By now shipowners and managers should be well into the swing of their digital transition. That’s not to say all is completely plain sailing but it should be obvious that this is a process which cascades naturally from one topic to the next.
Managing bridge procedures might seem more of a leap than a simple jump and at first sight it looks like a daunting task. But in fact much of what ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) users need to know is known already – what the ship and shore alike have to do is demonstrate that they have a grasp on the subject.
Our ECDIS expert Paul Hailwood says knowledge accumulated from working with paper charts can be put to good use here. Issues like electronic passage planning and chart supply are more common sense than solving complex problems.
“Companies which have adopted ECDIS have found that one of the areas they’ve had to review most often is how they do passage planning,” he explains. “This is where the different mindset comes in. Can I put a waypoint on the land? How am I going to monitor this? What clearing bearings and parallel indices do I use? All this kind of stuff has to be brought in. It’s not just one or two liners; it’s a whole philosophy of how we go through the process.”
And against the tide of ECDIS naysayers he insists that proper passage planning can improve safety and situational awareness, but there are simple rules to follow – using procedures to manage risk.
“Missing a simple procedure such as not checking the route after you’ve made the chart updates is easy to do unless you are aware of it. When you updated paper charts you wrote on them so you had a physical reminder. When you update electronic charts you don’t necessarily see what the danger might be, unless you have a procedure that makes you do it,” he adds.
Hailwood says his work with shipping companies often found that the bridge team assumed that the electronic chart was the start and finish of the data source. The information gathering process, he says, should be familiar – only with increased electronic resources.
“The electronic chart is there to be supported by all the publications, including Navtex (Navigational Telex), Temporary and Preliminary Notices to Mariners, and services like the Admiralty Information Overlay. And by cross-referencing to other systems your procedures mean checking what’s valid and what isn’t, what we need to put in and what we don’t. A lot of this will flow from the risk assessment – the only way to control risks is with a procedure,” he says.
This is a means of avoiding the over-reliance that plagues perceptions about ECDIS, even in the case of software anomalies. The reality he says is that neither the ENCs (electronic navigational charts) nor the ECDIS can completely eliminate glitches, but awareness and forward planning can help.
As ECDIS outfit becomes more widespread across the fleet and in individual companies, the advantages of transferrable digital data start to become more obvious. Hand-drawn chart corrections cannot be easily passed on but electronic passage plans can be. Hailwood says a recent job saw a newbuilding receive emails of passage plans from a sister ship, which were loaded into the ECDIS ‘with 80% of the job done there and then’.
Chart management is clearly central to correct procedures but he says owners and officers must not assume that just because official charts are widely available, that this is what they are using. This is because some ECDIS systems which are pre-loaded with official ENCs are in-filled with unofficial charts where no official data exists. The problem is in identifying the boundary between the two.
Hailwood was on an ECDIS ship in the Baltic earlier this year which was navigating on official vector charts with unofficial chart in-fill. This particular system gave a warning when it switched to unofficial data, but failed to switch back when official coverage resumed.
“It wasn’t a huge deal, one which could be easily solved by procedures,” says Hailwood. “We put a procedure in place to square it away, but the master didn’t even realise he had unofficial data on the ship. You wouldn’t want to have a vessel inspector pick that up. It’s important to understand who is supplying what, reading between the lines and fully appreciating that sometimes commercial practice clouds the issue.”
By Neville Smith