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Benefits and Drawbacks of ECDIS-Navigators would have scoffed at paperless navigation on large ocean-going ships just 15 years ago. After all, nautical paper charts have been the heart and soul of ship navigation for decades. It was blasphemy to think that there would be a time when we wouldn’t have them on board.

Every navigating officer who has spent “enough” time at sea fondly remembers embarking aboard ships with their Chart Correction Pen. The unthinkable did, however, occur. Smaller vessels, such as pleasure ships, tugboats, and yachts, were the first to shift. However, because of the IMO rule for mandatory ECDIS carrying, large vessels such as supertankers and enormous container ships can now operate without paper charts. Who is to blame for this shift? It’s the Electronic Chart Display and Information System, or ECDIS.

The Benefits:

  • The availability of electronic charts is one of the significant advantages of ECDIS over paper charts, particularly when last-minute voyage requests are received. The days of Second Mates gathered over the good old NP 131 (chart catalog) to figure out which charts they’d need for the cruise are long gone. Then came the problematic issue of ordering these charts and hoping they arrived on time. This proved to be a significant difficulty in many cases, particularly for tramper trades that frequently receive last-minute voyage orders. With the advent of chartless vessels, all the Second Mate has to do now is plot an approximate path in the voyage planner, and a list of all the required paper charts is automatically generated. The Master then sends this list to the chart supplier, who subsequently sends the chart activation codes. A task that took hours to master with expertise and practice now takes only a few minutes.
  • When using ECDIS as the primary navigation source, the Navigating Officer can plan and summarize the route faster than Paper Charts. Most ECDIS devices feature an option to import waypoints into an excel file, saving time when constructing the Voyage Plan and eliminating the need to enter the waypoints manually. Distance to Go, Distance Covered, Average Speed, and other daily reporting data can be completed quickly and with little effort.
  • Before introducing paperless navigation, most of the Navigating Officer’s time was spent correcting charts. It takes a long time to perfect the talent of quickly and accurately fixing charts. Even back then, there remained the risk of an erroneous correction now and again. The Temporary and Preliminary (T&P) Notices were particularly inconvenient because they lacked tracings and necessitated the keeping of a large file. Keeping the globe folio up to date was a source of pride and bragging rights. With paperless navigation, all of that has changed. Weekly changes to the Electronic Charts are now sent to the Navigating Officer through email, which he must download to a zip drive and upload to the ECDIS. Even the dreaded T&P warnings are now shown on the ECDIS in electronic form.

The Drawbacks:

  • Navigators tend to put too much faith in technology that appears faultless. The ramifications might be disastrous. On the ECDIS, now and then, you’ll notice an errant Third Mate tunnel-visioned. The importance of maintaining a proper visual lookout cannot be overstated. Regardless of how effective the ECDIS is, its performance is still heavily reliant on the inputs. A vessel’s AIS may have been turned off, and as a result, it may not be visible on the ECDIS. The vessel will not be shown on the ECDIS display if the Radar Overlay is not turned on. As a result, Navigators must keep a solid radar watch and an adequate lookout. The goal of the ECDIS is to make navigation more efficient, not to replace it. It is still critical to practice basic skills like radar plotting, sighting, and compass errors, which will come in handy if the ECDIS fails. It’s also crucial to go over the company’s processes in the event of an ECDIS failure.
  • ECDIS is a machine-dependent on the type of inputs it gets. With the ECDIS in DR mode, erroneous GPS location inputs or a loss of GPS signal can have disastrous repercussions. If the alarm is not heard, the consequences can be devastating. As a result, it’s critical to monitor sensor performance and make frequent comparisons between primary and secondary position fixation methods. GYRO, Anemometer, Echo Sounder, Navtex, and other inputs should be regularly examined to ensure proper operation.
  • Inputting incorrect parameters for safety-critical settings like Safety Depths, Safety Contours, and so on can lead to a false sense of security. The Master must double-check these settings whenever they are altered. These options should be password-protected, and each Navigator should double-check them before taking over the watch. Alarms should not be disabled unless there is a compelling cause to do so, never solely to prevent numerous warnings. All notices in use should be well documented, with a specified protocol for turning them on and off.

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