IMO Prioritizes e-Navigation

John Erik Hagen, Regional Director at the Norwegian Coastal Administration and Chairman of the e-navigation working group at IMO

Published Jun 28, 2015 7:32 PM by Wendy Laursen

The IMO has put e-navigation back on the high-level action plan of the Maritime Safety Committee. The program was to finish this year, but the outcomes achieved at MSC 95 earlier this month mean that work will continue for at least four more years. Five of the six planned work items were approved with the opportunity to re-present the sixth next year.

E-navigation aims to provide needed information, in electronic format, to a ship's bridge team to enhance the safety and efficiency of navigation. This involves the integration of new and existing bridge technologies and equipment to enable the provision of globally harmonized maritime services. E-navigation will also help simplify the exchange of information between systems on board ships, between ships and shore, and on shore.

“The most important outcome of MSC 95 is that IMO will take a lead in harmonizing e-navigation systems,” says John Erik Hagen, Regional Director at the Norwegian Coastal Administration and Chairman of the e-navigation working group at IMO. “As technology develops, many new systems are being introduced such as the under-keel clearance system in the Torres Strait and another in the St Lawrence Seaway. If e-navigation is to work around the world, these innovative systems must be harmonized as far as possible for ships to be able to use e-navigation globally.”

Hagen says some shipowners may act early on e-navigation. “As e-navigation rolls out, those who wish to take advantage of what it offers will fit early,” he says. “The cost savings on ship reporting will encourage early fits. However, at this stage the IMO have no plans for mandating e-navigation. It is unlikely that anything will be ready until 2020.”

Meeting User Needs

The Nautical Institute (NI) is pleased that, given the wide scope of e-navigation, the IMO has chosen priorities that meet user needs, says David Patraiko, Director of Projects. “When the program of e-navigation was first adopted by the IMO in 2006, the Secretary General made it very clear that it should be led by user needs. The NI, as a leading organization for mariners, then embarked on an extensive task of gathering these needs by holding workshops through its international branch network, visiting ships, discussing it with its members and using all sorts of tools at its disposal. These needs were then shared with the IMO and other organizations involved in the development of e-navigation.

“Although all the priorities set by IMO are a step in the right direction, and the NI look forward to working with the international community to continually represent its members’ needs, we recognize that this is a not a fast process,” says Patraiko. “It started at the IMO in 2006 and will result in a range of guidelines being produced by 2020. Many of the e-navigation solutions and priorities require an internationally agreed infrastructure to harmonize the exchange and presentation of essential information, and we hope that in time these current priorities will lead to a more effective tool for mariners.”

The Paperless Ship

One of the key initiatives of the e-navigation project is automated ship reporting. It is anticipated that many forms currently required for customs, immigration, cargo manifest and dangerous goods, for example, will be made and submitted electronically in a harmonized format for all ports.

Patraiko says that this was a priority for mariners to reduce the administrative burden of reporting the same information to multiple shore authorities, which often distracts bridge teams (often teams of one) from the core job of safe navigation. This has been recognized by the IMO by prioritizing the revision of the guidelines and criteria for ship reporting systems (resolution MSC.43(64), as amended) relating to standardized and harmonized electronic ship reporting and automated collection of onboard data for reporting.


“There are over 30 manufacturers of ECDIS, many of which have more than one model. In the past some of the key operational features have been widely different from one manufacturer to another,” says Patraiko. “This has resulted in mariners having a difficult task to be familiar with the controls when they move from one ship to another. It also places an unrealistic burden on training providers to instruct mariners in how to use all the different models of navigation equipment that they may come across in the world fleet.”

A solution to this challenge, as proposed by the NI, is for the development of an “S mode” or standard mode of operation for navigation displays. This has been recognized as a priority by the IMO. Draft guidelines will describe a standardized mode of operation and display for all navigational equipment and provide seafarers with the ability to operate all navigation equipment in a standardized manner, thereby improving the safety and efficiency of navigation.

Work on S mode has been scheduled but has a later deadline than the guidelines for ECDIS standardization. “The displays on ECDIS are already standardized well in the International Electrotechnical Commission test standards with a number of default displays being required,” says Hagen. “However, the advantage of an ECDIS is that the display can be altered to support particular situations. The idea in S mode is that it can return quickly to one of the standards.

“S mode is not as mature or simple as some of the other new work items. It is not yet clear what exactly a default mode for most equipment should be as again it might be affected by the situation, such as deep sea, harbor approach, coastal passage etc. Work needs to be done in other organizations such as research institutes and universities to study the subject and the appropriate human machine interface before it can be brought to IMO as a draft for consideration,” says Hagen.

Other standardization improvements that e-navigation will bring include harmonizing the displaying of information received by communications equipment. Improved reliability and resiliency of navigation systems and in particular GNSS where reliance on GPS was seen to be a weakness have also been addressed at MSC95 with the IMO prioritizing Built In Integrity Testing (BIIT) for navigation equipment.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.