What is ECDIS or Electronic Chart Display Information System and its advantages?

Written by Amit Sharma

E = Electronic
C = Chart
D = Display and
I = Information 
S = System

The definition of an ECDIS and its use is specified in IMO ECDIS Performance Standards (IMO Resolution A.817 (19) and Resolution MSC.232 (82)): 

‘Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) means a navigation information system which, with adequate back-up arrangements, can be accepted as complying with the up-to-date  chart required by regulation V/19 & V/27 of the   1974 SOLAS Convention, by displaying selected information from a system electronic navigational chart (SENC) with positional information from navigation sensors to assist the mariner in route planning and route monitoring, and by displaying additional navigation-related information if required.’

ECDIS is thus more than an “electronic nautical chart”. Nautical charts are in fact presented electronically, but in principle all kinds of chart – aviation charts, street maps, railway maps, etc. – could be presented on a computer display using the same methodology. However, we shall restrict ourselves to comments on the electronic nautical charts.  ECDIS was initially developed for shipping, and thus the use of both terms as synonyms is entirely justified.


The International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) in the 80s identified that emerging computer technology and position fixing systems could provide a digital representation of the paper chart on a computer screen, along with real-time positioning and interfaces to radar and other navigation sensors. The IHO formed working groups to define the standards for data encoding and digital chart presentation.

The first standard, S-57, describes the data model, object and attribute definitions for charted objects, encoding guidelines, product specifications and data structure of the Electronic Navigation Chart (ENC). The second standard, S-52, describes the presentation of the colours as well as chart and navigation symbols for ECDIS. 

The IHO also works closely with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), to develop operational performance specifications and a rigorous type-approval test regime for ECDIS manufacturers

The new amendments to SOLAS Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) Regulation 19 ‘Carriage Requirements for Shipborne Navigational Systems and Equipment’ require mandatory carriage of ECDIS for certain new ships built on or after 1 July 2012 and a subsequent timeline plan for retrofitting ECDIS to existing applicable ships.  

The Manila amendments to the STCW code have also been updated to complement the new ECDIS carriage requirements and include mandatory training for ships operating with ECDIS. The Manila amendments entered into force on 1 January 2012.

About the author

Amit Sharma

Graduated from M.E.R.I. Mumbai (Mumbai University), After a brief sailing founded this website with the idea to bring the maritime education online which must be free and available for all at all times and to find basic solutions that are of extreme importance to a seafarer by our innovative ideas.


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