Used properly, ECDIS can help retain traditional navigational skills.

Jan 15 2013

At the conclusion of the inaugral ECDIS Revolution Conference, held during November 2010 in London, one of the key statements made was that many of the concerns of delegates (either real or perceived) could be satisfactorily resolved by adequate and proper training.

After the 2010 Manila amendments to the STCW Convention, it is now a requirement for all navigation officers using ECDIS equipment, where it is the primary navigation source onboard, to have undertaken approved generic and type specific training for the ECDIS equipment actually fitted.

A positive outcome of this position is that some shipping companies and their associated manning agencies are now limiting the numbers of manufacturers and models of ECDIS equipment purchased for their fleets, resulting in the benefit of standardisation of some of the key functions of navigational equipment across their fleet.

One of the perceived problems with ECDIS is that its use will lead to a degregation of traditional chartwork and navigation skills. However, this does not need to be the case. When pressed to explain their concerns many 'traditional navigators' refer to the myth that loss of GPS leads to a complete breakdown of the position fixing capability of ECDIS. What they are mistakenly alluding to is a view that in the absence of GNSS position information it is not possible to plot range & bearings onto ECDIS. However, the experience of my colleagues is that very few OOWs actually use a chart to plot or record anything other then GPS coordinates, with one Pilot actually observing a 2nd officer taking range and bearings off the ECDIS and transferring those to the paper chart!.

Not only is it possible (by negotiating a series of drop down menus) to plot bearings of either prominent land features or aids to navigation onto the ECDIS, all traditional navigation skills previously taught by nautical colleges and practised for centuries by navigators are also possible, including but not limited to:

  • Radar range and bearings from identified land or aids to navigation

  • rising and dipping distances from fixed navigation lights

  • celestial position lines

  • horizontal and vertical sextant angles

  • running fix.

  • When shopping around for type specific training, it may be advisable to ask the training provider of the depth to which they cover the subject of traditional navigation skills on a paper chart.