ECDIS Overview: Performance Standards, Components, Regulations, Brands

by | Last updated Jan 16, 2024 | Equipment, Navigation | 0 comments

Seventeen years ago, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) released its second resolution, Resolution MSC.232(82), outlining ECDIS performance standards.

At that time, many of us were skeptical about how this technology could revolutionize or ultimately become the preferred alternative to the age-old paper charts used on every ship. 

However, it has since evolved into an indispensable tool for ship navigation. Deck Officers now appreciate its efficiency, as it significantly reduces their workload.

Here’s one mariner who discovered the importance of this technology 10 years ago.

I had never sailed on a vessel with ECDIS till March last year (2013). Over a long 20 days of sailing, I familiarised myself well with it. On arriving in Brazil, I was made to shift anchorage ten times in seven days due to local regulations. Believe me, that was the time I realised how useful ECDIS is to a navigator!

G B Singh AFNI – Issue 5: ECDIS – The Future Of Navigation (LR)

Now, let’s delve into the specifics of ECDIS and discover its benefits, components, performance standards, and the brands that make them today.

Key Takeaways

  • ECDIS replaces our traditional paper charts which are bulky and require manual extensive updates.
  • IMO and SOLAS set standards and regulations for ECDIS performance
  • ECDIS is crucial for modern seafaring, offering enhanced safety, accurate navigation, and efficient voyage planning.
  • Key components include chart database, processors, display, and control unit.

What is ECDIS?

Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) is a computer-based navigation system that integrates electronic navigational charts (ENCs) in its functionality.

Think of it as a mariner’s version of Google Maps that lets you plot your position, take bearing and distance, create your own route, identify other ships, and execute many more features.

Because it is connected to other electronic navigational tools that feed relevant information, ECDIS provides real-time data for ship navigation and voyage planning.

In simpler terms, ECDIS replaces traditional paper nautical charts while offering a more efficient and accurate means of navigation for seafarers.

This equipment is more interactive and dynamic compared to traditional charts, which are static.

Why is ECDIS important?

ECDIS is essential to seafarers nowadays. If you ask any seaman whether they want to return to traditional paper charts, many will say no!

Here are some compelling reasons why:

1. Enhanced Safety

Unlike paper charts, ECDIS offers live updates on water depths, hazards, navigation aids, buoys, your own position, and nearby vessels. 

2. Accurate Navigation

The system ensures accurate navigation by integrating electronic navigational charts (ENCs) and continuously updating position data.

This accuracy is crucial for navigating through intricate waterways and avoiding obstacles.

Two ECDIS installed on a vessel navigating in an open sea.
Image: ig @theaussieshefarer.

3. Situational Awareness

By offering a comprehensive and dynamic view of the ship’s surroundings, it enables quick decision-making and response to changing conditions.

4. Efficient Voyage Planning

Seafarers can plan and optimize routes more efficiently using ECDIS, considering weather conditions, traffic, and safety regulations.

This contributes to fuel efficiency and cost savings.

5. Reduction in Paperwork

Paper charts used to be the Second Officer’s nightmare. But not anymore.

ECDIS replaces traditional paper charts, reducing the need for extensive paperwork to manage and update physical charts.

It also eliminates the need for manual plotting and calculations, minimizing the risk of errors.

6. Proactive Risk Management

The system provides safety alerts and alarms, alerting navigators to potential dangers in advance. 

7. Integration of Sensor Data

ECDIS integrates data from various onboard sensors, such as GPS, radar, AIS echo sounder, and gyro compass.

This integration ensures a holistic view of the vessel’s surroundings, allowing for better-informed decisions.

Components of ECDIS

An ECDIS may look like a rectangular box mounted with a screen, but it actually has parts similar to a modern computer.

Here are the four main components of ECDIS that form the backbone of its functionality:

1. Computer processor, software, and network

These subsystems control the processing of information from the vessel’s navigation sensors and the flow of information between various system components.

The processor executes instructions, calculations, and data manipulation while the software orchestrates the interface between the user and the ECDIS.

Electronic positioning information from GPS or DGPS, contact information from radar, and digital compass data, for example, can be integrated with the electronic chart data.

2. Chart database

At the heart of any ECS lies a database of digital charts. This dataset, or a portion of it, produces the chart on the display screen.

3. System display

This unit displays the electronic chart indicating the vessel’s position and provides information such as heading, speed, distance to the next waypoint or destination, soundings, etc.

It’s typically a high-resolution monitor that showcases navigational data in all its glory.

This allows officers to visualize charts, track routes, and clearly monitor surroundings.

4. User interface (UI)

Also called a control unit, the UI is the user’s link to the system. It allows the navigator to change system parameters, enter data, control the display, and operate the various functions.

Most user interfaces use a built-in control unit designed differently from your regular computer keyboard.

ECDIS control units have a combination of buttons, knobs, and trackball mouse.

Modern ECDIS now features touchscreen technology.

Four basic parts and components of ECDIS that include display unit, control unit, processors, and chart database.

Compliance with International Regulations

As early as 1995, the IMO already set performance standards and guidelines for using ECDIS.

Meanwhile, the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) implements mandatory use of this equipment in merchant vessels irrespective of size.

“SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 19, Paragraph 2.4 states that:

An electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) may be accepted as meeting the chart carriage requirements of this subparagraph.”

The carriage requirement includes backup arrangements, route monitoring, voyage recording, and other functionalities highlighted in IMO RESOLUTION MSC.530(106).

ECDIS Key Performance Standards

The central purpose of ECDIS is to enhance safe navigation, aligning with stringent regulatory requirements.

Aside from the requirements listed above, here are the core standards of its mandatory features:

1. ECDIS should be capable of displaying all nautical information necessary for safe and efficient navigation.

2. This information must be distributed by or on the authority of a government, authorized hydrographic office, or other relevant government institution.

3. It should facilitate simple and reliable updating of the ENDS or electronic navigational data service. ENDS encompasses the nautical charts and publications.

4. This equipment should reduce the navigational workload compared to using paper charts and paper nautical publications.

5. The ECDIS display may also display radar, radar-tracked target information, AIS, and other appropriate data layers to monitor routes.

6. The navigational tool should provide appropriate alerts or indications with respect to the information displayed or malfunction of the equipment.

7. When the relevant chart information is unavailable in the appropriate form, some ECDIS equipment may operate in the raster chart display system (RCDS).

ECDIS screen showing a vessel following its route during navigation.

Most common ECDIS brands found in ships

A few years ago, only a handful of companies made Electronic Chart Displays and Information Systems.

Even when transferring from one vessel to the other, you will encounter the same makers as they dominate the market.

Today, we have many makes and models of ECDIS coming from different manufacturers, some of whom I have only heard of today.

Here is a list of them:

  • Furuno
  • Kongsberg Maritime
  • JRC
  • Sperry Marine
  • Transas
  • NavMaster
  • GEM Electronica
  • Raytheon Anschütz
  • Kelvin Hughes
  • Seatronx
  • Navico
  • Tokio Keiki
  • PC Maritime
  • Periskal
  • Danelec
  • Seatronx
  • RH Marine

Please note that I am not affiliated with any of these brands, and this article is for informational purposes only.

May the winds be in your favor.



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