Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS)

The ECDIS is considered an important milestone for shipping and within the IMO framework for E navigation defined as “the  harmonized  collection, integration,  exchange,  presentation  and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation  and  related  services  for  safety  and  security  at  sea  and  protection  of  the  marine environment.”

It is no surprise that with The ECDIS installation schedule having passed end in July 2018, most ships have thus made the transition from paper to digital navigation.

There is no denying that the ECDIS has evolved considerably and changed the landscape by which ships are navigated today.

Nevertheless, the ECDIS is a complex and sophisticated system, which besides navigational functions includes components capable of delivering a real-time display of the navigator’s own vessel located with reference to the surrounding sea area. In addition and simply put, the ECDIS is not only a visualization of a paper chart, it also provides a wide range of data normally required for navigation purposes.

Having said that, the author of this article has, over numerous surveys and attendances, come to believe this technology involves many challenges that cannot be ignored, and in instances, observed that improper use of ECDIS may result in accidents; therefore a change in operators’ mindset is required.

While Industry stakeholders have discussed a lot about the pros and cons of paperless navigation concluding that ECDIS does have an edge over the traditional paper chart navigation, as in most cases firstly, it is important to identify the risks and not to show over-reliance on this technology.

The below is an assimilation of this author’s observations and findings seen firsthand during numerous surveys and investigations, reading through various MAIB reports and independent investigation papers.

What could go wrong?


For a piece of equipment considered “foolproof”, there is an acute tendency on over-reliance. Coupled with too much information on the screen may cause clutter and can be distracting. There have been instances where the navigator may have lost critical minutes on non-important items where decisions should have been taken.


As positions on paper charts were so to say “past positions” the navigator continually checked them again and again. Now real-time position creates a false feel safe emotion and a feeling that the real-time response will be enough in the circumstances, with little or no thought on the performance of the source equipment supplying the position.

Wrong settings

The ECDIS is an equipment system. Any wrong settings, system or user-defined, will lead to accidents and incidents, as the safety parameters are now defined by incorrect settings.

Alarm Fatigue

Simply put, and seen during a recently concluded Navigation assessment, if alarms start going off too frequently, the navigator was seen in a situation of acknowledging the alarm even without checking what it was. Eventually, he may run out of luck and there could be an occasion where he might miss out on a critical warning such as approaching a danger.

Effectively stepping up and stepping down the number of alarms/indications at the various stages of the voyage is important for efficient ECDIS assisted navigation

Type Familiarization

IMO mandates ECDIS operators to be in possession of an approved ECDIS operator’s course certificate, but there are only recommendations for equipment type familiarization. There have been numerous instances where seasoned navigators have displayed apprehension up to the extent of difficulty in quickly pulling up relevant data, such as alarm logs, CATZOC data, safety zone data, transition data, etc.

Worst still, in an event of an incident, navigators may find it hard to preserve history, recordings, and playbacks, and in instances, these were seen overwritten.

With some systems, it is possible to run a complete safety check for any hazards along the planned route at any time during the route planning process and on completion of planning. However, this functionality was seen varying among the different makes. Some ECDIS appear only to undertake route check functions on larger scale ENCs and therefore alarms might not activate. This may not be also clearly indicated on the ECDIS display screen.

Therefore in instances where a navigator may not be aware of the “all other” display mode for a particular type, there is a possibility that a close inspection of the planned route and any deviations or dangers, maybe missed.

Special manoeuvers

ECDIS are built-in with extremely accurate predictive manoeuver capabilities, such as but not limited to a predicted path, trial maneuver, docking mode, man overboard, search and rescue manoeuvers.

However there was tangible evidence seen on very low awareness on these capabilities, and rarely were navigators observed to undertake predictive manoeuver trials, especially in areas where “point of no return” were marked.

There were very few occasions seen where practice for special manoeuvers were included in ECDIS operation and familiarization checklists.

Scale and Zoom Facility

During surveys, there was little awareness seen on the “compilation scale” for electronic navigation charts, and navigators were seen to use the zoom function to a scale larger than the compilation scale, often resulting in a false impression about the reliability of the charted data. It is also possible that some charted features may not be displayed while zoomed in, in view of the scale minimum attribute of the electronic chart. Navigators are thus warned that zoon in functions must be used intermittently and only for very short periods of time.


Navigators should always cross-check ECDIS information with the other sources and most importantly, a visual lookout, as ‘human eyes are the most valuable tool at a mariner’s disposal’.

In view of the few points raised above, and from the perception of an attending independent surveyor, an emphasis on understanding the possible anomalies of the ECDIS system entirely should always be in mind.

Therefore, a change in the mindset of navigation is required for understanding ECDIS limitations and possibilities, including its benefits and disadvantages. Only with an ECDIS-oriented mindset, the navigator will efficiently integrate the system in the ongoing navigational process.

Published By: Capt. Vispy Dadimaster

Master Mariner

Constellation Marine Services