Electronic navigation can improve safety, but the Swedish Transport Agency warns against over-confidence in technology

Electronic navigation is fast replacing paper charts and the introduction of ECDIS is in full swing. The aim is to increase maritime safety, but there are also risks – including over-confidence in technology and unsuccessful updates.

Many ships already have ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System). After a decision by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) the system will become obligatory. The changeover started two years ago and must be fully implemented by 1 July 2018. ECDIS is more than just a chart. By connecting to GPS, log and gyro compass, radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System), not only the surrounding geography will be shown but also the ship’s position and surrounding vessels.

”I believe that navigation will be safer with ECDIS,” says Roland Eklöf from the Swedish Transport Agency. ”Information from different instruments is shown in the same image, which gives a more complete picture of the surroundings.”

Training requirements

There are also problems regarding ECDIS. A report published by the Swedish Armed Forces in the autumn (the navy is also introducing ECDIS) described a large number of risks, ranging from failing equipment to blind faith in technology. Roland Eklöf agrees that there is much to be aware of if the system is to function properly.

”Right now there is a lot of work being done in terms of training in schools, where it is really emphasised how important it is not to blindly trust in technology.

ECDIS obtains its position readings via GPS. But satellite signals are sensitive to interference, which recently happened on a ship off the coast of Korea.

”This is not a stable system. You can buy electronic parts at Clas Olson and easily make your own jamming transmitter. It’s important to be aware of this and regularly check your position with the help of traditional instruments,” says Roland Eklöf.

”Sometimes the owners and crew believe that the ship is equipped with an approved ECDIS, but in fact it is not,” says Roland Eklöf.

”Some of them do not have an agreement with a supplier of sea chart files for updates, and then the ECDIS is not approved. Ships have sometimes been stopped by the port state authority for that reason,” says Roland Eklöf.

With the introduction of ECDIS there are also training requirements. All navigators must have about 40 hours’ basic training. Then there is an equally long course on the specific equipment used on board, since different makes of ECDIS vary. In addition, you have to learn the system on board, so-called familiarisation.

”Those who have studied Sea Captain 2007 or later have already completed their initial training and in many cases the type-specific training too,” says Fredrik Jonsson at the Swedish Transport Agency. ”But we have noticed that many shipping companies want their nautical officers to go on a refresher course, even though it is not a requirement in STCW.”

Linda Sundgren

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