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Understanding the Difference Between Generic and Type-Specific ECDIS Training

19 / 03 / 2021

The introduction of ECDIS changed the landscape of the maritime industry. Only the wide-spread availability of radar technology had a greater impact. ECDIS and associated technologies allow for more streamlined access to information, increased automation and a substantially decreased workload. Yet, as with all new technologies, ECDIS requires training and familiarity. Not only to correctly leverage the new advantages, but also to avoid costly mistakes.

Given the complexity of ECDIS operations, ruling authorities have split the training regimen into two sections. Generic ECDIS training and type-specific address different aspects of the system. In effect, it’s the equivalent of learning to use a smart phone versus learning to use an Android or iPhone specifically. Further, while computer usage is ubiquitous in the maritime industry, there is little in the way of required training. Someone lacking in computer skills will struggle with using an ECDIS – necessitating the development of ECDIS training programs.

Generic ECDIS Training

Generic ECDIS training programs approach the basic operations of any ECDIS. The IMO and national governments establish requirements that a system must meet. Understanding these requirements and the basic associated functionality make up the majority of generic ECDIS training. For example, understanding the difference between a vector and a raster chart falls under the purview of a generic class. They also discuss the limitations of ECDIS technology – particularly pertaining to digital interpretation of available data.

ECDIS is a powerful tool but using it incorrectly can result in disaster. A skilled computer user may intuitively understand the display of depth information on an ECDIS. However, without the knowledge gained in generic ECDIS training, they may not understand the interpolation necessary to generate that display. Understanding the basics of ECDIS operations helps a student focus on type-specific training. Instead of learning from scratch, they will go into their type-specific training knowing exactly which features they must identify and be able to easily access. While manufacturer’s have their own terminology, some wording remains standard across the industry. This includes the application of the ‘Kalman Filter’ control theory model to autopilot and positioning systems.

Type-Specific ECDIS Training

Generic ECDIS training prepares the mariner for the more crucial type-specific training related to their model of ECDIS. Understanding ECDIS theory does not allow for the practical use of the technology in relation to day-to-day operations. Regulations and standards require certain features – but they do not dictate the exact interface. As such, type-specific training outlines the eccentricities inherent to differing manufacturers. Transas, Furuno, JRC and many others all create their own unique user interfaces.

ECDIS user interfaces grew considerably more intuitive over the past two decades, but they often remain comparatively byzantine. A large part of type-specific training is learning the various menus, submenus and features available within a specific system. While one manufacturer may believe that position fixing features should feature on the main display or through hotkeys, another may bury them within tangentially related submenus. Regulators concern themselves with the presence of features – less so their ease of availability.

Finally, each manufacturer will offer features above and beyond the standard. These optional features may offer quality of life improvements that simplify the more onerous processes involved with navigation. As with any navigation tool, training and experience makes its use second nature. Rather than stopping to consult the ECDIS, the data presented folds readily into a more holistic bridge resource management strategy.

Practical Examples

Route Planning

With or without an ECDIS, route planning is a complex process involving multiple information sources. The navigation officer must consider safely minimizing distance, calculating under keel clearance, and ensuring the ready availability of necessary pilotage information. Traditionally, they would consult a variety of publications and charts. An ECDIS presents this information in one display – if they know how to access it.

Practical Example

Beginning a new charter, a paperless vessel will be visiting an unfamiliar port. The navigation officer completed their type-specific training. As a result, they know that their model of ECDIS requires a time zone description for each individual waypoint. Doing so ensures an accurate final ETA and avoids miscommunications with office and port officials.

Position Plotting

Mariners are rarely involved in the direct development of ECDIS software. As a result, access priorities can often skew in strange ways. This can create unique situations when an officer is unfamiliar with their specific ECDIS model.

Practical Example

A vessel’s second mate arrives on the bridge to relieve the new third mate. They notice that the new mate used the ‘digital divider’ feature to plot visual positions of landmarks. Realizing what happened, the second mate takes a moment to show the third mate where the position fixing feature is – placed underneath two submenus in a drop-down labeled ‘Logs.’


Leveraging ECDIS technology requires knowledge of the specific system in use. Generic ECDIS training is a necessity, but it is only a stepping-stone to the critical type-specific training. Failure to understand the unique characteristics of a given manufacturer can lead to dangerous navigation mistakes. Further, bridge technology continues to grow more integrated – with ECDIS systems serving as a central component.

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