This from - CSL THAMES, a self-discharging bulk carrier, grounded briefly after altering course from her planned track to avoid other traffic. The ECDIS shallow water alarm was apparently not working, and the safety contours setting was inappropriate for the area being traversed.  The crew didn't realize that they were headed for shallow water until the ship grounded. Nasty surprise!

The MAIB investigation determined that the crew's ECDIS knowledge was deficient. One also wonders whether the watchkeepers were using any other means of navigation, or just relying on the electronics. It's very easy to slide into letting the electrons do the work, isn't it! 

Just watching the box, and taking no other measures to check what it's telling you, will probably work most of the time - but the one time it does not work (like this one) can be very painful. You may damage your career, cause a serious incident, or even hurt or kill someone. 

Today's electronic nav tools are indispensable in today's fast-paced, high-traffic situations. But other more traditional tools remain available to us to check and verify the electronic readout. Some are rudimentary, like checking actual depth of water vs. what the electronic chart would indicate; others, like checking location using independent position-fixing or even taking bearings on lights, etc., require more effort - but shouldn't be too much for an able navigator who's onto his job. Time was, that's all he had - I remember a trip through the Strait of Messina back in the '70s, taking bearings on lights to check our position. We can still do that today, and should when we're able. All eggs in the ECDIS basket doesn't seem wise!

A LOT of factors in ECDIS, including settings for the part of the world you're in, or the type of charts you're using - even the display settings you choose to use - can cause inaccuracies or lacking/misleading information in the display that can make the difference between a safe passage and an accident. 

I'm not ECDIS qualified, as I haven't sailed deep-sea in ships since the 1980's - my career took me to smaller vessels and to tugs after that. So my information is gleaned from seminars I've taken and from talk with other mariners. Have you sailed with ECDIS? Please let us know your point of view!

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