Electronic Navigation: Improved Training and Auditing Will Enhance Navigation Safety

July 2, 2009

Modern electronic navigation systems have the potential to improve vessel navigation safety and ruce accidents.  The potential of these new systems is unlikely to be realiz, however, if the officers keeping the navigation watch are not fully train and properly qualifi in their use.  Thus, fully realizing the potential in electronic navigation will require improv training, a wider spectrum of knowlge across the industry and better procures by vessel owners and managers to assess qualification and proper use.  At the same time, as incidents relat to the use of AIS or ECDIS occur, courts are putting owners and managers on notice that such training and monitoring is requir to avoid or limit their liability for accidents.

Using AIS For Collision Avoidance

A vessel involv in a collision has the burden of establishing that any failure to properly use its navigation equipment did not contribute to the casualty.  The maritime industry is currently engag in a debate over whether AIS is one of the navigation systems that must be us for collision avoidance.  The U.S. Coast Guard’s recently propos rules requiring the AIS to be plac where it can be readily observ by the officer conning the vessel will serve to increase this debate.

Many mariners, however, are apparently not waiting for further regulatory guidance.  Mariners, many of whom have little or no AIS training, are using information obtain from AIS to make VHF calls to negotiate collision avoidance.  There is also evidence that the use of AIS text messaging for collision avoidance situations is also increasing.   

Without formal AIS training and the attendant knowlge of it limitations and without clear regulatory guidelines, such informal practices have the potential to introduce additional risks into the navigation situation.  Such risks are demonstrat in an AIS-assist collision not long after the adoption of AIS industry-wide:

§  In June 2004, the M/V HYUNDAI DOMINION collid with the M/V SKY HOPE in the .  The HYUNDAI DOMINION was the stand-on vessel in a crossing situation.  As the situation develop, it became apparent that the SKY HOPE was not giving way.  Instead of taking proper action to avoid the collision, however, the watch officer on the HYUNDAI DOMINION, who had receiv minimal training on the use of AIS, wast valuable time sending AIS text messages to the SKY HOPE, attempting to warn the SKY HOPE to keep out of the way.

ECDIS Relat Groundings

The transition from paper charts to electronic charts also poses challenges for the maritime industry that are as great as, or greater than, those encounter in the adoption of AIS.  While many aspects of ECDIS provide benefits in time savings and accuracy, the potential benefits are highly dependent on proper use.  If watch officers are unfamiliar with the systems in use, or are confus by the information present, ECDIS can become more of a liability than a benefit.  The change in mind-set ne to shift from paper to electronic charts intensifies the risks caus by lack of adequate ECDIS training. 

Inadequate or non-existent training and the resulting unfamiliarity with, or improper use of, ECDIS and other electronic chart systems is demonstrat by several recent casualties:

§  In October 2004, the fishing allided with an unlight offshore rig in the .  The vessel was equipp with an electronic chart that had an obstruction warning system.  The vessel owner had not provid the master with training in the use of the electronic chart system and the master had never read the operating manual.

§  In January 2008, the Roll on Roll off Passenger ferry PRIDE OF CANTERBURY ground on a chart wreck while sheltering from heavy weather off .  The officer of the watch was unaware that there was a chart wreck on a nearby shoal because he was not train in the use and limitations of the electronic chart system which had the wrong settings at the time of the accident.

§  In May 2008, the dry cargo vessel CFL PERFORMER ran aground off the east coast of .  The ensuing investigation conclud that the accident was caus by the improper use of the ECDIS.  Despite those on the bridge not having had adequate ECDIS training, the crew was, in fact, relying heavily on the ECDIS for situational awareness and navigation.


Vessel owners and operators have an obligation to provide a train and competent crew.  A vessel may be found un-seaworthy and the owner deni the right to limit its liability for a casualty if a court finds that the vessel was mann with an incompetent crew.  Thus, inherent in having mariners fully familiar with the use and limitations of the all the electronic navigation equipment they have on board is providing them with adequate training.

International regulations and training and familiarization with electronic navigation equipment, however, are not currently at the level ne to improve industry-wide safety and minimize the occurrence of the types of incidents discuss above.  Current training also may not be adequate to meet the requir legal standards.  For example, although STCW95 considers ECDIS to be includ under the term “charts,” there is no mandatory requirement for navigating officers to undertake specific ECDIS training.

Where electronic navigation systems are in use, owners should consider providing both generic and type specific training to all navigating officers to ensure their understanding of its functionality and limitations.  Proposals have been made to incorporate AIS and ECDIS training and proficiency into STCW.  But IMO Model courses already exist for AIS and ECDIS.  Owners should consider using these courses now to the greatest extent possible without waiting for an STCW mandate.  Owners and operators also should consider updating their fleet instructions to include AIS and ECDIS type specific familiarization in their STCW mandat on board training.

As the industry updates training requirements and standardiz courses, full use of ECDIS simulation should be includ in maritime training institutions as well as in on board training courseware.

Monitoring Performance

The burden of proving seaworthiness and the exercise of due diligence to make the ship seaworthy is upon the vessel owner or operator.  Thus, in the event of a navigation casualty, it will be incumbent on the vessel’s owner and operator to prove that they exercis due diligence.

The ISM Code places a general requirements on ship owners and managers to ensure all personnel are familiar with the equipment they are expect to use and requires owners and managers to establish procures to ensure that new personnel and personnel transferr to new assignments relat to safety and protection of the environment are given proper familiarization with their duties.  Port State Control inspectors have also been task to require masters and deck watch-keeping officers to produce appropriate documentation that generic and type specific ECDIS familiarization has been undertaken.

The ISM Code also requires verification of compliance with safety procures, including safety of navigation.  The Code’s requir audits provide one means of satisfying an owner’s due diligence burden as well as avoiding Port State Control detentions.  Internal auditors should be train, however, to recognize deficiencies in electronic navigation equipment and assess compliance with navigation procures.  Several major shipowners also routinely conduct underway navigation proficiency evaluations.  The maritime industry should consider a more widespread adoption of this practice.

Alan M. Weigel, associate at Blank Rome LLP, concentrates his practice in the area of commercial and insurance litigation and arbitration, with a particular emphasis on the maritime industry, where he represents clients in a wide variety of both domestic and international maritime, commercial, and insurance matters.  Contact Weigel at tel: 212.885.5350; or Email: [email protected]


Logistics News

US LNG Exports Through Panama Canal Shrink, Asia-Europe Spreads Widen

US LNG Exports Through Panama Canal Shrink, Asia-Europe Spreads Widen

OpEd: Shipping Seeks Safe Waters in Era of Deadly Geopolitics

OpEd: Shipping Seeks Safe Waters in Era of Deadly Geopolitics

Bangladesh Puts to use China-built Crude Oil Offloading Facility

Bangladesh Puts to use China-built Crude Oil Offloading Facility

Maersk to Deploy First Large Methanol-Enabled Vessel on AE Trade

Maersk to Deploy First Large Methanol-Enabled Vessel on AE Trade

Subscribe for Maritime Logistics Professional E‑News