Drones are getting more and more attention, proven to be a fruitful tool in the shipping and offshore industries, transforming the way organizations operate across the world.

For the time being, some ports already use drones and have adapted to the new era, but on the other hand, some are still on the trial phase, trying to gasp the pros and cons of using drones in everyday operations.

Uses of drones:

  1. Pollution detection amid 2020 sulphur cap
  2. In case of accidents
  3. Safety inspections
  4. Search and rescue operations
  5. Oil spill monitoring
  6. Port construction work

Drone use / Drone trials

Today, ports are either already using drones or are testing the use of drones in many operations. In essence:

#1 The Spanish Maritime Safety Agency (SASEMAR) began using EMSA’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the southern province of Huelva, for identifying and monitoring oil spills, as well as for additional assistance during search and rescue missions.

The drone conducts day and night flights and is equipped with electro-optical and infra-red cameras, radar and a still camera for detailed views of objects of interest.

#2 Norway, from 2018, has been using drones which measure the sulphur content in the exhaust emissions from several ships in the area.

#3 China launched a network of drones to monitor strategic parts of Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, which are responsible of monitoring uninhabited, hard-to-reach islands and will boost China's dynamic surveillance of the South China Sea.



#4 Port of Amsterdam has put on trial both aerial and marine drones for different operations, yet highlighting the importance technology in the industry, adding that  the M.A.D.S (Marine Anti Drone Systems) will support the Port by monitoring legal and illegal flying across its land, by detecting and identifying drones within a 5km range, providing GPS positioning of both drone and pilot together with the drone’s speed and heading.



#5 The Port of Hamburg is currently testing the use of Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV), which can offer a number of advantages for hydrography.

#6 Essex Police, the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) partnered on a new one-year-long drone trial to support vital search and rescue action around the coast of Essex.

#7 During the construction of Israel’s new Gulf Port in Haifa, the authorities used drones to monitor the construction taking place, as well as measure stockpile.

Used for a different purpose, ‘Aquadrone’ gathers garbage from the water. It is called the WasteShark and it can remove up to 200 liters of trash in one trip, as well as alien/pest flora.




Quality Aerial Imaging: Drones can collect a great number of imaging data, which have many beneficial uses, as 3D mapping of disaster areas.Uncertainty in Legislation: The legislation behind the use of drones is still controversial concerning the enforcement of airspace property rights and protection landowners from aerial trespassing.
Precision: Given that drones are equipped with GPS they can be programmed to fly in precise locations.Safety: This remains a challenging issue, as drones have to be programmed with ‘sense and avoid’ abilities, as the risk of drones colliding may prove to be hazardous, mostly if are used near large crowds.
Easily Deployable: The majority of drones can be easily operated after users receive training. For instance AMC Search, the commercial arm of the Australian Maritime College, and The Institute for Drone Technology signed an MoU aiming to bring drone technology training into the maritime.Privacy: It remains a controversial issue, given that drones are capable of taking images or video without drawing attention. However, the ISO Standards highlighted that “The fail-safe of human intervention is required for all drone flights, including autonomous operations, ensuring that drone operators are held accountable.”
Security: By acquiring the appropriate training, users can use drones for surveillance and security. For example, Croatia is using EMSA’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) to boost their coast guard functions, as to monitor vessel traffic, conduct search and rescue procedures and detection and monitoring of marine pollution.

Regulations for drones

  • ISO Standards

In December 2019, the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) announced the world's first ISO approved drone standards.

The ISO Standards focus on:

  • Air Safety
  • Privacy and data protection
  • The exciting future for drones
  • Impact on the economy

Yet, the draft version of the first ever set of standards for drone operations was firstly published by ISO in 2018, in a call to gather experts to discuss on the matter and gain more knowledge and experience for the official launch of the Standards.

  • Bahamas issue guidelines for use of drones’ onboard vessels

The Bahamas Maritime Authority launched an alert informing of the regulations on using Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones) on Bahamian vessels, as the operator has to comply with relevant guidance and instructions on the area when the drone is either registered or flown.

Accordingly, the guideline notes that

Operators must have approval from the State of the Operator before conducting operations in high seas airspace. They must likewise coordinate their operations with the ATS provider responsible for the airspace concerned.

  • IAATO restrictions on drone use in Antarctica

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has announced new restrictions on commercial drone use in Antarctica, noting that for the 2019-20 season, commercial drone flights are banned in coastal areas without the IAATO operator’s authorization.

Overall, applauding the use of technology in the maritime sector and the acceptance of drones, Standard Club’s Ben Burkard, Underwriting Director, and Julian Hines, Loss Prevention Manager, added that the use of aerial unmanned vessels allows for a much more comprehensive survey given the ease with which drones can access hard-to-reach areas as well as reduce risks.