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How does BICS work?

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This page should be read after "What is BICS?". It explains how BICS works in greater detail and the advantages of reporting electronically using BICS.


How does BICS work?

BICS sends electronic messages about the ship, the crew and passengers on board, the voyage and the cargo to waterway managers and harbour authorities via secure (mobile) Internet connections. Skippers can use BICS to report throughout Europe in a uniform manner, in their own mother tongue. BICS uses standardised electronic messages (EDI) and complies with the requirements for mandatory electronic reporting

Rijkswaterstaat has developed the software that makes this possible in collaboration with users. BICS can be used both on ships and at shore locations.

The waterway managers and harbour authorities are the main recipients of BICS information. The information that they receive via BICS is required for rapid and safe traffic handling and for protecting people and the environment. The presence and exact nature of any hazardous cargoes that are at risk in an emergency can be established very quickly.

Data exchange within BICS is fast, reliable and strictly confidential. Sensitive privacy-related or business information no longer has to be communicated via open channels. The VHF radio channels are freed up and 'neighbours' can no longer eavesdrop.

After installing BICS, the master data for the ship and frequently used barges can be entered and stored in the program. This makes data such as the ship's name, dimensions, ship type and official ship number easily retrievable and automatically available for each new report.

BICS Version 5 - The dashboard
Typical dashboard display in BICS version 5

BICS already contains all kinds of information (reference data) that a skipper may need in order to report electronically. For example, the names of all loading and unloading locations, cargo types and the exact names for all hazardous substances that may be transported on the waterways. Spelling mistakes, unintelligible messages or language problems are a thing of the past. Only data that may change is entered for each voyage: port of departure, destination, type and quantity of the cargo, the draught and the number of people on board. These can generally be chosen from a selection list. Frequently used information, such as specific voyage and load combinations, can be marked as 'favourites'. This simplifies data entry and the skipper can enter and report a voyage with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Selection lists in BICS  
Example of a selection list in BICS (selection of a hazardous ADN substance).

Useful extra functionality in BICS

Container transport
BICS can interface with stowage software. This means that container vessels can easily exchange cargo information with third parties such as operators, terminals, etc. The cargo information provided by freight forwarders is processed by a stowage program in the on-board computer to create an optimised stowage plan. Stowage software is always supplied by external market parties. This eliminates the need to re-type information for electronic reporting. BICS and the stowage software use the same data. BICS reports cargo information (per container) to the authorities at a single press of a button.

Signal display calculation and analysis
A single press of a button is sufficient to determine whether the hazardous cargo that is offered may be transported on the waterways and the maritime signal display that is required. BICS features intelligent integral software that calculates what maritime signal display is required based on the cargo details that have been entered. 

Voyage and cargo log
The BICS program offers users a simple procedure for updating the voyage and cargo log, creating a business archive and easily printing or emailing a complete shipping or CMNI document.

Exemption from the monthly paper report to Statistics Netherlands
Skippers who report electronically are exempted from the monthly obligation to submit a written report to Statistics Netherlands (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek/CBS) detailing the cargoes they have transported. A copy of each BICS message is automatically sent to the statistics Department of Statistics Netherlands.

Can be used internationally and as a cross-border reporting tool

The BICS program includes multiple languages as standard. The user reviews the screens in his/her choice of language. The lists in BICS (such as cargo types, ADN) are also available in the selected language.

BICS version 5, Entering a voyage in Dutch  BICS version 5, Entering a voyage in English BICS version 5, Entering a voyage in German BICS version 5, Entering a voyage in French
Examples of the voyage entry screen in BICS in various languages

At present, users can choose from Dutch, German, French and English (see figures). A preferred language can be set for each individual BICS user on board ship or at a shore location. After all, skippers of many different nationalities use the Inland waterways in Europe. The choice of multiple languages facilitates electronic cross-border reporting. The different waterway managers and authorities in each country that offers River Information Services (RIS) process the electronic messages from ships. BICS makes it possible to report in all areas in a uniform manner (see also "Where can I report electronically?"). This is possible because BICS uses international standards, also referred to as ERI messages.

During its short lifetime, BICS has become the acknowledged international standard for exchanging electronic messages between ships, waterway managers and harbour authorities. Germany, France and Switzerland have all adopted BICS integrally for the Rhine navigation area. Other countries such as Austria, Slovakia and Hungary have followed suit for the Danube. The national French waterway manager, Voies Navigables de France (VNF), mainly uses the ERI messages for invoicing navigation fees. Due to the nature of the French waterway network and lock system, there is no national waterway management system that continuously has to be fed data. Collecting navigation fees is one of the tasks for which VNF is responsible. The ERI messages are fed into the administrative systems of VNF, which sees them as an official declaration.

The ERI standards are supported throughout Europe. As a result, information only has to be communicated at the time of departure for a voyage from Rotterdam to Giurgiu in Romania or from Hamburg to the port of Sète on the Mediterranean Sea. When under way, the ship only has to communicate any minor changes and identify itself briefly by VHS radio when approaching a traffic control station, lock, bridge or harbour.