What is ECDIS?

Since the 1990’s electronic charts have caused a revolution in the navigation on-board ships. The path from Celestial Navigation and Paper Charts with intricate drawings of coastlines to gigabytes of data and meter accurate position information was incredibly fast, but it has taken an extra 20 years or so for the organisations in charge to be comfortable enough with the technology to certify it.


An IMO type approved Electronic Chart Display and Information System for paperless navigation has been classified by the maritime industry as an ECDIS. The golden rule is that the system is redundant in the case that one part of the system fails that the primary function of the system, navigation, still functions. As within all IMO approved systems, all the components have to be IMO approved.


The baby brother to an ECDIS is an Electronic Charting System (ECS). ECS’s are not approved to be used as paperless navigation as the system does not have redundant system, IE 1 computer without emergency power supply. As such there’s a big difference with those 2 letters!

Do I need or want ECDIS?

In 2009 IMO saw the big advantages of ECDIS for safe navigation and started to adopt further amendments to SOLAS regulation V/19, to make mandatory the carriage of ECDIS. Since 2011 all newly built passenger ships, cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages to be fitted with ECDIS. For existing ships, phase-in introduction of fitting requirements are being introduced for all ships of certain size engaged on international voyages.

 For yachts without the classification passenger ship, it is not mandatory to install an ECDIS system. 

As a captain and officer you want an ECDIS. Without doubt, the greatest advantage is the procedure of updating charts. Updating charts is a massively time consuming task. With an ECDIS it all can be done via a few clicks. Updating charts can be done via a DVD and now, more and more via USB stick with downloaded content via an internet connection in a harbour.

And it can get even easier with PAYS, Pay as you sail service.

A PAYS service is a service that can be very attractive for ships that vary a lot in their destinations. The idea is that the required chart is being unlocked when the ship location is near the border of the chart. The chart data is already installed on the ECDIS but has not been purchased so can not be used for navigation. Seamless when the ship arrives close to the border of the chart an interconnection via an IMO approved gate way makes contact with a server and downloads the appropriate license file. This is a very small file, so no big data costs. Depending on the service contract the chart is licensed for 3 months.

What is required for an ECDIS System?

An ECDIS is a system of computers, monitors and controllers which has been approved by the IMO. During the approval process, the manufacturer of the ECDIS system lists the equipment which they guarantee their ECDIS system to work with – as such, one ecdis approved monitor may not be used with another ECDIS approved computer, unless they are listed on the same ECDIS approval. Data inputs into the ECDIS system are also required to be IMO type approved

 The core of an ECDIS is two complete independent workstations on the bridge with up to date official charts installed and licensed for the area there are operating within.

Generally speaking the heart of the ECDIS system is a computer, but more and more we are seeing panel PC’s coming to the market, such as the Furuno 3200 which can offer a smaller price due to less components.

The power supply of the work station should come from the emergency supply and completely independent, the power supply needs to be type approved, but it does not need to be listed on the ECDIS type approved certificate. The three main sensor inputs  (Gyro, GPS and Speed log) should be received completely independently from each other. The alarm has to be notable on the bridge. 

After the installation has been done a flag state surveyor has to approve and certify the complete installation on-board, see all IMO approved hardware certificates and see the ECDIS training certificates of the operators.

What extra can we do  on an ECDIS system?

The ECDIS is an ideal ship collision avoidance aid. With the integration of AIS targets, ARPA targets and complete radar overlay into the system makes the ECDIS screen a complete workstation where all the elements can be monitored and give clear direct overall view on what is out there.

With the coming of AR (augmented reality) and smart glass window systems, we are again on a new doorstep of a complete new way of navigating on board. 

The combination of these two new systems and the ECDIS can even more provide enhanced situational awareness by clearer and instantly a view of the outside world.

The AR and the smart glass system together can visualize routes, course, speed, radar/ AIS targets, AIS targets, buoys digitally overlaid to the real sea and terrain surface. The system will drastically enhance visibility during night or making way through fog. 

Furuno is one of the first that has made an AR navigation system named ¨Envision¨ ready to be used as a new navigation system. As with every new system in the maritime world it will take a few years before it will be a IMO approved navigation system solution on board. But it is very clear that this is the new revolution in navigation onboards ships.

What are some superyacht specific options for an ECDIS System?

 There are quite a lot of brands to choose from and all have their own specific benefits especially when they are installed and integrated within the same brand systems. With most brands the ECDIS is setup as part of a Integrated Bridge system; a network of Radars, ECDIS, Conning systems.


Furuno is most used on larger commercial vessels because of its reliability and serviceability. The combination Furuno ECDIS with their rock steady precision radar makes the Furuno system the most reliable advanced bridge system that is out there.

It’s also surprising that one of the cheapest ECDIS systems is it’s 3200 system, which is based on a panel PC made by Hatteland. For some boats this could be an excellent low cost way to implement a paperless system on a superyacht. 

As previously mentioned, Furuno is making some very interesting headway into different areas of ECDIS technology with its AR system. 


Transas is the default ECDIS supplier on most superyachts. Because it is taught at many of the nautical colleges which supply the superyacht industry, it becomes the natural choice for those mariners within it. You have the choice of two options, two panel PC´s version or two computers with separate monitors. Transas delivers a special Transas gateway that can communicate with a Transas chart server for downloading license files for the PAYS service.


Simrad calls their ECDIS system a PLECDIS, PaperLess ECDIS.

They also come in two versions: a Panel pc´s  or a processor plus monitors. And also with Simrad the biggest benefits comes when the system connects to a Simrad radar and even echosounders, and StructureScan sonars.