An industry group led by the Nautical Institute, and including InterManager, has published guidelines aimed at helping shipowners and crew to understand the training requirements for electronic chart display and information systems.
Ecdis is becoming mandatory on board all vessels in the coming years. Ecdis systems are a requirement as part of the International Maritime Organization’s ongoing efforts to improve navigational safety.
A vessel must have at least one Ecdis unit on board, in which case it must keep its normal portfolio of paper charts. If a vessel has more than one Ecdis on board it can dispense with the paper charts and the time-consuming and expensive corrections they entail.
But in both cases the crews need to have had the proper training to both understand the concept of electronic navigation and to be familiar with the units installed on board.
The Nautical Institute says it is aware of the confusion that has been created by training requirements, given the mandate for basic training and the guidelines on type-specific training.
The industry group behind these new guidelines has been meeting since last year. It says it saw the need for more clarity over the requirements for Ecdis competency on board vessels.
One of the areas it has been focusing on is what many in the industry have been calling type-specific training. There are a large number of units that have gained approval for use on ships, ranging hugely in cost, complexity and function.
The Ecdis industry group has pointed to the need for familiarisation with the systems that a bridge officer will be using. It says: “The complexity of Ecdis should be recognised and the ability of a watchkeeping officer to be competent and confident in the operation of Ecdis, including peripheral equipment and actual version [or versions] of software and charts, as part of the shipboard navigational system is essential for safety, security and protection of the marine environment.”
The Nautical Institute says shipowners should have clear procedures for using Ecdis and assisting their navigation officers with their system training.
There has been debate in the industry over how this type-specific familiarisation can be done. There are some authorities that have doubted the benefits of computer-based training, while shipowners are aware of the huge training costs they face.
Owners cannot avoid the cost of the basic training needed. This is a mandatory step and the International Maritime Organization developed a model Ecdis course at the same time that it set the future dates for the mandatory installation of the units.
Familiarisation with the actual unit an officer will be using is recommended both by industry bodies and authorities.
The Nautical Institute points to a wide variety of options for officer to gain familiarisation, whether onboard or ashore. These include shore-based training by a system manufacturer or independent instructor, or computer-based training, all followed by direct familiarisation with the unit on board the crew member’s vessel.
The onboard familiarisation can be done by an appropriately trained crew, something that may be possible during the officers’ handover period if it is long enough.
Whichever way the shipowner opts to do the mandatory part of the crew training and the recommended additional familiarisation, the Nautical Institute says it is important that navigation officers are fully familiarised with the unit, and are competent in its use, before assuming navigational responsibilities on the vessel.