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and D—with category A being the most stringently tested and functionally not significantly different from ECDIS. It can be used as the backup system. In February 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard recognized a RTCM Class A ECS displaying ENCs as functionally equivalent to ECDIS, and an RTCM Class B or C ECS as meeting the charting requirements for commercial shipping operating out to the 12-mile limit (i.e. there is no need to carry paper charts). An RTCM Class D ECS is not considered an adequate substitute for paper charts.
The RTCM hardware requirements cannot be met by a typical personal computer or tablet because they do not meet the rigorous salt spray, vibration, heat and humidity tests, rendering most PC- based recreational electronic charting systems unlikely to comply with ECS.
However, for most of us using PC- based electronic charts, we have learned to live with our hardware weaknesses and it is the software side of things that primarily need improvement. There is another international standard that applies here, which is ISO 19379.
Over the coming years when choosing electronic charts and their associated display systems, compliance with the software provisions of RTCM Class A, B or C, and/ or compliance with ISO 19379, will be a useful measure of the quality of the software. Almost all electronic charts used in the recreational boating have some kind of a legal disclaimer, such as the following from Jeppesen/C-Map: “Unless otherwise specified by national maritime authorities, the data licensed hereunder is inadequate as a primary means of navigation, and should be used only as a supplement to official government charts and traditional navigation methods.”
Whereas this disclaimer is probably there for liability reasons, it should not be ignored. For all their obvious benefits, electronic charts found in the recreational world have significant weaknesses with the as compared to paper charts and other sources of information.
To quote the investigation into the grounding of the Vestas Wind: “Unfortunately, the attractive presentation of electronic data creates a misplaced air of confidence in the accuracy of what is presented. There can be a false sense of security and a belief that further checks are not necessary. This can be a mistake.”
Until ECDIS and ECS Class A hardware and charts filter down into the recreational marketplace, there will continue to be a need for paper and traditional piloting techniques in the navigational toolbox.