ECDIS manufacturers, shipowners face new compliance deadline

A looming deadline regarding standards for electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) has many in the maritime industry rushing to make fixes.

ECDIS serves as an alternative to traditional paper nautical charts, assuming the units comply with International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) regulations. And that’s the rub. IHO revised its ECDIS standards and set an implementation date of Sept. 1, 2017.

The extent to which that poses a problem depends on a host of factors. From a shipowner’s perspective, ECDIS is simply a software update from the manufacturers, said Mike Backhouse, head of marketing at ECDIS Ltd., a training company based in the United Kingdom. And shipowners are not generally the issue when it comes to compliance, he said.

“We have found they are unaware of the changes and in fact it is the ECDIS manufacturers who are not complying in time with the upcoming deadline,” Backhouse said.

For vessel owners and operators, the biggest problems are simply the time and expense involved in updating the software, he said. Furthermore, if an operator’s ECDIS does not comply with the latest IHO standards, it may not meet the chart carriage requirements set out in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). If that is the case, inspectors are within their rights to fine operators or even detain vessels.

According to the Chamber of Shipping of America (CSA), ECDIS software should be kept up to date according to the latest IHO chart content and display standards. The IHO developed new editions of the S-52 and S-64 standards, published in 2015, that were designed to correct ECDIS anomalies and “alarm fatigue issues.” These standards include an update to the organization’s ECDIS Presentation Library from Edition 3.4 to Edition 4.0.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved an extension for the transition period in March 2016 to allow more time for companies to update existing systems. That extension was due to expire at the end of August.

Ship operators who have not already done so should confirm the status of the ECDIS installed on their ships and contact ECDIS manufacturers to ensure the necessary updates are installed as soon as possible, said Sean Kline, director of maritime affairs at the CSA. However, ECDIS installed on board after Aug. 19, 2015, should already comply with the new standards and be accompanied by a type-approval certificate verifying that.

In general, according to the chamber, ship operators are making every effort to comply. However, “compliance relies on the ECDIS manufacturers’ ability to have the system updates available and complete the necessary updates on board each ship,” Kline said. “We are aware of difficulties the manufacturers are having completing these upgrades.”

For example, some systems’ software can be updated on board with no hardware modifications while some software cannot. In other cases, there can be issues configuring the updated ECDIS into the integrated bridge management system. “Additionally, you have the obvious timing issues of when the ship’s operational schedule and the manufacturer’s tech schedule can coincide for the work to be done,” Kline said.

From the vantage point of the U.S. Coast Guard, the situation — especially regarding enforcement — is a little more complex because U.S. regulations have yet to incorporate the requirements found in SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation According to Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Amy Midgett, if a ship has an approved ECDIS installed according to SOLAS Chapter V, the ECDIS will be considered by the Coast Guard as meeting its nautical chart regulation because the system addresses the same safety concerns as paper charts.

“In general, U.S. and Canadian vessels are complying with ECDIS requirements,” Midgett said. And despite the divergence in SOLAS and U.S. rules, “we’ve seen no major compliancy issues associated with the SOLAS requirements regarding electronic navigation systems.”

Kline said the CSA did not know what the penalty would be if a ship failed to meet the new ECDIS standards by Sept. 1. 

“One could guess that the ECDIS may no longer comply with the IMO performance standard if not upgraded and not be considered type-approved,” he said. Consequently, a Port State Control officer would “probably give the ship a deficiency if you are still using paper charts for navigation as a backup,” or even detain a ship without paper charts if the ECDIS is the backup.

Midgett said the Coast Guard view is that penalties and liabilities are “highly dependent on circumstances.” She said the Coast Guard may use a number of tools to compel compliance, ranging from a domestic vessel deficiency form to a notice of violation or civil penalty.

“We support a reasonable approach to enforcement where a company that shows they made every effort to comply, but may have fallen short for circumstances beyond their control, would be given the benefit of the doubt by Port State Control,” Kline said.

Midgett did mention one other “out” that could help some operators: Under U.S. regulations, administrations may exempt a ship from the application of the requirements if the vessel is slated to go out of service within two years after the specified implementation date.

By Professional Mariner Staff