ECDIS Update Kevin Vallance

At the time of writing, the US navy is suffering the embarrassment of having pictures of it’s minesweeper USS Guardian hard aground on the Tubbataha coral reef in the Philippines beamed around the world by the media. Fortunately no lives were lost in the grounding but although no pollution has been caused by the wreck, a portion of the protected coral reef has been severely damaged. A press release from the US Navy is claiming that the grounding resulted from the position of the reef not being correctly charted on the warship’s ECDIS! With the investigation on-going it is too early to confirm this fact but the statement does suggest that the use of ECDIS was a contributory cause of the grounding and, with the warship now to be dismantled for removal from the reef, this must be of great concern to all ECDIS users. This incident underpins the ECDIS training issues identified by Deep Sea pilot Kevin Vallance in the following report.     JCB

 At the conclusion of the inaugural 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. Following on from the 2010 Manila amendments to the STCW Convention it is now a requirement for all navigation officers’ using ECDIS equipment as the primary navigation source to have undertaken approved Generic & Type Specific training for the ECDIS equipment they are using. With this in mind shipping companies and associated manning agencies are now limiting the different manufacturers and models of equipment being purchased. One of the perceived problems with ECDIS is that its use will lead to a degradation of traditional chart work and navigation skills but this need not be the case. When pressed to explain their concerns many “traditional navigators” make reference 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 that in the absence of GNSS position information it is not possible to plot range & bearings onto ECDIS. In my personal experience very few OOW’s actually use a chart to plot or record anything other then GPS co-ordinates. I once witnessed a misguided second officer actually taking range and bearings off the ECDIS and transferring those to the paper chart. In actual fact not only is it possible (albeit through having to negotiate a series of drop down menu’s) to plot bearings of either prominent land feature’s or aids to navigation onto the ECDIS but all traditional navigation skills which were previously taught by nautical colleges and practised for centuries by navigators are possible using ECDIS including but not limited to the following:

Radar range & bearings from identified land or aids to navigation.

Rising & dipping distances from fixed navigation lights.

Celestial position lines

Horizontal & vertical sextant angles

Running fix

In view of this, when shopping around for type specific training, it may be advisable to ask the training provider to what depth they cover the subject of traditional navigation skills on a paper chart.

E-LORAN Goes “Live”

The General Lighthouse Authorities (GLA) have announced that ships in the Port of Dover and part of the Dover Strait can now use e-Loran radio navigation technology as a backup to GNSS and coverage is currently being extended to the East Coast of England and Southern North Sea. Using long wave frequencies based on the old LORAN system, the ground based e-Loran service ( provides a totally independent position fixing input from GPS thus enhancing resilience against jamming  or other satellite signal disruption. Consequently the safety of vessels is enhanced , especially  as mandatory ECDIS carriage extends to all classes of vessels. Integrated GPS / E-Loran Receivers are already starting to appear on the market and as prudent ship owners recognise the benefits their use is sure to become more widespread.                       JCB

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