Beitrag 12

The Challenges of Introducing and Implementing ECDIS-related Technologies in Canada*

Dr. Lee Alexander, Visiting Scientist
Electronic Charts, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Durham, New Hampshire USA
Julian E. Goodyear, Director
Central and Arctic Region, Canadian Hydrographic Service, Burlington, Ontario CANADA

Electronic charts are revolutionizing marine navigation. Although there are no immediate concerns that electronic chart-related technologies will completely replace the traditional paper chart and related publications, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) has long recognized that this technology is a fundamental breakthrough in safety of navigation with significant advantages to the efficiency of maritime navigation as well. The economic benefits of using ECDIS have been clearly shown in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River system of Canada where more than 100 Canadian commercial vessels now use "high-end" Electronic Chart Systems. The owners and operators of these vessels are now looking ahead to using a type-approved Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) that has been certified as meeting the IMO Performance Standards for ECDIS.

For CHS, an organization strongly rooted in the traditional paper chart, the past five years have brought about monumental changes. Without a model to follow, CHS had to re-tool the way it operates in order to respond quickly to the needs and demands of the shipping industry. Designing new digital nautical products required CHS to work closely with the clients and other agencies. In particular, this process required strong partnering arrangements with private-sector companies involved in marine geomatics, ECDIS and ECS manufacturers, ship owners, other government agencies.

This paper describes the history of the electronic chart initiative in Canada, and the efforts of CHS as we progressed painfully through the demands placed on us by impact of electronic chart-related technologies.

* This paper is based on an earlier paper: "Preparing a Hydrographic Office for ECDIS: The Canadian Hydrographic Service Experience," by Julian E. Goodyear, Sean B. Hinds, and Michael J Casey) given at the International ECDIS Conference, 26-28 October 1998, Singapore.


In the late 1980's and early 1990's there was a growing interest within the marine industry in Canada and the United States to improve navigational safety. In part, this had been brought on by major oil spills in North America that had raised public awareness of new navigational technologies and systems that could be used to reduce the incidence of marine shipping casualties. Electronic chart technology had been introduced in Canada and Europe through a number of test beds, primarily led by hydrographic offices. Also, the technology was being introduced by the private sector in Canada as a navigational tool for use in the petroleum exploration industry. During the early 1990's, ECDIS emerged as a promising aid to marine piloting, especially with the widespread introduction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the provision of a differential GPS broadcast service for coastal and confined waterways.

In 1991, under its general mandate to promote safe and efficient navigation, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) began a coordinated effort to test and evaluate this technology. Although the value of electronic chart technology for navigation was recognized, the adoption of ECDIS was somewhat slow due to a dilemma between government and the shipping industry. The government hydrographic offices and maritime administration were reluctant to commit considerable resources before there were demands from the shipping industry. However, the shipping industry was waiting for proven technology and government legislation before embracing this costly and unknown navigational aid. Some action was needed in order to break out of the stalemate. A key element of the strategy involved the demonstration and testing of operational systems. A number of ECDIS systems would need to be deployed for extended periods of time on a variety of ships in different areas across Canada and the USA. Equally important, the hydrographic office needed to experience what was involved in terms of data creation, maintenance and dissemination.

Canadian EC Pilot Project

The focal point of this demonstration program became known as the Canadian Electronic Chart (EC) Pilot Project. The project started in June 1992 when Offshore Systems Ltd. (OSL) was awarded a contract by CHS to use their systems in the "trials." The EC Pilot Project was managed on a team basis between the primary contractor (OSL) and the senior sponsoring agency (CHS). To facilitate the joint nature of the project, CHS assigned a hydrographer to work at OSL for a two-year period. This assignment kept the project on target and facilitated problem solving, particularly in the early and formative stages. Additionally, CHS had direct access to the early users of this technology and could respond to their concerns and impressions. From the OSL perspective, having the CHS Project Manager on site gave direct access to the producers of the data (CHS). For both CHS and OSL, it ensured that potential problem areas were spotted early on, and corrective action taken before costly mistakes occurred or opportunities were missed.

The overall objective of the EC Pilot Project was to establish the necessary government infrastructure required to implement the use of electronic charts in Canadian waters in accordance with the Performance Standards for ECDIS established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the Specifications for Chart Data (IHO S-57), and Specifications for Content and Display (IHO S-52) being developed by the International Hydrographic Organization.

