New era of navigation

The release of new data standards will underpin an ECDIS evolution

By Carly Fields

Change is coming to the way seafarers navigate the world’s waters. The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is moving from analogue to a more enriched digital data future which will transform the way those at sea and onshore use marine data, supporting safer and more efficient voyages.

The shift is built on new S-100 data standards. These standards are the International Hydrographic Office’s framework for the standardisation of maritime data products – such as high resolution bathymetry, surface currents, and marine protected areas – and are the new standards for electronic navigational charts.

The new standards will offer the next generation of navigation solutions, enhancing situational awareness, supporting safety, enabling compliance, increasing precision, improving efficiency, ensuring protection, unlocking connectivity, and empowering users to support the future of navigation.

“It’s important that seafarers have reliable data that they can trust and depend on,” said Peter Sparkes, chief executive of the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO). Sparkes reflected that when he was a navigation officer, he would sometimes wait up to four weeks for corrections to charts to arrive, if they ever did. This next generation of digital delivery will take a huge leap forward in reducing latency – and in doing so will improve safety at sea, he said.

Tom Mellor, UKHO’s head of OEM technical support and digital standards, explained that the S-100 standards can be quickly extended – unlike its predecessor S-57. “In a navigational context that’s going to bring benefits to safety at sea and much greater precision that will allow for just in time arrivals, for example.”

It will also help connect ships and gives the potential to stream data. “Bridge teams will have access to much richer information that will help with passage planning, improve monitoring of vessels, enable ships to load more cargo, and help with voyage optimisation, among other things,” Mellor said.

First movers

The first generation of S-100 ECDIS is in development and the UKHO’s goal is to see S-100 operational ECDIS in place by the end of 2027. The first set of trial data sets went live on the AD- MIRALTY Marine Data Portal in January 2021. These cover the Solent and Approaches, including the UK ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. The Korea Hydrographic and Oceano- graphic Agency has also produced a free S-100 Viewer.

In parallel, the IMO Guidelines for the Standardization of User Interface Design for Navigation Equipment are being promoted to improve the user interface of ECDIS, standard- ising icons across different systems. “That will go a long way to helping the familiarisation issue,” said Mellor. The new S-100 derived products also have a new security scheme to manage co-ordinated and more sophisticated cyber-attacks.

Seafarers will be all too aware of the risk of ‘alarm fatigue’ when it comes to bridge equipment and while the UKHO is bound by IMO regulations when it comes to alarms, there are plans to address this too in the new roll-out. Sparkes said that the UKHO will work with vendors to ensure that displays are alarming for the right things. “I think S-100 will give us a more fused single point of reference and situational awareness will be considerably enhanced for the mariner and for those onshore as well.” An- other area that the new data standards support is that of ship autonomy.

Sparkes described this is an “important time for the shipping industry… A time of real transformation and innovation for our sector.”