in IMO guidance, “adequate software and firmware maintenance arrangements should be implemented by shipowners and be supported by equipment manufacturers” Mr Bessero said. The International Safety Management (ISM) Code provides the appropriate framework for this. Updates to ISM will also include a requirement for ship operators to ensure onboard computer systems, and especially operational technology, are cyber secure.
UK Hydrographic Office head of OEM technical support and digital standards Tom Mellor* expects annual performance tests will eventually be introduced for ECDIS. He explained that manufacturers, under the Comité International Radio-Maritime, are working on guidelines for an ECDIS annual performance test.
This would “ensure sensors are connected and alarms work correctly” and test that ECDIS is connected to the voyage data recorder and bridge navigational watch alarm system. Mr Mellor provided a 10-step plan for ECDIS management. This includes ensuring ECDIS is compliant with all IHO and IEC standards and only official and validated ENCs are loaded and used.
He said alarms should be switched on, safety contours and safety depths set correctly and the cross-track distance populated. Routes should be tested for any obstructions and grounding risks. Mr Mellor also said crew must be familiar with the ECDIS installed on board and competent in its operation, including being drilled for possible failures of ECDIS as a primary navigation aid.
10 steps to ECDIS management
Snapshot CV Gilles Bessero
Gilles Bessero is a former chairman of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and has been involved in IMO activities for 24 years. With a background in hydrographic surveying and nautical charting, he has served in French government departments.
Mr Bessero was the head hydrographer in France from 2005 to 2010, then in 2012 was appointed as director of the IHO. He served in that position until 2017. He is now a member of the French Maritime Academy, a national scholarly organisation dedicated to promoting the maritime sector and providing expert advice on maritime issues.
* Tom Mellor is UKHO head of OEM technical support and digital standards and has worked for UKHO since October 2003. He is also chairman of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)’s working group on electronic navigational charts.