Operationally, the EC Pilot Project became a collection of sub-projects each managed by sub-project managers from their respective CHS Region or participating agency (e.g., NOAA, Canadian Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard. Each sub-project manager designed projects using vessels operating in their region. Initially, each request for participation was examined in terms of available electronic chart and DGPS coverage. Later, once a number of installations had occurred in each Region, the focus shifted to the specific applications. Additionally, each shipboard installation period grew progressively longer.

Each activity in the Pilot Project had its own unique challenges. However, one of the most difficult aspects was the implementation of the Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) production program. During a period when the Canadian Federal Government was entering into a period of cost reduction, down-sizing and fiscal restraint, CHS was faced with the challenge of producing a new product line.


In light of funding pressures and fiscal limitations, it became apparent that the ENC program extended well beyond the capabilities of the existing CHS infrastructure. This became even more evident when market demands escalated. While the collection, management, and distribution of hydrographic data are the responsibility of a national hydrographic office (HO), the EC market demands additional processing, updating and distribution of digital data designed to meet the value-added requirements of users. While some HOs scrambled to establish infrastructure in support of ENC production, some private electronic chart manufacturers were already producing their own data from existing paper charts. Basically, electronic chart manufacturers had grown tired of waiting for the official hydrographic community and, in the absence of official data, moved ahead on their own.

Greater efficiency and the need for resources from new avenues encouraged CHS to pursue new commercial collaborations and a new supplier/client relationship with the private sector. Cooperation between the public and private sectors became critical. Strategic alliances between companies with complementary interests were required to fully develop this stage of growth. The key to success was cooperation. The CHS continued to have the responsibility and mandate to provide certified hydrographic information. However, the private sector was best positioned to respond to the demands of the marketplace.

In 1993, CHS took a bold step and negotiated a cooperative agreement with Nautical Data International (NDI) that established NDI as the mechanism for world-wide marketing and distribution of CHS digital products. The agreement was built on the strategic abilities of both organizations, combining the marketing, production and customizing capabilities of the private sector with the CHS' world-recognized standards for safety and quality assurance. This new infrastructure maximized the development of Canada's private sector expertise in EC technology. NDI sought expertise in all aspects of its operation, including strategic alliance opportunities related to database creation, licensing, distribution and R&D collaboration.

NDI has the sole right and license to market and distribute CHS electronic charts and other digital products, and also as the right to use CHS data to make new products for specific applications. Products are licensed, not sold, to users. Licensing policies and fees are uniform among user groups, and CHS approves the general terms of all license types as well as the fees. NDI makes products available to any user who signs the required license and pay the required fee. NDI returns a portion of the fees to CHS, and provides regular reports to CHS for audit and other purposes. NDI and CHS cooperate on the issues of production, quality control, and collaborative research and development. Exchange of personnel occurs from time to time, and CHS appoints a CHS-NDI Liaison Officer that is based at NDI.

ENC Production: The Process

Beginning in 1993, CHS was releasing vector files in a format known as NTX. The reasons for this were simple. First, CHS had already used NTX for a decade in its automated cartography system, Computer Aided Resource Information System (CARIS). Second, the IHO S-57 specifications for ENC data, exchange, and updating were still under development. Because CHS had to respond quickly to a shipping industry demands for electronic chart data, there was little time available to develop the ideal model. The early stages of the EC Pilot Project saw much discussion with the shipping industry in order to describe the contents of the data set. The simple digital replication of the paper chart would no longer suffice. Also developed in hand with the NTX Product Specification was the Digital Chart File Standard (DCFS) which described the organization of the digital file including thematic layering, polygon labeling, feature coding, and header content.

CHS and private sector partners such as Universal Systems Ltd. (USL) followed these specifications with research and development directed toward achieving S-57 production capabilities. Like many hydrographic offices, CHS also contributed to the development of international specifications and standards through IMO and IHO working groups and committees. Beginning in November 1996 when IHO S-57 Edition 3.0 was finally released "and frozen", CHS directed resources toward the production of ENCs in a format compliant with this new international standard. However, the complexity of the new object-based S-57 structure was both a curse and a blessing. The curse lies in the enormity of the task at hand, while the blessing lies in the rich potential of the object file to integrate, collate and present a wide spectrum of hydrographic information that was previously impossible on the paper chart or NTX format. The S-57 ENC format finally offered the possibility of a dataset that can provide the mariner information that is contained in number of previously separate publications and documents.

