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Monday, March 16, 2020 

Dutch company RH Marine says it has helped with improvements to the ISO standard for autopilots (Heading Control Systems, or HCS) on seagoing vessels.

Under the old standard it was possible to supply an autopilot that met all requirements, but in practice did not function well. This has been taken into account in the new standard. From now on, the autopilot will be tested under challenging conditions and on different types and sizes of ships. The new ISO testing standard has already been approved and will be made mandatory within a maximum of three years.

The autopilot system must meet IMO requirements while test and inspection of the autopilot must comply with ISO 11674. When this standard was up for amendment, a committee of experts from the Netherlands, Finland, Japan and Germany was formed. The Netherlands was represented by RH Marine.

“We saw that you could meet the previous test standard with an autopilot that is not working properly. We also saw that the new standard was in danger of becoming illogical and unworkable. We have tried to change that and have succeeded in doing so,” said portfolio manager Marcel Vermeulen of RH Marine.

While other suppliers sometimes supply "a box with buttons", RH Marine's Rhodium NAVpilot4500 is an integrated software system on the ship’s bridge. The new standard initially seemed to take too little account of this solution. For example, the old standard took into account the overshoot - when ships overshoot after a turn - but not the undershoot - when ships do not turn far enough and not reach their course at all. “Thus you could make an autopilot that doesn’t reach track, but still could pass the test and be approved,” said Vermeulen.

Another example was the way in which the autopilot handled power failures: now, if power to the autopilot fails, other systems have to indicate this. Additionally, the autopilot was previously only tested for one type of ship under ideal conditions, i.e. without wind and strong current. Testing will now be carried out under difficult conditions on different types of ships. “Furthermore, not all extra requirements for an autopilot were also checked by a test. Now they are,” said Vermeulen.

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