ECDIS for dummies: Everything you need to know

ECDIS is playing an increasingly crucial role in navigational safety within the maritime sector and, according to IMO regulations, all ships will soon have to have the equipment on board. But what exactly is it? Here is a brief guide on all things ECDIS.

What is ECDIS?

ECDIS formally stands for Electronic Chart Display and Information System, offering digital charts and navigational information so that seafarers can plan their routes much better and monitor where they are going. Essentially, it is a computer-based navigation system, using electronic charts and a variety of sensors, radar and fathometers to offer a safer alternative to paper maps.

What is a nautical chart?

These are maps that look specifically at marine navigation. This could be anything from depth of water, elevations, coastlines, potential dangers, the nature of the bottom of seabeds, and aids.

The law states that all ships going on international voyages must carry nautical charts of some kind on board.

This can be in paper or electronic form, and only those greenlit by a government can be deemed as official. All official charts are split into two types: RNC, which is a scanned image of a paper chart, and ENC that can be manipulated by the user to show information about specific areas.

Do the charts get updated?

ECDIS gets updated regularly with new chart information – this comes in the form on online downloadable content. You need to make sure the information is always up-to-date, or you will be at risk at sailing on old visuals.

What does the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) say about ECDIS?

The IMO states that all vessels must, by law, carry ECDIS after a certain date, depending on what type of ship you own. The general implementation period will run from 2012 to 2018, but this is the specific schedule, based on ship type:

  • Newbuild passenger ships (over 500 GT) and tankers (over 3,000 GT) – July 2012
  • Newbuild cargo ships (over 10,000 GT) – July 2013
  • Newbuild cargo vessels (between 3,000 and 10,000 GT) and existing passenger ships (over 500 GT)  – July 2014
  • Existing tankers (over 3,000 GT) – July 2015
  • Existing cargo ships (over 50,000 GT) – July 2016
  • Existing cargo ships (between 20,000 and 50,000 GT) – July 2017
  • Existing cargo ships (between 10,000 and 20,000 GT) – July 2018

What other acronyms do I need to know?

A few to consider are:

  • ENC – Electronic Navigation Chart (the database containing the chart data)
  • SENC – System Electronic Navigation Chart (after the ENC data has be converted for chart image creation on the ECDIS)
  • RCDS – Raster Chart Display System (when ENC is not available, a vessel can sail in this mode if the flag state says so)

What do I have to do now?

All shipowners must install ECDIS, with the system type being approved in line with what recognised organisations and classification societies state. A back-up system will also be needed in case the primary fails – this can either be in the form of a second ECDIS connected to an independent power supply or just traditional paper charts.

How does training work?

The IMO states that once the ECDIS is built in, full training of all appropriate staff members is compulsory. All bridge officers must receive flag-state approved learning, while the equipment-specific training has to occur in accordance to the IMO’s International Safety Management Code.

Here at Martek, we specialise in in-depth information about ECDIS, so be sure to get in touch if you are unsure about anything!