ECDIS Set-Up and Alarms

We agree there are superfluous alarms (and not just ECDIS). What is the purpose of having superfluous alarms? Who decides what’s superfluous? How much time does it take to create a passage plans from dock to dock?

I don’t want to rant about ECDIS. It definitely provides benefits but also has shortcomings. How do those benefits or shortcomings impact your original post.

The two types of alarms that have the potential to be nuisance alarms are the safety contour alarm and the anti-grounding alarm, also called a safety frame.

These alarms setting can be changed but if the are not set properly they may become nuisance alarms. For example a ship drawing less than 10 meters crossing the 20 meter contour line.

A dock to dock passage plan using an ECDIS can be done in about half the time as using paper charts if the officer has a good understanding, sets the alarms correctly and has access to good written instructions.

If the alarms are just left in default condition the plan can be done in maybe roughly about a fifth or a quarter of the time required for paper but there might be a lot of nuisance alarms generated during the passage.

David Burch has a good explanation of issues with the safety contour settings here:

David Burch Navigation Blog: Depths, Contours, Soundings, and Groundings in ENC Navigation

Scroll down to Setting ENC depth contours: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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I can think of a few more alarms I’d consider potential nuisances. AIS for one.

You say half the time. I say that’s a generous statement. Perhaps in a classroom or with an individual already familiar with the locations they are transiting from/to. Stress test an ECDIS set-up at 0200 after a busy port stay and I bet the results would be different.

What are you comparing here? All the voyage planning tasks should be done in advance. Getting the ECDIS ready in this case would be a matter of loading the next voyage file. Could be done anytime after FWEs.

Otherwise the comparison would have to be checking the chart inventory, ordering, correcting charts, drawing track-lines, extracting waypoints for entering into the GPS receiver and so forth.

I would agree with you if the next elements of the voyage were known before FWE, and if no other activities occurred between FWE and SBE.

Ive done some pretty kookie shit, but with the exception of the occasional shift, ive rarely had a voyage where after FWE, the next leg wasnt from the dock back to the sea buoy. If your 2nd mate is worth they’re day rate, inbound and outbound transits should be ironed out well in advanced, with all the proper trimmings to be vetting ready.

And even then, in a situation where we’re fying by the seat of our pants, i can not think of a situation where winging it on papercharts is quicker or easier than an ECDIS. In fact in situations like that, if im going to mess something up, its going to be on the paper chart, especially a plotting sheet.

It is the responsibility of the ships officers to understand how to use their equipment. This includes turning off nusiance alarms unless. If you have your AIS set up to aquire all AIS Targets within 5 miles in the yellow sea, and a 2 Mile CPA alarm, youre going to have a bad time, and thats on you, all of those functions are optional. And that doesnt change voyage to voyage.

Now, Deep, Shalow, and safety drafts, thats about a 10 second fix, but if the voyage planned messes it up, someone should be able to spot it before it becomes a problem. If you dont know how to spot it, thats where the problem is.

I got a little cranky in my first reply, but, its frustrating to see a double standard of competency across equally important skillsets in our profession. A chief mate who refuses to quickly learn how to wash a pumproom tanker will not last long, however a captain who refuses to learn how to use an ECDIS properly gets a pass.


I’ve been fortunate to work for companies that held high standards. At the moment I have an outstanding bridge team and excellent second mate. They earn every bit of their pay (and them some).

ECDIS is one of many tools on board that officer, including the master, should demonstrate competence with. However, any piece of equipment that becomes the primary focus during a transit becomes a distraction.

If you have problems with individual performances take it up with HR. But don’t assume anyone who does not see it your way is incompetent.

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I’m by no means an advocate for flying by wire, in fact I don’t think that’s the intention of the discussion here at all, just like any other tool on the bridge, if it’s set up wrong it doesn’t do anyone any good.

Arguing Relative vectors vs true vectors, sure, six of one half dozens the other, you aren’t incompetent for disagreeing. But you can turn the gain all the way down on the RADAR, or you can have it cranked to the max and then a guard zone at .05nm acquiring all the sea clutter, both configurations demonstrate a lack of understanding of how to use the tool, and really aren’t going to do you any good.

Auto Acquiring AIS targes has cases where it’s really useful. It makes it easy to spot Wan Hai No5 doing 10 knots in a sea of Wan_Hai_50% targets, when none of them are showing up on RADAR. The same setting can cause clutter confusion sailing in high traffic areas when everyone is running around behaving themselves.

