BRIDGING THE GAP

The Crew Report 61 TCR2

 

WORDS BY JUSTIN MANN OF BLUEWATER BOOKS & CHARTS AND MARK THEISSEN OF TELEMAR YACHTING

Navigational technology on board superyachts has been advancing and will continue to do so; gone are the days when the only navigational tool was a paper chart. With ECDIS hailed by the industry as the best of the best in the navigational field, The Crew Report investigates if an ECDIS alone is really the way forward for superyachts.

Even though paper charts may have taken a back seat to electronic charts on today’s bridge, the lessons we learned still stay with us: having access to the best data is critical, regardless of whether that information is printed on paper or displayed in pixels.

Step aboard the bridge of a modern yacht today and you will undoubtedly find a vast array of monitors displaying large amounts of data, all tied into the ship’s different sensors. At a glance the mariner could have access to the boat’s position, speed, weather, wind, currents, ETA, fuel consumption and more; the modern-day bridge officer is presented with powerful tools designed to provide real-time reporting on nearly all the vessel’s systems.

Despite this technological tour de force, you are also likely to find navigational tools on board that have roots which can be traced back many years. From paper charts to dividers, parallel rulers to a hand-bearing compass and other plotting instruments, these tools of the trade are just as likely to be found on the bridge as a cutting-edge electronic navigation system. The journey to smarter and safer bridges starts by knowing where we have come from, where we are and where we are going. It is about having the right tool for the job at hand, even if that means you need multiple tools. In the same way you cannot build a house with just a hammer, the navigator today cannot rely solely on one data source and one system alone for all their needs.

Knowing where we have come from can help guide us to where we want to be in the future: in a safer, smarter navigation environment. For many years paper charts and the associated tools formed the backbone of navigation and for some vessels they still do. Whether paper charts are a thing of the past on your bridge, or very much a part of your current environment, captains would undoubtedly agree that having the best scale, most detailed charts is always the goal. This does not mean they always come from one source, either; often a bridge will not just have official charts from one hydrographic office but many from multiple hydrographic outlets. Additionally, unofficial charts from private sources are used. Blasphemy you say? Consider the goal: safer navigation. Having different chart sources on board to enhance situational awareness can help us reach that goal. Even though paper charts may have taken a back seat to electronic charts on today’s bridge, the lessons we learned still stay with us: having access to the best data is critical, regardless of whether that information is printed on paper or displayed in pixels.

As time has passed, and with the advent of more and more powerful Electronic Navigation Systems (ENSs), today many vessels have chosen one Electronic Charting System (ECS) as their primary means of navigation, though this does not mean they have abandoned their paper charts. But, as time has gone on, paper charts as a primary means of navigation have given way to modern-day ECSs such as Transas and Sperry systems. The paper charts, while still relevant, now operate in a supplementary roll, augmenting the primary system. Today’s ECSs offer features and flexibility not available within a paper-only environment. From the ability to run more than one chart source, to the integration of multiple sensor inputs, to displaying different pieces of information across several screens, these new ENSs certainly bring a lot of functionality to the table.

More than one captain has expressed the sentiment: “I use my electronic navigation system as my primary means of navigation but I don’t go anywhere without my paper backup.” So today, while we embrace the new technology, we still appreciate the advantages of older methods; specifically the backup and redundancy capability that paper charts offer, as well as having access to official chart data, unaltered by private companies. This official data satisfies the need for many commercially registered vessels which need to have official chart data on board, something their Transas system using TX-97 charts or their Sperry system running CM-93 charts cannot claim. So, while we see technology has ushered in a new age with ECS programs running as the hub of the navigation wheel, we must also acknowledge that the systems are not necessarily a silver bullet, still requiring in many cases paper backup to satisfy other requirements that they cannot.