CHS initially thought that NTX files could be the foundation for the conversion to IHO S-57 ENCs. Software was developed that would map NTX feature codes and polygon labels to S-57 objects and attributes. This approach was done for two reasons. First, the comfort level of the cartographer in the manipulation of the NTX data was much higher than with the new tools of S-57 object-based software. Second, the object-based software had not developed the same routines for the editing of the data. After the cartographer reached a comfort level with the new S-57 ENC format, enhancing existing NTX files was no longer be emphasized.

Quality control (QC) issues associated with S-57 ENC production proved to be a difficult issue. The formatting of the ENC in compliance with IHO S-57 was relatively easy to automate. However, checking the 3000-4000 objects in the average ENC file was both difficult and time-consuming. The process includes both object-by-object and attribute-by-attribute checks. Age-old methods of plotting a dataset, and simply performing a visual check is not sufficient. The layered structure of S-57 object file data requires the use of viewers and queries as part of the QC process.

A New Way of Doing Business

The production of ENCs by CHS has had a dramatic effect on the day-to-day business of CHS. The initial glow from success of the EC Pilot Project soon faded into the reality of now trying to produce S-57 ENC data. The move from flat-file NTX data production to object-based S-57 ENCs required a major paradigm shift. Not only was the process a difficult transition for CHS to make, the initial availability and coverage of ENC data did not meet mariner's expectations.

Initially, CHS made three assumptions about ENC production:

  1. ENC production flow is similar to producing paper charts, and the major milestones in that process (e.g., formalized release procedures) would be the same.
  2. the production rate of NTX files would be a good gage as to the level of effort required for S-57 ENCs
  3. existing NTX files could serve as the point-of-departure and could be converted by an automated process.

However, these assumptions were not correct. ENC production follows a different path, uses different tools, and in most cases, places greater demands for accuracy and precision. For example, in confined areas, mariners want to use ENC data at a larger scale than provided on a paper chart. This conflicts with the chart production manager's natural inclination to use the same source data to create both paper charts and ENCs. In an effort to find the best approach, CHS has experimented with setting up a separate production section to produce ENCs independently from paper charts. A program is now under development at CHS to allow several products to be created from the same master database.

Data Production vs. Data Display

ENC production is far different from traditional cartography since the digital data is separate from the presentation. The presentation of chart data, formerly a crucial aspect of marine cartography, is now handled by the ECDIS and controlled by the IHO S-52 Colours and Symbols specifications. Journeymen cartographers, in particular, do not take well to this new approach since the focus is more on laborious data encoding rather than the esthetics of the presentation. On the other hand, new staff trained in classical GIS take to the new approach with enthusiasm and vigor.

From a client perspective, the issue is clouded since new requirements are often discovered as users develop more experience in using ECDIS technology. The more experience mariners get in using the technology, the more demanding they become both of the system and of the ENC data. This can lead to problems when mariners judge ENC data by how it looks or performs in an ECDIS. How it looks often has nothing to do with IHO S-57 ENC data specifications. It is primarily related to IHO S-52 colours and symbols display issues. Likewise, experience has shown that the ECDIS system provided by the manufacturer may not properly use or display the S-57 ENC data.

Great Lakes S-57 ENC Trials

In the two years since CHS began releasing S-57 ENCs there have been limited opportunities to use the data at sea. This was due to two factors:

  1. CHS did not have complete coverage of any complete shipping route during the 1997 navigation season, and
  2. few shipping companies had acquired "near-ECDIS" equipment that could fully utilize S-57 ENC data.

It was planned that beginning in 1999, CHS would no longer support NTX files, and release only S-57 ENC data. This raised concerns from the shipping industry since they would have to "upgrade" their existing electronic chart systems to become IMO-compliant in order to official ENC data and updating services. In addition to the cost of upgrading existing systems, there would also be an additional cost obtaining and using S-57 ENC data and updating services.

During the 1998 shipping season, S-57 ENC coverage would be achieved on a significant portion of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes shipping routes. At the encouragement of CHS, a series of Great Lakes Sea Trials were conducted to demonstrate the capability of ENC data, and to validate the content and accuracy. CHS, NDI, three ECDIS manufacturers, and three shipping companies would participate in sea trials over a six-month period.

