16 November 2023

UKHO champions international initiative for Electronic Chart System digital solutions, and commits to maintaining a viable paper chart service


In recent months, the UKHO has been working with international partners on a new digital navigation solution for vessels requiring non-ECDIS navigation. This has a number of elements, as the community of users who rely on our electronic and paper charts represents a diverse range of vessel types, users and navigation requirements, in the UK and around the globe.  

We have worked hard to listen to all the feedback we received from regulatory authorities, end users and partners alike, including the valued voices of our distributors, trade associations and our fellow hydrographic offices.

Our guiding principle throughout is the provision of trusted, official ADMIRALTY navigation solutions that support the safety of the mariner. It is clear that the future of navigation is digital, as shown by the declining demand for paper charts. Digital solutions offer significant positional, safety and operational advantages to mariners, including the potential for near real-time updates, which greatly improve the accuracy of navigation and ease of use. These benefits will be further enhanced as we bring forward the next generation of navigation solutions, underpinned by the S-100 data standards.

However, there is a residual demand for paper charts for primary navigation and as back-up for ECDIS users, as well as planning and shore-based operations. This demand varies between regions and vessel types, but despite the widespread transition to digital navigation, the requirement for paper charts is likely to continue for some time. Our goal therefore is to continue to develop solutions to meet the needs of the mariner, aligned to support current market demand.

Delivering a sustainable future for paper charts


Our commitment ‘to leave no one behind’ in the transition to digital navigation has not changed. We will continue to provide an ADMIRALTY paper chart service that supports the needs of those mariners that remain reliant upon them during the transition period.

Naturally, this service will evolve over time, not least because other hydrographic offices who supply the paper charts included in our paper chart series are making their own changes, which may impact our offering and coverage. We will keep our partners and users updated every step of the way. 

Working in partnership for a compliant digital solution


As we have discussed before, one of the barriers to the wider adoption of digital navigation solutions is the absence of a suitable compliant Electronic Chart System (ECS) solution that will enable users to replace paper charts. This is an international challenge, shared by all coastal states, hydrographic offices and our other international partners. In response, we are pleased to report that the UKHO is the chair of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Electronic Chart System (ECS) Project Team, that has been established under the IHO ENC Standards Maintenance Working Group. We are looking forward to playing a key role in this collaborative challenge, to develop suitable ECS solutions that meet the needs of vessels requiring non-ECDIS navigation.

There is a capability gap that exists below the ECDIS level for official and compliant digital navigation. This encompasses users across several different types of vessels, including commercial vessels, search and rescue, fishing vessels, passenger ships, and leisure vessels.

The diverse range of potential ECS users represents a larger proportion of mariners than the ECDIS user group. This highlights the importance of a co-ordinated international approach to ensure that solutions are safe and consistent around the world. In turn, this will ensure mariners are confident in switching between different ECS displays and will facilitate training and support crew transfer across vessels.

The IHO ECS Project Team has been established to develop a set of recommendations that will be addressed by existing IHO bodies, external organisations, and Member States, as well as identifying and prioritising ECS navigation requirements and analysing their impacts on current IHO hydrographic standards.

The IHO ECS Project Team will then make recommendations to the IHO.

Supporting shipping’s navigation needs, whether digital or paper


The development of standardised ECS solutions is a necessary step to meet the needs of mariners, now and in the future, irrespective of the future of paper charting. Moving forward, these will be two separate programmes of work for the UKHO. One will be focused on the development of credible, regulatory compliant ECS solutions, as part of an international effort led by the IHO ECS Project Team. The other will be focused on the sustainable future of our ADMIRALTY paper chart service for users that depend on it whilst the transition to digital is still underway.  

This reflects two important commitments from UKHO. For those that rely on our paper charts, we will continue to deliver this service whilst there is still a need, with a view to enabling a safe and compliant transition to digital. At the same time, through the work of the IHO ECS Project Team, we will work in collaboration with our global partners in this important initiative to support the development of ECS solutions that meet the needs of mariners around the world.

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