Fortunately innovation and technology does not stand still. In Issue 133 of The Superyacht Report we discussed the merits of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS); what it is, what it is not and some of the questions addressed when considering an ECDIS. You may have concluded, having done your own research, that ECDIS was right for you, in which case your journey was over, right? It would be understandable if you reached this answer. After all, ECDIS represents the very pinnacle of electronic navigation, with the power to integrate many different inputs to create an unprecedented environment for situational awareness. A dual ECDIS installation can also satisfy the redundancy criteria previously met by using paper charts and a Transas or Sperry system using non-ENC data. And, where traditional ECSs fall short with respect to using official data in a type-approved chart format, these systems can satisfy flag state requirements by using chart data from an official hydrographic office in an IMO-approved format – the much talked about ENC. As a requirement of the ENC, these charts are updated on a weekly basis using the Notice to Mariners (NTM), just like their paper chart counterparts. So, it would be understandable if one were to conclude an ECDIS is the holy grail of navigation systems. But, you might be mistaken in that conclusion.

For all the power of ECDIS and all the potential advantages it promises, it is still only one tool. The limitations of an ECDIS ironically stem from the system’s strengths, specifically the very standards that make an ECDIS what it is; display standards and type-approved charts and hardware also form the basis for the limitation of the system depending on the environment in which it operates. These systems are not necessarily as flexible as yachts may require.

Consider the original target audience for ECDIS: the commercial shipping market. Commercial ships have needs that overlap with a yacht’s, not the least of which is safe navigation, which is why ECDIS has started to appear on more and more bridges of superyachts. The modern-day yacht, however, has navigation demands placed upon it thata commercial vessel may not, from out-of-the-way ports of call, to last-minute itinerary changes, to the need for access to all sorts of information (satellite imagery, port photos, cruising guide data), beyond what the typical chart (ENC or otherwise) can offer. Perhaps this is why you can find dual ECDIS installations, fully type-approved, running in a ‘paperless’ or reduced-paper bridge environment with a secondary system, such as MaxSea or Nobeltec, operating concurrently on a completely  separate workstation. More blasphemy you say? Not when you consider the lessons we have learned on this journey to smarter and safer bridges and marry them with the requirements of superyachts today.

The needs that drove captains to have paper charts from multiple sources still exist today. The way the information is displayed may have changed but the desire to have access to a variety of source data to enhance situational awareness remains the same. What if you want to run charts from other sources than what is available as an ENC on your ECDIS? What if the ENCs for the area are not of sufficient scale for safe navigation or simply don’t exist? You would then want to have an official paper chart on board, but an electronic chart from another source coupled with the paper chart might certainly help. Since other ECS programs are not bound by the same standards as an ECDIS, they have more flexibility with respect to the charts they can run and display. These systems are not designed to replace an ECDIS but simply as an additional tool the mariner can use, augmenting what is already there. Flexibility is something these systems can offer that an ECDIS was never designed to.

The limitations of an ECDIS ironically stem from the system’s strengths, specifically the very standards that make an ECDIS what it is; display standards and type-approved charts and hardware also form the basis for the limitation of the system depending on the environment in which it operates.

Having a secondary system makes even more sense when you consider the many times these programs are ubiquitous, so the learning curve is shallow. These navigation systems were designed with easy-to-use Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and allow for functionality not available on other programs and certainly not on an ECDIS. Recently, a captain running a superyacht with a dual ECDIS system approached us about installing just such a secondary system; one of the features specifically requested was the ability to load it on his laptop. The idea was for when the owner called with a last-minute itinerary change or had a question about a trip; the captain could pull up the program no matter where he was and address the question or concerns of the owner. Try doing that with an ECDIS.

The point is not that an ECDIS or any other navigation system is bad or incapable – quite the contrary. Each of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses. No one super tool exists to solve all problems and satisfy all requirements; even those multi-purpose tools have their limitations. So, as we continue our journey to safer and smarter bridges, a strategic approach would be to combine the systems that have strengths to offset the weaknesses of the other. When combined properly, these complementary systems just make sense.

Since other ECS programs are not bound by the same standards as an ECDIS, they have more flexibility with respect to the charts they can run and display. These systems are not designed to replace an ECDIS but simply as an additional tool the mariner can use, augmenting what is already there.

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