Article of Note: ECDIS Part 3 : Problems!!

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Nov 072010

John Clandillon-Baker at Pilot Magazine is running an absorbing multi-part series on electronic chart display and information systems that is a must-read.  The question is perhaps, not merely whether navigational officers have the competence but whether the training industry has the capability to fulfill the need.

MAC’s concern is that given the money involved we’re going to see a lot of training in the market producing certificates that are not worth the paper they’re printed on while at the same time meeting requirements for ‘compliance.

Here’s John’s introduction:

“I have now piloted around 20 vessels which are navigating solely on ECDIS with no paper charts and only on four of these have I found all officers fully conversant with the functions and confident that they could safely navigate their vessel without the familiar paper chart as a back up. Somewhat unsurprisingly these four vessels were Scandinavian tankers from the top companies and all the officers had attended type specific courses for their particular ECDIS in addition to the generic ECDIS course offered by the training colleges. However, in contrast to these examples of “best practice”, on five of these vessels there was only one officer who understood the ECDIS and its functions and on all of these this was the second officer and he alone seemed to be totally responsible for planning the voyage and plotting the route on the ECDIS. So far as I could ascertain, none of the officers, including the 2nd Officer, on these ships had received any type specific training but had been expected to glean the full operating functions of their particular ECDIS from the manufacturer’s manual. The manuals from all the manufacturers seem to run to 500 pages or more so it’s hardly surprising that responsibility for wading through it and getting to grips with the functions is delegated to the 2nd Mate who is officer traditionally responsible for chartwork and navigation. Of the remainder of the vessels Admittedly 20 ships is a very small sample and my data collection methodology probably wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny but as a very rough indicator it would suggest that 20% of vessels have good understanding and good procedures in place, 60% have a reasonable working knowledge but worryingly around 20% are at high risk of being involved in a navigational incident either as a result of ignorance of the ECDIS features of display modes or as a result of single person error by the navigating officer in planning the passage. This may seem an alarming statement but the dangers are real.”

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