How Do Cruise Ships Navigate?


From robotic bartenders to interactive wristbands, modern cruise ships are equipped with no-end of high-tech wizardry to keep passengers safe, happy and entertained during their time atop the high seas. But what sort of technology do modern cruise ships actually use to navigate from port to port? Here we set out to answer the burning question on the lips of every cruise fan — how do cruise ships navigate?

ECDIS — What Is It?

An Electronic Chart Display & Information System — aka ECDIS — is a computer navigation system found aboard most large cruise ships. The system is one of the only computers of its kind which complies with the International Maritime Organisation’s stringent safety regulations, meaning that it is has been widely adopted by most modern ships as a more intuitive and efficient alternative to nautical charts, which traditionally came in paper form.


ECDIS — What Does it Do?

The ECDIS displays important information about a ship’s position using a combination of electronic navigational charts and digital navigational charts. The exact position of the ship is given in position, heading and speed using special navigational sensors installed at various locations around the vessel. The system is designed to offer accurate and continuous position, navigation and safety information — thus helping the crew navigate the seas without incident.

How do Cruise Ships Plot a Voyage Course?

Using the ECDIS system, it’s the job of the ship’s navigator to plot a course between ports. Because this state-of-the-art system automatically displays the ship’s position using a combination of physical sensors and GPS technology, the navigator can make real-time changes to the route based on the current position of the ship — something that was more difficult and cumbersome when ship crews relied on paper charts.

Cruise Ship passing by Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine - Photo by Matthew Paulson

How Does the Navigation System Keep the Ship Safe at Sea?

Since the introduction of the ECDIS system, the safety of cruise ships and other commercial vessels has increased ten-fold. By using this high-tech system, ship crews are able to monitor potential hazards and plot a specific course which allows them to steer-clear of obstacles. The system also automatically plots the positions of other ships within radar range, lessening the chance of a collision while allowing other vessels to reach a nearby ship more quickly in the event of an incident.

Not only does the ECDIS system make it easier to monitor the safety of a specific route, it also provides warning alerts if a ship exceeds the allowances for danger, including its turning rate, allowable draft and other characteristics unique to that vessel. This gives the crew complete peace of mind, and allows them greater margin for error in poor weather conditions.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about the technology and features of commercial cruise ships, be sure to check out the rest of the Cruise1st Australia blog. Alternatively, if you’re interested in booking a cruise with us, visit our homepage to browse the latest holiday deals, or call the Cruise1st team now on 1300 857 345 for further help and advice.

Header image sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Robert Pernett

Body images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: US Pacific Fleet, Matthew Paulson



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