The primary goals and objectives of the trials were to:

  • evaluate the positional accuracy of the data
  • assess the optimal level of detail and determine areas where large-scale source data may be required
  • evaluate the data presentation (e.g., IHO S-52 Colours and Symbols Presentation Library)
  • establish guidelines for the collection of additional navigation information that is deemed necessary by users
  • evaluate the means and process for ENC updating service

For the mariner, the Project was intended to demonstrate the difference between previous NTX data and new S-57 ENCs. For ECDIS manufacturers, it would provide an opportunity to further develop/refine their systems.

Where Are We ..., and Where We Are WE Going

Like many hydrographic offices, CHS has spent a considerable time and effort contributing to the development of international standards for ECDIS. This work through committees and working groups was costly and frustrating for front-line traditional cartographers. International standards by their very nature are slow to stabilize. This was particularly true for IHO S-57 where drastic changes occurred between Version 2 and Edition 3.0.

Even after a year of experience with IHO S-57 Edition 3.0, it is not good enough to simply encode the data according to the "perceived" rules. Unraveling the labyrinth of standards and specifications for production and presentation of S-57 ENCs is essential. It is not readily apparent to the cartographer that the S-57 coding is hinged so closely with the IHO S-52 Colours and Symbols Presentation Library. These associations must be clearly understood and utilized to master the ECDIS and performance. The intention to display pertinent navigational information can be thwarted if the cartographer does not consult the Presentation Library Look-up Tables in conjunction with the objects and attributes contained in IHO S-57 ENC Product Specification. For example, if a "landmark object" is used to support a 'light object", there is a possibility (danger) that neither will be visible. Depending on how the coding is performed, there can be instances when neither defaults automatically to the base display. Compound this with the same coding for a light structure in the water along the channel limit, and this can present a hazardous condition if it is "hidden" on the ECDIS display. A comprehensive understanding of all applicable rules governing data display are also a necessary part of the data coding and production process. It has also become evident that feedback is required from the professional mariner who is actually using ENC data in an ECDIS.

In Canada CHS chose the chart limit as the ENC boundary rather than using an arbitrary cell structure. This was done because we were familiar and "comfortable" with it and the mariner understood it. However, the more data (or seamless) data. The intent of cell-based ENCs is that the data would be homogeneous and that there would be no files exceeding 5Mb. CHS will eventually adopt a uniform cell-based approach to ENCs. However this will occur only after we and our clients have freed ourselves from the confined thinking of paper chart boundaries.

Within CHS it is estimated that 20% of the production time is devoted to quality control. An increased emphasis on the creation of automated QC tools is needed. Likewise, harnessing the power of database management tools holds great promise in terms of increasing the efficiency of ENC production.

CHS has now begun to look at the realities of supplying ENC updates. Initially, the focus was on telecommunications protocol for the delivery. However, it has now become evident that most system manufacturers did not because the international standard (IHO S-52, Appendix 1) does not specify a mode of delivery. While the update message may be relatively straight-forward to create, determining the best or most appropriate means of delivery is difficult.

The time has now come where IHO S-57 should not be considered more than just a way to achieve a new hydrographic product. There must also be a philosophy to "re-tool" the hydrographic office from traditional paper chart production toward the generation and management of digital data. This is both a cultural and educational process that requires significant commitment to change the way we do business.

CHS is committed to the creation of the necessary digital database to support both ECDIS and ECS. Currently, CHS is producing and supporting three distinctly different chart products. Associated with this effort, CHS is also creating new mechanisms for product delivery, providing advice and training, and increasing its involvement with clients, and generating royalty revenues. All this is necessary to "get the job done."


IMO 1995. Performance Standards for Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), IMO Resolution A.817(19), International Maritime Organization, London, 23 November 1995.

International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea; Consolidated text of 1974 SOLAS Convention, the 1978 SOLAS Protocol, the 1981 and 1983 SOLAS Amendments. International Maritime Organization, London, 1 July 1986.

IHO 1996. IHO Specification for Chart Content and Display of ECDIS, IHO Special Publication No. 52 (IHO S-52), 4th Edition, December 1996, Monaco.

IHO 1996. IHO Transfer Standard for Digital Hydrographic Data, IHO Special Publication No. 57 (IHO S-57), Edition 3.0, November 1996, Monaco

IEC 61174: Maritime navigation and radiocommunication equipment systems - Electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) - Operational and performance requirements, methods of testing, and required test results. June 1998, International Electrotechnical Commission, Geneva, 55pp.

RTCM Recommend Standard for Electronic Chart Systems (ECS), December 1994, Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services, Washington, DC.