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ECDIS – a comprehensive guide
The speaker at the Hong Kong branch in May was Mr. Clive Loh of the UK Hydrographic Office, who is the senior member of their technical support team at Admiralty Asia Pacific. He holds a BEng in Electronics from SIM University in Singapore, and is an expert in system integration. He is involved in resolving technical queries from clients, conducting training courses and acting as a technical consultant on Admiralty products.
Clive is a walking encyclopaedia on anything related to ECDIS, and more than 50 members and guests gathered to hear his presentation.
He began with some observations about the recent proliferation of counterfeit Admiralty charts and publications, which are putting ships and crews at risk, and gave us a number of pointers on how to recognise the fakes. Interested readers should consult the branch website, where we hope to post some graphics from the presentation.
Turning to ECDIS, Clive pointed out the number of Port State Control deficiencies which involve improper carriage or use of electronic charts. He stressed the need for proper training, and the importance of selecting products which combine quality, accuracy, flexibility and automatic updates, with the ability to make voyage planning more efficient. He also mentioned that Admiralty products come with free training videos.
The speaker then talked about selecting appropriate equipment and the importance of proper maintenance, while warning against over-reliance on ECDIS and the importance of a good visual lookout. He also praised the NI’s electronic navigation checklists.
He stressed that there are no annual inspection requirements for ECDIS, so good maintenance is vital. He also urged his listeners to avoid over-reliance on any electronic device and not to forget to look out the wheelhouse windows. ECDIS should be thought of in the same way as the GPS in a car – as an aid.
Clive then turned to the International Hydrographic Office standards which govern items such as encryption and presentation, and pointed out that the new standards will require ECDIS software to be updated by August next year. The update is intended to resolve all identified ambiguities and inconsistencies, reduce the number of alarms, offer clearer symbols, standardise tidal stream information and provide a new ‘hover-over’ function using the mouse. Listeners were advised to update as soon as possible to avoid the last-minute rush.
He commended two new or revised publications – NP 5012, the guide to ENC symbols used by ECDIS and NP 231, the guide to the practical use of ENCs – and stated that these should be carried by all vessels.
The UKHO have been running familiarisation seminars about the new standards, and there is more information on their website and on the various social media including ‘Admiralty TV’.
A lively question and answer session followed. Some listeners were concerned that equipment manufacturers will not be ready with software updates next year. One ship manager opined that anyone like him who persuaded his owners to fit ECDIS ten years ago was a moron, because he now had to explain to those owners why they had to buy new systems.
There was considerable discussion about the likelihood of suffering a complete system failure on a dual-ECDIS vessel. Clive could not provide exact figures, but admitted he was aware of a number of such failures. He believes all ships should carry ’20 to 30%’ paper charts to cover areas where there are still no ENCs, and to provide a ‘get you home’ function in case of a catastrophic failure.
One ship manager revealed that his fleet of 400 vessels had only suffered one complete failure in the past five years, and he thought one failure per 2000 ECDIS years was reasonable. Others in the congregation pointed out that not all companies are so well-run, so his figures might not be typical.
Your scribe was relieved that he had worked for a company which was not required to fit ECDIS. Astute readers will have realised this report was written by a maritime fossil, and any errors are due to the reporter, not the speaker.
This was a fitting topic for our first meeting at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum after our previous venue was flattened to make way for development. It was a very interesting evening in a superb location on the harbourfront, well-attended, and followed by an excellent buffet at the museum café. We are grateful to Clive Loh and his colleagues for a fine talk and some sponsorship to defray the cost of hiring the venue.

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10 July 2024
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