On paper, installation of an ECDIS looks like the simplest of the nine stages to digital transition and our ECDIS expert Capt. Paul Hailwood agrees that the process should not be overly complicated, if it is planned properly. As always though, there are exceptions.
“A real-life example is that one vessel could have a particular system and they think it is a piece of junk – hard to use, unreliable and they wish they had something different,” he says. “On another ship with exactly the same system, the crew think it’s fantastic and everything works really well. That normally boils down to the quality of installation.”
The installation itself must satisfy some regulatory requirements – the equipment may be surveyed by the flag state or a classification society acting on its behalf. Some flags will issue a letter stating that the ECDIS is installed in accordance with their requirements; useful documentation during a port state control inspection as it demonstrates compliance with installation requirements.
But Hailwood says that before companies get to that stage they have to assess the impact of ECDIS on other systems. The new equipment might not be compatible with the electronic log or GPS, or even the wiring behind the bridge systems.
“It’s very important that companies do a technical audit, which asks, if we specify this system, how does it impact on what we already have? What do we need and how many of our ships will need an upgrade on other pieces of equipment?” he explains.
The installation will also be affected by the way that the company wants to implement ECDIS – either for primary navigation or for situational awareness – and the backup requirements for both, which will have an effect on location, cabling and the likely disruption that will be caused. This should be an element of the initial risk assessment so that by the time of installation the answers will already be known.
Hailwood also hints that as a transformative technology, the installation and use of the system on-board brings the opportunity to ask deeper questions about the way the bridge team works.
“The company has to decide how they are actually going to use it. Will they have one officer or two officers with a radar and an ECDIS visual or are they just going to have one officer, as a helmsman? How is it going to work – what are the ergonomics around the installation?”
“Looking at this, you start to move towards bridge resource management and you open up an important area,” he continues. “You start to challenge the concept that the captain has to have the con (steering of the ship) all the time. If you’ve got a proper ergonomic design then your experienced officer could be monitoring much more and can easily see the ECDIS, the radar and the visual scene.”
Cargo ships are, he says, beginning to embrace the approach in use on cruise ships, where giving a junior officer the con increases his or her experience and confidence and doesn’t require the monitoring officer to maintain the same focussed attention on a single issue, but instead gives him or her much better overview and awareness.
These are questions for the individual company to consider, but an issue common to all installations is the need for a Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA); in practice, analysing what happens if the system loses a sensor or GPS input.
“It’s important to get your installer to be a part of this process and if possible for them to do the analysis. You need to know what the effect would be of the primary GPS failing – would it cause a failure or would it switch across to the second unit?”
Finally Hailwood says, owners should never treat ECDIS installation as a ‘fit and forget’ process. Maintenance and the importance of maintenance contracts should not be overlooked and any contract for installation should specify a programme for software maintenance and upgrades.
“So many times you go on to ships and the software is just not up to date. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can be a big deal. In the mildest form, you’re dealing with bugs which could have been avoided. In the most severe form, you can be operating outside of SOLAS.”
“It can be a surprise when I tell companies their software is out of date, but a lot of these things don’t come to light unless something goes wrong and that’s when you find yourself wanting.”
By Neville Smith