The new ECDIS regime is just a few months away. Yet there’s still plenty of misunderstanding apparently about the training requirements, if not about ECDIS itself. For instance, the president of a popular training centre in Manila that offers ECDIS courses was incredulous when we mentioned ‘type-specific’ and ‘generic’ ECDIS training. He insisted that there were only two types of ECDIS depending on the type of charts used – raster or vector. That’s it. Time to clear the air. So we threw some questions to Mike Pearsall, the business development manager of ECDIS Ltd in London. Our exclusive interview with Mr Pearsall:
Marine Café Blog: What will be the impact of the new ECDIS regime on shipping? Will the new regulations really usher in the age of paperless ships given that many ships still don’t have ECDIS systems on board?
PEARSALL: The introduction of ECDIS will see the arrival of a new age of paperless navigation, in due course. The introduction of ECDIS has been gradual, as indeed it should be, to ensure as safe a transition as possible. From its original conception in the ’80s, it was over a decade until the first performance standards were published and only now, over 15 years later, are vessels being mandated to fit a single ECDIS, which in itself does not allow a vessel to “go digital”. This will however, permit the whole industry, from superintendents through to cadets, to become comfortable with the concept and associated technology, after which paperless navigation will be the next logical step. Legislation can only go so far – there is still a need for mariners and operators to embrace the new technology – only then will they realise the benefits.
MCB: Do you expect most flag administrations or national authorities to come out in time with the necessary regulations and procedures on ECDIS training?
PEARSALL: At present, no. I am aware of only a handful of flags that have published such guidance, including UK MCA, Singapore MPA and Isle of Man – see www.ecdisregs.com for the latest. My personal concern is that even at national administration level, the understanding of the use and practical implications of ECDIS is limited, and this is preventing the necessary flow of information. For instance, there is a still a vast proportion of the shipping community who do not appreciate that ECDIS can be safely and effectively operated in case of GPS failure (or other GNSS input) – a critical tenet of ECDIS.
MCB: Some people are still confused about the meaning of ‘type-specific’ ECDIS training versus ‘generic’ ECDIS training. Can you tell us briefly the difference between these two?
PEARSALL: Generic training refers to the IMO 1.27 model course and covers the principles, legal aspects and general operation of ECDIS, as a generic concept. This should last a minimum of 40 hours, so realistically requires five days to be completed properly. The system that the course is taught using does not need to be the system that the operator will use at sea.
Type-specific training is the conversion of the generic principles to the interface of any one type-approved system. Given that every manufacturer’s interpretation of the performance standards and menu structure is so different, operators must be familiarised with how to correctly configure safety features and carry out basic tasks. ECDIS Ltd offer an 8 hour course that is currently the only one of its kind, accredited by the Nautical Institute.
If a generic course is delivered on a specific manufacturer’s system, this will satisfy the type-specific training requirement as well and results in the award of a certificate for both generic and type-specific training.
MCB: We understand that ‘type-specific’ ECDIS training on board is not allowed. Is this so?
PEARSALL: Receiving training on board is allowed, however, the MCA stated in MIN 405 (M+F) earlier this year that so-called “trickle-down” training is not acceptable, and other flag states have since followed suit. Type-specific training, where required by a flag, should be delivered by a manufacturer or designated representative and result in the award of a certificate.
MCB: The various ECDIS manufacturers will logically have to be the ones to provide ‘type-specific’ training but not all seem to be ready or able to do so. How do you assess the situation in regard to type-specific training?
PEARSALL: ECDIS Ltd currently offer accredited, instructor-led, type-specific courses for JRC, Kelvin Hughes, OSI, Simrad, Totem Plus and Transas. Other manufacturers have opted for the CBT (computer-based training) option, although concerns have been voiced about the security and comprehensiveness of these offerings. The ease by which some of these courses can be “completed” by repeatedly clicking “Next” is unlikely to promote a safety-conscious learning culture.
Moreover, you can’t ask a CBT package a question if you do not understand the subject matter! Recent legislation has hinted that manufacturers should take more responsibility for ECDIS training, but this could set a dangerous precedent. If you bought a car would you take driving lessons from the salesman who sold it to you? A manufacturer is unlikely to show you what their system cannot do, or the inherent shortfalls. This is where an independent trainer is so valuable. I think that manufacturers should stick to doing what they do best, i.e. building ECDIS systems and leave the training to those that have intimate knowledge of using these systems at sea.
MCB: In Manila, training centres are marketing and advertising ECDIS training courses without specifying whether the training provided is ‘generic’ or ‘type-specific.’ Some use the descriptive phrase ‘operational use of ECDIS.’ Don’t you consider this as false advertising or at least misleading?
PEARSALL: The phrase “Operational Use of ECDIS” is the title of the IMO 1.27 model course and where this phrase is used, customers should expect a full 40 hour course on the generic operation of ECDIS, and as previously indicated, if this is delivered on a particular manufacturer’s type-approved system, this will satisfy the type-specific training requirement. Also, be wary of courses claiming to be in accordance with STCW, given that the requirement is for a course to be approved by Flag.
Morbai Maritime, based in Manila, are ECDIS Ltd’s partner in the Philippines.
MCB: How do you tell if an individual has an adequate understanding of ECDIS and knows how to use it as a navigational tool?
PEARSALL: The ECDIS Ltd course culminates with a consolidation test which assures our instructors that each student has understood all of the concepts taught during the course. Our static MCA-approved course in Southampton also includes a practical assessment module on a full-mission bridge simulator. Assessment is not a requirement of the IMO 1.27 model course, but as responsible seafarers ourselves, we are committed to safety at sea and the highest standard of training to ensure this.
MCB: Is navigational experience necessary for one to become a good ECDIS trainer or instructor? What do you look for in an ECDIS trainer?
PEARSALL: Experience of navigating at sea with ECDIS as the primary means of navigation is mandatory to become one of our instructors. It goes without saying that to be viewed as competent and respectable, ECDIS instructors need to have experience of using ECDIS as the primary means of navigation at sea. Be warned – there are many training providers that require their instructors to have no practical experience of ECDIS whatsoever.
MCB: ECDIS Ltd seems to enjoy a high profile in the ECDIS training market. What’s so special about your organisation?
PEARSALL: Our organisation is unique because we are the only firm worldwide who specialise solely in the field of ECDIS. Unlike other training organisations, we do not sell our own system, which allows us to remain impartial in both training delivery and the provision of purchasing advice. Our commitment to safety at sea – delivering quality training in lieu of sub-standard, quick-fix courses – also sets us apart from other providers.
MCB: What compelling reasons are there for ship officers or shipping/manning companies to choose ECDIS Ltd over other outfits providing ECDIS training?
PEARSALL: With one simple phone call or email, ECDIS Ltd will provide an instructor anywhere in the world – often with as little as one week’s notice. This instructor will be an experienced ECDIS navigator, bringing with him all the necessary equipment to deliver the training required, along with an in-depth knowledge of that system. We deliver courses onboard vessels, in company’s offices, or from partner’s facilities. Without putting too finer point on it, no other training provider can offer the flexibility, reliability, professionalism and level of expertise that we do.