Posted by: towmasters | December 19, 2008

Lack Of ECDIS Training Leads To Grounding.

Here we go again…..from a North Sea sand bar off England’s east coast: the U.K.’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its report on the May 12, 2008 grounding of the M/V CFL Performer on Haisborough Sand.

I quote, “The ship’s course had been laid directly over the shallow water of the Sand. The ship’s Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) was the primary means of navigation. Unfortunately, none of the ship’s officers had been trained in the use of the particular model of ECDIS installed. Thus, features on the ECDIS that might have prevented this grounding were not utilized.”

The vessel’s owners did, in fact, conduct onboard training for their crew and were obviously conscious of the importance of it. Their efforts are notable and commendable. But the original crew had rotated out and the crew onboard at the time of the accident had not received any training.

From Section 1.7 of the report:

“In November 2007, Radio Holland conducted ECDIS training on board CFL Performer for the master, chief officer and second officer who were in post at the time. The training occurred before the vessel entered service, and was specific to the Furuno ECDIS. The training consisted of two sessions, each lasting between 4 and 5 hours. No training in the use of ECDIS was provided for officers who subsequently joined the vessel.

Of the officers on board at the time of the grounding, neither the chief officer nor the second officer was trained in the operation of ECDIS, but both had used such equipment on previous ships. The master had no previous experience or training on ECDIS or any other form of electronic navigation system. None of the officers were aware of the significance of the safety contour, the safety depth, and the shallow and deep contours, and did not know how to establish a watch vector ahead of the vessel, or its significance. They also did not know how to use the ‘check page’ (Annex A) to ensure that all course lines and associated channel limits were clear of navigational dangers.

At the time of the grounding, the vessel’s owner was in the process of obtaining feedback from its ships’ officers regarding their experience with ECDIS, with a view to identifying future training needs.”

At some point in the future we’ll all likely have to attend mandatory ECDIS training because, time and again, we find that the adoption and implementation of exotic and complex new technologies often leads to the improper use of said equipment. The result is avoidable accidents that are directly linked to vessel crews’ unfamiliarity with the very equipment meant to improve safety. Training is meant to mitigate this problem, but the very generalized nature of most training of this sort subverts the primary goal: genuine proficiency with the equipment that you use on a daily basis, not the equipment that the typical less-than-ideally-funded training center happens to have on hand. The case of the CFL Performer is a good example of  what is wrong with the attend-an-approved-course-and-get-a-certificate generic approach to training.

Every five years I, and all of my peers, have to attend a mandatory 1-day radar observer renewal course. Each time I go back I have to prove myself competent at an activity that I can honestly say that I have never once done on the job (plot vector diagrams on either a plotting sheet or on the illuminated screen of a radar for the purpose of avoiding collision) on largely obsolete equipment that no one uses. I won’t go into a rant about the sheer absurdity of it all: try this vector-plotting nonsense in the typical upper wheelhouse of a tug in New York Harbor on a typical busy watch when the “bridge team” is composed of me, myself and I. Suffice it to say that this “training” is pretty much a complete waste of time and energy. The poor instructors, if they have any self-respect, are forced to say things like “we know you’ll never, ever do this. But we have to go over it anyway and blah, blah, blah…..” I really do pity them, having to apologize for the blatant shortcomings of the course, repeating this over and over again, year after year. I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.

For certain kinds of electronic navigation and communications equipment (ECDIS, ARPA, AIS, GMDSS) a more specialized approach clearly would be likely to provide significantly better results at the user’s end. There could be a concise “general” course requirement that covers the basic theory and operational aspects of a particular type of equipment, followed by a make-and-model specific training module utilizing the actual units that the trainees will be using on board their vessels. This would probably require, in most cases, on-site training (like that which was provided by Radio Holland to the crew of the CFL Performer), at least for the latter part. A system like this would clearly be best geared toward smaller groups of mariners working for individual companies that have chosen to standardize the equipment they install on their vessels (which is generally a good practice to get into the habit of anyway). And it will certainly cost more, and be somewhat more difficult for the authorities to administer than the current course-approval process. The on-site instructors would need regularly updated familiarization training themselves as new models are released, so as to competently instruct others, and so more would be expected of them. It would make more sense for this stage of the training to be conducted by CG-approved instructors employed directly with or contracted by the equipment manufacturers. More expensive? Probably so, but the benefits would be considerable.

The alternative is to continue doing things as we do now, which will continue to yield disappointing results while wasting a lot of time, effort and money on training that clearly isn’t getting the job done. Which costs more in the end?



  1. Yet again it is alack of the enforcement of current reulations that has seen this situation arise. All Mariners as part of their Training are supposed to have had training in ECDIS and a Product Specific Training as required by STCW. That a crew are firstly appointed to a position without this qualification shows the lack of respect for the regulators. Secondly that the crew try to use a peice of equipment in which they have no training shows a complete lack of seamanship let alone common sense. How many more of these types of incidents have to happen before the reulations will be enforced. Both the company and the seamen are a fault. the company needs a suitable punishment to ensure it will only employ and appoint seafarers with training to meet the regulations. The Seafarer having shown this type of incomptence need to be removed from the industry they are a danger to the rest of us.

  2. I agree with Paul that lack of enforcement lead to accident. But I would like to say that we have to promote mutual interest in term of safety and environment issue. All mariners should have liability in safety and environment to each other. If you are in unsafety condition it can be risk to other and of course environment, why we have to rely on regulation, why not promote our safety awareness. I beleive that if we strongly have our own safety awareness we dont need any regulation.

  3. ECDIS training has always been a much neglected affair.

    I have been through about 15 different ECDIS training sessions, from a variety of maritime institutes, as a part of my job as auditor for maritime establishments. Just one of them actually made people learn something useful and new. All the others simply spouted text without understanding it.

    Only two institutes encouraged students to “play” with ECDIS made by different manufacturers. The rest simply made them use one particular ECDIS model (Transas / furuno/ whatever). Both of these had a simulator which allowed students to navigate on their ECDIS course (laid without any reference to paper charts).

  4. I for 1 see the writing on the wall when it comes to what is going to happen if people are not trained in how & what they are looking at, not just placing notes on a screen. You have to use the old school ways & understand the NEW school ways of ECDIS of what it can & can NOT do. The bottom line is simple; It’s still just a tool used to help the person if they knew what they were doing in the 1st place. When a person is trained correctly in what they do, it doesn’t mean it will not happen, it just mean it’s not as likely to happen. The amount of near misses all over the world are going higher because companies just want to throw on the systems without taking the time or spending the money correctly to train the people that are going to be using it. Half the battle using the ECDIS is knowing what your looking at & understanding it.

  5. I agree with the webmaster.
    Basic seamanship and navigation has been abandoned in the race to the bottom of seagoing competence promoted by the STCW.
    Even if the ECDIS had told these ignorants that a shallow patch was approaching would they have had the ability to avoid it?

  6. […] route, some have noted an alarming disconnect between this ECDIS-powered bright and safe future, and the facts at hand in shipping […]

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