How to achieve ECDIS competency: our top 5 tips

Your ship sets sail today, you’re due to be on watch and it’s pitch black outside. To ensure a safe voyage, you must be familiar with all equipment on the bridge before the Pilot and Master rely on your expertise as they start to conn the vessel, but the various Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) systems you’ve used in the past are all different to the one on this ship. Sound familiar?

Being competent in the use of ECDIS is not just a recommendation, it’s a LEGAL REQUIREMENT to ensure the highest levels of navigational safety. This is easier said than done: when working on a new ship, even when trained and experienced using ECDIS, it’s possible to be faced with a system that works very differently to the system you’ve been trained on. This is where the importance of ECDIS familiarisation comes in (which is also now a mandatory requirement under ECDIS regulations) but how else can you ensure competency? Here are our top 5 tips to achieving competency using ECDIS. Follow these and you’ll have peace of mind that you aren’t breaking the law.

Don’t fall foul of the ECDIS regulations: they’re law!

ECDIS training & familiarisation

ECDIS training is ESSENTIAL for higher navigational safety and aims to ensure that navigators can use and understand ECDIS in the context of safe navigation and can demonstrate all competencies contained in and implied by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers Convention (STCW) 2010. Such training should ensure that the navigator learns to use ECDIS and can apply it in all aspects of navigation, including the knowledge, understanding and proficiency to transfer that skill to the particular ECDIS system(s) actually encountered on board, prior to taking over navigational duties. This level of training should deliver the competencies at least equivalent to those given in IMO Model Course 1.27.

Following the successful demonstration of competencies contained in the Generic ECDIS Training for safe navigation, a further MANDATORY regulatory requirement is familiarisation, which is the process required to become familiar with any onboard ECDIS (including backup), in order to assure and demonstrate competency on-board any specific ship’s ECDIS installation, prior to taking charge of a navigational watch. Failure to complete appropriate ECDIS training and familiarisation can lead to costly fines and vessels being detained. Just take a look at this story about a ship being detained in Brisbane!

A vessel was detained in Brisbane due to navigators not having appropriate ECDIS familiarisation

Familiarisation should cover initial preparation; basic operations; charts; navigational tools and functions; route planning and route monitoring. Familiarisation includes any pertinent information required for the safe operation of the ECDIS, including all updates and alterations and companies should have clear procedures for using ECDIS and assisting the navigators in completion of the Familiarisation process.

Thorough & extended handovers

Many shipping companies recognise the requirements of ECDIS familiarisation and are starting to arrange hand-over periods which are long and more thorough. Extended handovers done in this way, can last for an entire voyage if needs be, and allow an officer joining the ship to gain familiarity with the features of the ECDIS, along with other safety critical systems, to maximise offshore safety.

Have an ECDIS ‘champion’

An interesting concept is the appointment of ‘ECDIS champions’ within a ship’s fleet. ECDIS champions might be navigators of any rank, and can be specific to a single ship/voyage, or work across an entire fleet of ships.

So, what does being an ECDIS champion actually entail? Typically, an ECDIS champion will be given detailed training in certain ECDIS models. These dedicated personnel will also work alongside other officers, so they are confident that they know all the ECDIS functions and can demonstrate competence to the Master, as well as be the ‘go to’ person for inspections.

ECDIS champions are given detailed training in certain ECDIS models

Practice some practical scenarios

Role plays, otherwise known as practice scenarios, can be a beneficial tool when getting to grips with ECDIS. Practical scenarios involve a crew coming up with a number of possible scenarios that require a good understanding of the ECDIS installed on the vessel. Navigators are therefore then challenged to use the ECDIS in response to the various scenarios.

Practical scenarios tend to be real scenarios that different crew members have experienced during their career and tend to increase in complexity, addressing all required aspects of ECDIS use.

Don’t forget the manufacturers manual!

Manufacturers manuals summarise important key tasks (in accordance with the industry recommendations) if necessary and are therefore vital to read prior to using ECDIS and to keep on hand at all times. Manuals often contain information on critical operations, including setting under keel clearance, or man overboard.

Need some assistance? Call the experts!

Still not feeling competent using different ECDIS? Call in the experts. Market-leading iECDIS™ from Martek Marine boasts top quality features such as; sophisticated new alarm functionality; unbeaten connection with VDRs; world-class integration with bridge equipment; quick and easy ENC updates; powerful and durable hardware. What’s more, iECDIS™ can be installed in just 2 days: important considering the August ECDIS deadline is almost upon us!

Buyers of the iECDIS™, benefit from 24/7 legendary customer support: Martek handle the whole process, from assistance specifying the right product to installation of it, providing ongoing after-sales support. Continual access to highly trained support staff, means that customers benefit from our ECDIS experts understanding of marine legislation, combined with vast experience, all of which will give you the foundations you need to feel confident and competent using ECDIS. Just pick up the phone is you have an ECDIS related query and a member of the team will be right back to you.