Unfortunately I think we all know this is the case for most mariners. Circling back to the BRM discussion this thread spawned from, as a junior officer I’m incompetent for having a different opinion than the captain, until I can cite my sources from professional publications, at which point I become an arrogant asshole who only focuses on what is important in his opinion. There are plenty of publications on how to use an ECDIS out there, and they don’t very all that Much.

But at 0200 - that’s when you should fall back on your own preparations and checklists. The ECDIS should work just as well at departure at 1400 or 0200. And at the end of the day the ECDIS significantly reduces the workload, and produces a safer result than it’s paper counterparts.

It certainly has its drawbacks, I’d say mostly stemming from the programing of the ENCs, but with time and as UKHO, OCS, and NGIA are able to shift focus from maintain a paper and ENC catalogue, to just electronic charts, they can address these issues.

Having opinions on nuance of ECDIS theory is okay. “ECDIS Bad paper good” is where it’s frustrating.


I’ve actually have had to drop the pilot off a couple time without any prior preparations, no track-line or course to steer. Don’t recommend it.

An ECDIS is very good tool in this situation. The mate can be given some simple instructions, for example “steer towards deep water and don’t hit anything” while the captain can work up a more precise course.

The advantage of the ECIDS in this case is the officer on watch in this situation can both keep an eye forward and keep the ship in deep water with minimum supervision. Otherwise without an ECDIS the first requirement is to turn to the chart to figure out a position relative to any hazards.


I appreciate your example. It’s reasonable and practical. As you say, ECDIS is a very good tool.

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GMDSS? Nuisance alarms?

At first when GMDSS was new there were a lot of alarms, often from thousand of miles away, mostly as a result of other ships “relaying” distress messages. Once watch officers understood better how GMDSS worked the the rate of nuisance alarms when way down.

It’s going to be the same with ECDIS. Once deck officers better learn how to use it nuisance alarms will drop way off. Providing a set of specific written procedures / checklist would greatly accelerate that process.

Transas software runs on top of MS Windows OS. When the navigator enters the cross track, safety frame and the safety contour parameters they are essentially writing a program for the computer to follow.

It might not be practical or worth the time to 100% eliminate every alarm. However this is what the CG wrote in the Ever Forward ground report (the one in the Chesapeake Bay):

4.2.13. The ECDIS alarms on the EVER FORWARD were silenced. It is not an
uncommon practice for mariners to do this due to the sensitivity of the alarms, which can
cause them to sound constantly.

I’d be interested to see an explanation of exactly what that means.

An example of an alarm being too sensitive would be, if the depth sounder alarm was set for 10 meters in a 10.1 meter channel. Some gentle pitching or a little silting of the channel will set the alarm off. But the ECIDS is not comparing real world data to the set point. It’s using parameters entered by the user and comparing it to a database.

I was docking a ship the other day, and after we got alongside I had a long talk with the Captian about his bridge alarms. The last 15 minutes of the trip, both him and the Chief Mate did nothing but silence alarms on the ECDIS, radar, and BNWAS, which set off approximately every 5 seconds. Each time it did, both ECDIS units, both radars, and the BNWAS panel would need acknowledging. It made piloting incredibly difficult and much more stressful than it needed to be.

The culprit? An AIS target. We had a small crewboat following us, and as we slowed down to prepare to top around and he didn’t, his CPA became unacceptable for the system. I had already spoken to the boat and told him what we were going to do, and we agreed on meeting/passing arrangements.

Because the Captain would not unacquire this target, we had to deal with all of these alarms. Once we got alongside and I went over to the radar and unacquired the target myself, the alarms went all away.

Ships are now so scared of company policies that his response to me was “well the company requires it and we can’t silence anything.” I told him that his alarms were a detriment to the safe navigation of his vessel, and other pilots may not be so understanding of what’s going on. He agreed, but said there was nothing he could do about it.

I also sailed that ship, and when I got on, the ECDIS was in silent mode. Much quieter voyage out.

We used to keep the AIS alarm off (or set 0/0) during pilotage. If there’s a requirement to leave it on the requirement should be changed or ignored.

Yeah, I’m not going there today.

Where could we find the explanation? The CG seems to acknowledge why. Had the alarm been active would it change the outcome?

I think of this safety stuff in terms of “layers”. If the alarms are set up such that they will alarm when there is a high risk of grounding and they don’t alarm when there is no risk than in that case that layer of protection will be highly effective.

I don’t expect we will ever get an explanation of what they meant by overly sensitive alarms because I think it’s based on a false premise.

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This seems similar to KC EVER FORWARD post. If the transit is uneventful, great. If there is an event, feel the pain as the experts dissect your mistakes.

I agree with you. I’ll take my chances with option two and silence most alarms.