We are moving into a new era with the arrival of true “e-Navigation”, the first manifestation of which is the electronic chart. And as with every other advance in navigation since the arrival of radar, the benefits of the new bring with them cautions and caveats which must be considered if we are not to see a rash of “ECDIS assisted” incidents.

Some very timely advice on the new navigational world comes from Captain Roger Barker, the Director of Navigation at Trinity House, where he is also an Elder Brother. Writing the introduction to the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch latest Safety Digest, Captain Barker warns against over-familiarity and complacency as the modern technology suggests a pleasing degree of certainty about the ship’s position.

He uses the analogy of the shift from the old Decca Navigator to the amazing development of GPS, where the navigator, instead of having to plot the ship’s position, read off the longitude and latitude to three decimal places, bringing with it an altogether false impression of absolute accuracy. Not at all – it was just the same navigational data plotted differently!

Scroll forward to today and he suggests that the panoply of equipment available aboard the most modern ships: electronic nautical charts, ECDIS, electronic chart systems and wholly automatic bridge systems may well be increasing risk, along with the consequences of complacency.

He cites electronic passage planning, which seems so easy and convenient, with automatic checking of clearance under the keel, provision of the shortest route, easy storage for subsequent voyages, along with the multiple bridge displays and the “bells and whistles” provided by these sophisticated systems. But, warns Captain Barker, the first time that the Master and the bridge team assess the chart may be when the ship arrives at that location, gaining a “snapshot” of the situation on the screen in use. What about the navigational warnings, or even the vessel parameters – have they changed? Is the team familiar with the area they are passing through, or are they relying purely on what is presented to them in that “snapshot?” Has anyone consulted the source data before making a change of course?

Captain Barker emphasises the importance of the navigator’s “core skills”, with the need for checking and re-checking, the verifying from other sources of data that marks out the efficient and safe navigator from those who take the information from a single source at face value.

To underline this very point, one of the “lessons” in the Safety Digest comes from the grounding of a bulk carrier in a channel, where despite having attended training courses on ECDIS, the Master and officer of the watch both lacked a basic understanding of the ECDIS equipment’s safety features and their importance. It might be suggested that the “generic” training provided on a mandatory basis will certainly need to be supplemented by adequate training on the equipment fitted to a particular ship. Is that being properly understood?

It has also been suggested that there is now something of a “generation gap” likely to emerge, with senior officers, traditionally trained, being unable to properly check what their “generation Y” juniors are doing with the equipment they show such competence in operating. Pause for thought, perhaps?

Author:-  "The Watchkeeper"                         Source:- BIMCO.