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Technology-A Friend or a Foe for seafarers-Bridge Equipments

Updated: May 15, 2020

Dear All,

Continuing the series of posts related to seafarers and technology, in this post we continue to see the advancements in the bridge equipments after communications and GMDSS (please read my earlier posts).

Bridge overall has developed technologically fairly rapidly compared to the other parts of the ship and the shipping industry as a whole. The successful integration of GMDSS has given more confidence to administrations and technology providers to produce newer equipments, get it certified and install on the vessels

Below we discuss few newer equipments onboard a bridge which were not present some 15 years ago

1) ECDIS- (Electronic Chart Display and information System) This has actually been onboard for quite some time now where it was only a secondary type of navigation. Only recently though ECDIS has been approved to use as a primary means and a second ECDIS can completely make the navigation paperless(meaning-no paper charts) This change is really a break through as paper charts were being used for centuries and half the time of the 2nd officer used to go in correcting charts if we had huge number of chart portfolios to be kept updated .There was also other logistics challenges of getting the charts onboard for a voyage which is not onboard and the voyage was fixed last minute. There have been instances where Pilots bring the chart while approaching the port. With ECDIS it’s a breeze in getting the charts and keeping them updated.

2) BNWAS-This is basically an acronym for Bridge Navigation Watch Alarm System, which is nothing but a Dead Man’s alarm to ensure that the watch keeper is active and capable of keeping the watch, not incapacitated or plain sleeping. With the cost of ships with the cargo and more than that the life of other seafarers sleeping below, there was a requirement of such a system long before which was already very normal in other kinds of transport. There are different Alarm which will sound if the watch keeper doesn’t tell the BNWAS system that he is attentive and keeping a good watch.

3) VDR- (Voyage Data Recorder) The VDR is similar to a black box of an aircraft and it captures data from most of the navigation equipments which would help the investigators to recreate the scene on the bridge in case of an accident/incident. The VDR even records what’s being spoken on the bridge! This is kept on the bridge/monkey island and quietly keeps recording all occurrences for a period of 12 hours after which the earlier records get written over.

4) Chart Plotter-I am not sure how many of you have seen this equipment-this is in between Paper chart and an ECDIS. In this there is a glass panel above which the paper chart is placed, the equipment is connected to the GPS and there is a tiny dot projected on the chart from below to mark the vessel’s position on the chart. There are some settings required for every chart we change for the plotter to calibrate accordingly. I tried getting the picture on Google, but was not successful, I had this on only one of my vessels.

5) Sound reception systems- This system is also very high-tech and all ships may not have It-This is basically an audio sensor for external fog horns etc. when the watch keeper is inside the bridge with wing doors closed. I still remember as a cadet I was the one in the wing in cold climate to hear for sounds in fog conditions! What a relief…

6) GMDSS-We had a full post on this hence won’t repeat here-please do go through my post on GMDSS

7) Integrated bridge System-Is basically how all the bridge equipments are arranged trying to bring a cockpit effect on the bridge, with the watch keeper sitting in the middle and all equipments arranged in close proximity for ease of operation.

Now coming to our Pros and Cons Section:


1) Technology has made the bridge a place to be! With the addition of these equipments, watch keeping has become more informed as the watch keeper get more information on his surroundings with lesser efforts

2) Decision making in critical situations are faster and more effective

3) Situational awareness has increased many folds

4) Accident investigations are more accurate and correct lessons learnt

5) Bridge team could be pruned according to the needs

6) Overall efficiency of the bridge team has increased


1) These equipments tend to distract the watch keepers with so many alarms in all equipments, some alarms could be silenced without realizing the implication

2) The setting on these equipments to be accurate, otherwise these equipments could give incorrect information for the watch keeper to act on.

3) Watch keepers have become slaves to these equipments, if I may say so

4) The earlier seafarer instincts, going out on the bridge wings, having a visual lookout have seemed to disappeared

5) The watch keeper feels handicapped without these equipments

6) The equipments have become so sophisticated that watch keepers need specific training before each ship(ECDIS), this list may keep increasing in the future

Bottom line is bridge is becoming smarter with each passing day and hence seafarer better learn to cope up and get trained as this is not going to change and will only keep increasing

Happy Watch keeping!!


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