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ECDIS in a security role

November 24, 2010 - November 25, 2010

ECDIS in a security role

By Steve Monk

‘Security’ is a term that can be used in a number of different ways within the maritime industry.  It has reference to physical security measures, the security of the onboard computer network from cyber attack and the security of the vessel moored alongside to name but a few.  However these days one of the hottest topics is the protection of a vessel and all those onboard as she transits an area of the world prone to attack, but despite all this, it is important not to forget the basic fundamentals of navigation that should be applied.

As the good book (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) states, “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions…..”  While this particular rule may be focused more on the avoidance of collision than piracy, in this day and age and in certain areas of the world it’s becoming increasingly more relevant to the latter.

This article looks to touch on the capabilities available through the Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) and how it can provide assistance to the bridge team in fighting piracy or attack.  The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has stipulated that from 2012 the regulations affecting the carriage and use of electronic charts at sea will be changing.  Although many of the issues regarding their carriage and use have been resolved, a number of ships, shipping companies and operators of the equipment remain unsure of what courses they are required to attend, equipment they are supposed to fit and precautions that should be in place when using it.  However time doesn’t permit us to go into great depth in this article as much of that is an entirely different subject.  Suffice to say in brief, a bridge team should have completed an approved generic ECDIS course with type specific equipment familiarisation.

We’ll also take it as read that the operator understands how to start the system, ensure the correct settings are made and to establish a safe, scanned and comprehensive route in the ECDIS which will take them from berth to berth.  Assuming the bridge team have done this correctly, it is still necessary to plot fixes into the system on a regular basis to prove the continuous GPS feed is correct.  With this routine in place, the watch keeper should effectively be given more time to look out of the window at the shipping around them in an attempt to identify small craft behaving erratically or unusually.  Of course the problem is that with so many ‘aids’ to navigation now fitted to the bridge including ECDIS, radar, ARPA, AIS and electro-optical aids on some vessels, the OOW can find themselves spending too much time looking at computer screens and not out of the window.  A good ECDIS which has been set up correctly will have the right feeds from the associated equipment to provide a single source of display on which to correlate an approved picture.  Working in conjunction with AIS will help to identify the majority of contacts around you will also show whether the contacts are operating in recognised shipping lanes or territorial waters.

With the advances in technology, manufacturers are developing new ways to link the equipment directly to the communications network such that updates to the installed electronic charts can be received directly by the system and actioned without any input or interference from the user.  However this technology is also opening the doors to security companies who are investigating the possibility of providing their services to advise mariners in the location of piracy threats by looking at a means of feeding their product direct to the OOW on the bridge though such a communications link.  While this has many positive aspects and should lead to an improvement in safety at sea, there is the continual warning of the disadvantages the OOW can face.  In the days of simple navigation, a paper chart encouraged the OOW to look out of the window in an attempt to visualise where they believed they were.  Nowadays, with so much information being provided to the OOW through a computer screen, even if it is one that’s primarily designed to keep them navigationally safe, it causes them to spend more of their time into the bridge and not out of the window.  The caution that must therefore go with this advance in technology is to ensure the right level of manning is maintained on the bridge.  One OOW is insufficient to safely manage and assimilate the intense degree of information that is being thrust at him and maintain the vessel safety particularly and high risk areas.

However, the full potential of what ECDIS can achieve has not yet been properly exploited.  What started as a means of providing the mariner with a live update of their position on an electronic chart, is rapidly being expanded into an outlet of information to assist in not just the navigational safety of the vessel but a means by which to increase the physical security of the vessel and those on board through the receipt and display of a wealth of information from external sources.

What about the route itself?  Obviously it’s important to hold the up-to-date charts of the area to be transited but what about additional paper charts or electronic chart licences for the surrounding area in the event of having to detour to avoid danger or seek safety.  This is where electronic charts can start to demonstrate another useful feature as licenses for additional charts can be e-mailed to the vessel allowing associated charts to be un-locked.

Above all, it remains crucial to maintain a good lookout at all times and by all available means while utilising the ECDIS to rapidly indicate whether or not vessels behaving suspiciously are operating inside shipping lanes or in accordance with the shipping routes for that area.  Get to know the intimate workings of your ECDIS so that you can quickly pull up the necessary information but at the same time, remember ECDIS is only an aid to navigation so don’t be transfixed by the picture on display.

This article just skims the surface of what you can do to protect your vessel, guests and crew but what it really comes down to is practise and training and lots of it.  ECDIS is just one means of technology that can assist the mariner to remain safe both navigationally and from attack.  Beyond this there are a number of additional areas that could be discussed including Bridge Resource Management which will help develop the skills and abilities of the team to identify their strengths and weaknesses and help the ship to operate more effectively.  Complacency and a thought process that you’re invincible will usually result in failure.

Author: Steve Monk of Da Gama Limited (http://www.da-gama.co.uk)


Da Gama and Quaynote Communications are the organisers of The ECDIS Revolution, for details of the event see http://www.ecdisrevolution.org



November 24, 2010
November 25, 2010
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