Keeping Vessels At Work, In Touch
The advent of higher technology in the maritime communications services and products niche is owed largely to the ever growing needs of land-based corporations and consumers, which constantly push the technological envelope in terms of speed and size. While the maritime market is often considered conservative — particularly in terms of new technology and/or added expense — it is worthy to note that the very core of the industry is changing, moving towards larger fleets. While this trend has ramifications across the board, it means that the price of incorporating new communications technology is viewed more as an investment than an expense.
Consolidation of owners and fleets has touched every aspect of maritime business, from the large oceangoing fleets to the smaller brown-water groups. As companies continue to grow larger, with increased amounts of service affiliations and requirements, it is more critical than ever that entire fleets are outfitted with technology which enable vessel owner/operators to best utilize their assets efficiently and cost effectively.
While satellite and other communication advances have helped to drastically improve the efficiency of fleets, another topic driving change — safety — is equally important in ascertaining a vessel's product and service needs.
Setting the n ew standard On July 23 the IMO's sub-committee on Safety and Navigation (NAV 44) overwhelmingly approved an amendment toexisting ECDIS performance standards which will allow ECDIS navigation systems to operate in a RCDS mode.
Under the proposal, national maritime administrations may allow vessels the option of using the RCDS mode of operation until the vector Electronic Navigation Chart (ENC) coverage required for the normal mode of operation is available. While operating in the RCDS mode, vessels will be required to use an appropriate folio of paper charts, as determined by national administrations.
Raster nautical charts already cover much of the world and the concept of ECDIS operating in an RCDS mode is seen as a way of letting mariners maximize the use of the system while ENC coverage expands — commonly referred to as the "dual fuel" mode of operations. The important benefit of the dual fuel approach is that electronic chart navigation based entirely on official and up-to-date charts is available for almost any voyage.
Those questioning why a ruling on electronic charts is at the forefront of a discussion of advanced maritime communications can look to the recently completed ECHO project. The ECHO project, as reported in MR/EN's April 1998 edition, sought to set the electronic chart standard. While the technical specifications surrounding the ECHO project consumes volumes, the main thrust of the project revolves around the timely, efficient and cost-effective creation, distribution and use of the ENC's. Crucial to the project's commercial prospects is the ability of an owner/operator — onboard the vessel or shoreside — to easily update a given chart using high speed data links. The ECHO project has addressed this need with a streamlined system of getting new and updated charts funneled quickly to the user, while maintaining the highest level of security and data integrity.