Shipping Industry Missing Important ECDIS Upgrade

Published Jan 9, 2018 9:22 AM by The Maritime Executive

by Oliver Schwarz

We’ve all done it - hit the “not now” or “remind me later” button - because there is perhaps nothing as widely disliked, ignored, or dismissed as software updates. Partly this is because they tend to happen at the most inconvenient time, and partly because we’re never sure why they’re needed. Things also tend to stop working every time one is installed, or so we’ve been conditioned to believe. 

As an industry shipping isn’t immune to this problem. In August 2015, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published the new edition 4.0 of IEC61174 “Electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) – Operational and performance requirements, methods of testing and required test results.” 

There had been no newer edition of the respective IMO Performance Standard for ECDIS since 2006/2007. Given that we are over two years on from this update, and that this was the first in over a decade, you would assume uptake would be prompt and as universal as could be reasonably expected. 

But unfortunately, from our industry observations, this has not been the case. 

The primary goal of the new IEC Standard edition was to address changes in the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Standards dealing with ECDIS chart presentation. It also focused on operational issues as well as electronic navigational chart (ENC) data distribution. 

The changes were in response to earlier identified operating anomalies within ECDIS detected in the period from 2010 to 2012. Besides the improvements introduced in IHO documents, the recent development of IMO Standards, such as Resolution MSC.302(87) on Bridge Alert Management, new regulations for Voyage Data Recorders (VDR), BNWAS and some others were considered by IEC Technical Committee 80 for this new edition. 

The result saw several major improvements in chart layer controls and rules for navigation danger detection, which dramatically improves the user experience in day-to-day operation. Notably, the amended alert management concept and the integration of ECDIS into the bridge alert management system has resulted in considerable less audible alarms and easier handling. A cure for one of the major criticism by ECDIS operators in the past.

Apart from enhanced sensor integration and improved alarm management IMO also addressed simplifying voyage planning in the new performance standard. Enhanced route check capabilities in combination with a standard ENC update status report relevant for the selected route provides great benefits in planning mode.

Despite this impressive list of innovations, implementation of these updates has been patchy with many shipowners and operators just regarding this as “yet another” software update. And after the miserable and costly experiences they may have had with mandatory upgrades in the past they are probably not to blame for their hesitation.

ECDIS manufactures have obviously failed to pitch the benefits and missed an opportunity to increase both safety at sea and the usability of their products. However, it is never too late to upgrade your ECDIS voluntarily.

Oliver Schwarz is Business Development Director at ChartWorld International.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.