In maritime industry, drones are gaining more and more a position in maritime surveillance. At the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), discussions on the use of Remote Inspection Techniques (RIT) including drones in class surveys are already underway, and IACS Rec. 42 (Guidelines for Use of Remote Inspection Technics for Surveys) was revised in June of 2016. A revision of the related IACS Unified Requirements has also been completed and will take effect in January 2019.
The drone inspection has been identified as a way to save time and money and to enhance workforce safety, as many of the inspected areas are high risk and difficult to access safely. Marine surveyors do not have to risk their lives by having to climb high places or be exposed to adverse conditions to check for defects.
On the other hand, when flying a drone in places such as the cargo hold or ballast tank of a ship, it is important to take into consideration the possibility that the drone may not function properly, due to being in a closed space surrounded by magnetic material which may interfere with some of the sensors of the drone (GPS and magnetic compass) which are closely related to flight stability.
In view of this, ClassNK established a R&D Roadmap in September 2017, which described efforts related to drones in the item “Survey Technology Innovation,” one of its Four Focus Areas of R&D. In January 2017, the Society began a full-scale study of the use of drones in class surveys, and has conducted various types of verifications by carrying out basic performance experiments and experiments to test flight inside ship tanks and cargo holds. The guidelines include the applicable range and procedures for applying drones to class surveys along with the technical considerations for safe operation and the requirements for drone service suppliers.