While sailors once charted the seas using the stars, today's modern navigational experts use an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). This system allows not only route recommendations and position tracking but also provides automatic alarms to warn of dangers such as grounding or prohibited areas.
The standards body for ECDIS, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made ECDIS mandatory for most large international traveling ships. The new standard was adopted in June 2009 during the 86th session of Maritime Safety Committee at IMO headquarters in London. The expected entry into force date is January 1, 2011, according to an IMO spokeswoman.
Text of the adopted standard is not yet available, but in the proposal the requirement would be phased in starting with passenger ships of 500 gross tonnage constructed after July 1, 2012. A phase in schedule has also been proposed for existing vessels, but ships with only two years of life left would be exempt.
Raster chart display systems (RCDS) displays raster navigational charts (RNC), uses electronic copies of paper charts. Like paper charts, the elements depicted in an RNC cannot be invdividually viewed or manipulated. ECDIS uses electronic navigational charts (ENC) using vector data which allows mariners to remove some of the chart information to concentrate on the information most relevant to the situation at the time.
These two U.S. government graphics show an example of raster data on the left and vector data on the right.
One issue with ECDIS is vector data is not yet available for all areas while raster data is more plentiful. A solution has been to make an ECDIS system that can run in both modes.
ECDIS can free up manpower by plotting fixes, helping choose tracks in relation to known navigational dangers and recommend speeds that best enables a safe voyage.
As with any format being used and developed on an international stage, standards have been key to bringing this technology mainstream. OpenECDIS.org is a group dedicated to promoting this technology with participants throughout the world including the United States, Germany, Japan, Australia and Netherlands.
The IMO is mentioned above as the ECDIS standards body. The International Hydrographic Organization sets standards on the production of ENCs.
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