The study came in response to a series of accidents – mainly groundings – over the past decade in which investigations revealed 'a mismatch between the way ECDIS (electronic chart display and information systems) was used and the way regulators and the systems manufacturers expected it to be used'.

According to the report, seafarers consider that ECDIS contributes to safe navigation by reducing the workload of the bridge team and providing real-time positioning.

However, it is clear that there are wide variations in the way that ECDIS is used due to, among other things, ship function, bridge equipment and ergonomics, manning, the degree of integration with other sensors, the requirements of safety management systems, the knowledge and familiarisation of operators, and the ECDIS model fitted,

...it adds.

The paper points to a reliance upon training and familiarisation to overcome issues around system complexity and the lack of standardisation and warns that ‘many of the training strategies currently adopted appear to fall short of individual expectations and requirements.

As such, British and Danish investigators conducted fact-finding voyages of one to four days on 29 ECDIS-equipped ships and interviewed almost 130 deck officers.

Findings

Some of the most common complaints were:

  • alarms (particularly AIS and in restricted waters)
  • too much information displayed
  • variations in the way information is grouped by different ECDIS models
  • differing menu structures

Some of the most requested changes included:

  • fewer alarms
  • bigger screens and more touchscreen technology
  • simpler systems
  • standardised interfaces
  • more integration, such as radar, digital publications and NAVTEX
  • increased colour density and better fonts

Investigators found that many seafarers had difficulties recalling ECDIS training details because of significant time gaps between training and practical use. The quality and methods of training were found to vary considerably, and many seafarers said they preferred familiarisation to generic training.

There were significant variations among certified officers in the understanding of key features such as safety contour, safety depth and the criteria on which wheel-over positions and "predictors" were based.

Some marked inconsistencies were also noted in the way that officers use ECDIS for passage planning and route monitoring.

In a paper presented to the IMO, the investigation bodies provided some 'headline' findings from the study. The full report is expected to be published in the next few months.