At a time when ships are being filled with more and more advanced digital technologies, we must also ensure that we preserve the status of seafaring, provide adequate training, and promote the attraction of a career at sea for the next generation writes Yarden Gross, CEO and Co-founder at Tel Aviv-based maritime tech company Orca AI.
avigating a large commercial ship can be a somewhat tedious task. Navigators must be constantly on the lookout, understanding the context of developing scenarios while assimilating information from multiple sources, often in a repetitive manner. This kind of focused attention can quickly become stressful, especially when manoeuvring through congested waters or in low-visibility conditions such as heavy fog or rain.
Keeping a proper lookout is also becoming more challenging given other distractions such as mobile phones. In fact, mobile phones were cited in a recent accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board in the US as a contributing factor in a collision between a bulker and an offshore supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. The investigators wrote that “non-operational use of cell phones should never interfere with the primary task of a watchstander or a bridge team member to maintain a proper lookout”. Given our increasing addiction to small screens, one has a certain amount of sympathy for the OOW who is temporarily distracted by his cell phone.
Are smart systems the solution? Yes, but only with proper training.
More and more smart systems are available that are designed to lighten the burden on navigators. However, I’d like to sound a note of caution: too many new systems that are not integrated into an overarching dashboard could become not a help, but a hindrance. Call it haphazard digitalization.
Lack of adequate training could also be disempowering, resulting in the underutilization of such systems and continuing reliance on mostly human skills. Indeed, in a recent DNV survey, over 80% of seafarer respondents indicated that they need either partial or complete training to master advanced digital technologies. Consequently, any new platform introduced to the bridge needs to be intuitive and easy to act on the data displayed.
As experts in digital watchkeeping, we put a lot of work into the data display of our collision avoidance platform and user-friendliness. Navigation officers just need to glance at the screen to immediately see what’s going on outside – in other words, what identified objects could be potentially dangerous. This is particularly important at night and in poor visibility.
At the same time, I am convinced that data-driven systems, both on the bridge and elsewhere onboard, are the future of our industry. We must move away from analogue solutions and use advanced technologies to support seafarers in making the best decisions, especially in difficult situations when there is high pressure to act fast. Digital systems powered by AI that can take the tedium out of necessary but repetitive tasks can help enormously to reduce stress – and in navigational terms, reduce the risk of accidents where human error is still a significant contributor.
AI does not sleep; it processes multiple sources of information in a fraction of time and learns from experience. Leveraging this collective intelligence throughout many ships and scenarios, AI can achieve superhuman capabilities. Intelligent machines are already reducing workload in many industries, and marine should follow suit.
I also believe moving to a more comprehensive digital paradigm will also help to address the current dwindling pool of skilled seafarers. It isn’t about doing seafarers out of a job, it’s about using digital tools to take up the slack when there simply aren’t enough of them.
So, my message is, let us celebrate seafarers but make sure that the new tools we give them are fit for purpose and don’t compound information overload, whether on the bridge or anywhere else onboard. Knowing first-hand what it’s like being out at sea for long periods, I derive a lot of motivation from contributing to reducing their workload. At the end of the day, we’re all part of the same team.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.