ECDIS & Positioning: Dr Andy Norris

Following the publication last year of “From paper Charts to ECDIS” by Captain Harry Gale, the Nautical Institute have now published a full book on ECDIS as volume 2 of their Integrated Bridge Systems series. As well as being published at a timely moment with respect to my own features on ECDIS, this book has not come a moment too soon for watchkeepers because the way ships are navigated is set to change fundamentally with the compulsory carriage of ECDIS which will replace the paper chart within the next decade. Following the successful format of his Radar & AIS book ( Reviewed in the April 2009 issue) which formed volume 1 of the IBS series, Dr Norris has produced another excellent work that provides a clear and concise explanation of the operation & functions of ECDIS. The text is well illustrated with photographs and diagrams and is divided into the following ten logical chapters which deliberately avoid too much technical detail and complex formulae:

1. Positioning, Mapping & Geodesy: Outlines the principles of mapping.

2. Electronic Positioning Systems: Mainly dealing with satellite systems this chapter details how satellite navigation works and explains the various problems and errors associated with the system and how they are overcome. The author doesn’t disguise the vulnerabilities associated with satellites and emphasises the need for position verification by other methods / systems, including radar and visual observations.

3. Introduction to Electronic charts: This outlines the history of Electronic charting along with the hardware and software required.

4. Electronic Chart Data: Explains how data is collated, who is authorised to produce it and how it is decoded and displayed

5. IMO ECDIS Requirement: This chapter usefully analyses the IMO requirements and explains them in laymen’s terms.

6. Operational Principles of ECDIS: This is the most important chapter which details all the operational aspects of an ECDIS. It acknowledges the problems associated with different manufacturers’ operating systems and therefore emphasises the need for type specific training to enable all users to fully comprehend their particular system.

7. Use of ECDIS for Route Planning: Explains the basic principles that a navigator should understand when using an ECDIS for passage planning. This is obviously restricted to generic information with acknowledgement for the need for the navigator to be trained in the specific type installed on  his ship.

8. Use of ECDIS For Route Monitoring: This chapter details how the ECDIS vector information differs from that of the paper chart and explains the various display modes and operational features. This chapter again emphasises the need for the watchkeeper to be fully proficient in the system he is using since much of the detail printed on a paper chart is not displayed on the standard display and needs to be added by use of the menu or by zooming in the range, clicking on objects on the chart or selecting them from the menu system.

9. Use of ECDIS in RCDS mode: There are still areas for which no ENC is available and in this case it is permissible for the ECDIS to display an approved raster chart and this chapter explains the requirements.

10. Training & Familiarisation: Obvious to all except many ship owners / operators!! Usefully, this section provides a checklist of over 70 cross referenced items considered essential for the safe planning and execution of a passage.

Three Appendices cover :

abbreviations and acronyms ( many!)

IMO back up requirements and

Differences between ECDIS & RCDS.

In summary, this book details how ECDIS works and most importantly explains how, if safety of navigation is to be ensured, navigating by means of  ECDIS requires a totally different methodology to traditional chartwork. My own research into ECDIS has revealed an alarming absence of any detailed explanation of a revolution in navigation that, within a decade,  is set to replace practices and skills that have evolved  over several millennia and so Andy Norris’ excellent book fills a gaping crater by providing the generic detail required to understand ECDIS principles and it is therefore an essential reference work for every navigator.


Published by: The Nautical Institute, 202 Lambeth Road London, SE1 7LQ

207 pages with over 100 full colour illustrations

Price: £40 ( discounts for members & bulk purchases)

Tel: +44 (0)20 7928 1351

web: Nautical Institute book shop. Click here

For the review of volume 1: Radar & AIS click here

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