We’re nearing the end of our series looking at each of the 9 stages in Admiralty’s guide for getting ready for the new ECDIS regulations
The eighth stage of ECDIS transition is the transition itself, when all the training, procedures, installation and approvals come together onboard ship. From here, there is no turning back but our ECDIS expert Paul Hailwood says the process to date should mean that the company and the ships are prepared for the changeover.
Companies that have already made the switch have identified onboard transition as an important practical stage and the evidence suggests it should be company-led rather than making it the responsibility of the master and his officers.
“It might not seem a big topic, but if it’s handled incorrectly it can have a big impact. You’ve got the equipment, you’ve done the training, the Flag State is happy, your ship is ready to roll and what you’re asking yourself as a company is: how are we going to make that actual transition?” he says.
This might mean a ‘once and for all’ switch from paper to Electronic Navigational Charts, but more likely it will mean a gradual transition, reducing the reliance on paper over time. The choice will depend to some extent on whether the ship concerned is the first to transition or the part of a fleet which is already moving to ECDIS.
The length of time taken could vary between weeks and months to ensure that enough time has been allowed for officers and crew to gain the onboard experience they need to navigate safely and with confidence. During this period the bridge team will be able to put new navigation procedures into practice and seek clarification and review if required.
Overall ECDIS strategy, bridge team experience and even regional requirements can all make a difference, but the company should have a policy for its approach that means all parties are aware of what the changes mean to them.
“When it’s the first ship and the first officers in a fleet to go through transition, the company might put in a long stretch as the bedding-in period and during that time they will gradually reduce paper charts,” Hailwood continues.
But Hailwood says the transition cannot be open-ended. The danger of allowing too long for transition is that the ship has to double its workload, running full paper charts and ECDIS, creating inefficiencies and the risk that officers will fail to complete required tasks correctly
There is, he adds, a need to pay close attention while the transition is being made. An important role for the company is establishing a shore-based ECDIS mentor officer who fully understands and appreciates the ECDIS issues on board the ships and can provide appropriate response.
“Support could mean having a consultant, a manufacturer’s representative or technical support from the shore office onboard for a while and it should also include a bridge officer who has already navigated on ECDIS to bring an additional level of practical experience,” he adds. “It depends on the experience and expertise inside the company, but they shouldn’t assume that this is a big bang – it’s how you are going to manage that transition over time.”
Even done properly, there may be some nervousness to begin with, but one of the common themes in ECDIS adoption is that navigators seldom if ever want to go back once they have made the move to digital navigation.
“That’s certainly the intention,” Hailwood says. “Once the crew is sailing on ECDIS, the benefits become clear and the improvements in safety are tangible. You will learn a lot from the first transition and that will help the next ship, the next ship and all those that follow.”
By Neville Smith