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Why Humans Are Key to Maritime Autonomy

It may seem a misnomer or even backwards thinking to consider humans as an essential component to maritime autonomy, however the people and technology partnership is key to the successful marriage of maritime and autonomy.

Firstly, maritime autonomy is not, strictly speaking the correct phrase, as purists would say that to be autonomous would mean that the vehicle, whether on land, sea, or air, would need to be free of human interaction.

As autonomy means the right to self-govern, in maritime terms we are still some degrees away from reaching this stage. Whilst we currently have surface and sub-surface vessels that can self-energise, propel, navigate, and undertake duties, humans remain an essential component of maritime autonomy.

So called autonomous surface craft are in reality more often controlled via by an integrated operators’ Remote Operations Centre (iROC), often over-the-horizon, run by technicians and teams whose competencies are in line with current STCW crewed vessel standards.

Control can translate as remote engineering prognosis, fault diagnosis or direct intervention depending on the use case of each system and degree of automation. Factors also depend on the technological capability and development of each system, and the concept of operation and rational for altering a vessels current state.

To date, no new MASS operator competency standards has been agreed. Key roles are yet to be defined and therefore no additional career paths and endorsements have been added to create an STCW approved uncrewed vessel competency framework, as this simply does not exist currently.

On a global basis, across commercial, military and leisure sectors, this new and costly technology is being operated in a wholly unregulated sphere. Capabilities of the technology are mismatched to the skills and expectations of the users.

Currently there is no STCW approved uncrewed vessel competency framework

This means that uncrewed vessels are, in fact, in the main operating in pre-STCW regulated scenarios, which came into play over 44 years ago specifically due to the associated hazards and risks to life, vessels, and assets within the demanding maritime environment. It is a new day, and our focal point must now shift to build new technological and analytical capabilities fast, with a platform that matches learning with job performance and career progression.

Whilst autonomous vessel operator training is generally provided by the manufacturer, when it comes to STCW-equivalent uncrewed vessel specific competencies, these technically excellent and innovative vehicles’ capabilities are, in some cases, perhaps five years beyond the people who operate them.

Non-standardised working practises are proven to heighten risk to life, together with potential asset and intelligence loss via piracy and inadequate communications, plus many other factors including the challenges of standardising the onboarding of teams to adopt the rapidly emerging technology.

Outcomes can be harsh, including the possibility of insurers declining claims citing lack of operating due diligence.

The need for a standardised solution to fully integrate people and maritime technology is great, with training and transformation specialist SeaBot Maritime pioneering the safety and competency NextGen agenda across both uncrewed systems and smart shipping globally.

SeaBot Maritime’s CEO, Gordon Meadow is committed to the global development of Maritime Education and Training and the digital transformation of the maritime workforce’s transition to the connected mariner.

To counter these trends, working with longstanding customer, Fugro, Gordon and his team at SeaBot Maritime have devised the first career pathways for operators of uncrewed vessels, in the form of the MASS Certified Professional Training Scheme.

The MASS Certified Professional Training Scheme is an experiential based training scheme that bridges the skills gaps between conventional operations and the adoption and use of Maritime Autonomous Surface Systems.

Interest is high at both domestic and global regulatory level to adopt the MASS Certified Professional Training Scheme, which is solely delivered by SeaBot Maritime from its Integrated Remote Operations and Intelligent Ship Training and Research Academy headquartered at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, or at customers’ own sites worldwide through cloud-based simulation.

About Gordon Meadow

SeaBot Maritime’s CEO, Gordon Meadow is committed to the global development of Maritime Education and Training and the digital transformation of the maritime workforce’s transition to the connected mariner.

He is Chair of the IMarEST's Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) Special Interest Group, Co-Chair of the International Standards Working Group, MASSPeople and Chair of the UK MASRWG, People Skills and Ethics Committee. Gordon is also a member of the Society of Maritime Industries MASG Committee and represents IMarEST on the Royal Academy of Engineering Safety and Ethics of Autonomous Systems working group.

About the Author

Hannah Kent Colls is Head of Engagement for maritime training and digital transformation specialist SeaBot Maritime, headquartered in Southampton, UK.

British born Hannah has worked in the maritime sector throughout her career. Having spent a gap-year as a professional sailor representing Western Australia, she returned to the UK and trained as a Yacht Broker of leisure yachts and commercial vessels.

Following this she was Head of Communications for Europe’s largest commercial marine exhibition, Seawork. Hannah went on to launch and run a public relations and business development agency serving the maritime sector. Hannah joined SeaBot Maritime in March 2022.

Further Information

Please contact for further information and to obtain permission to reproduce this article.


Caption: SeaBot Maritime’s MASS Certified Professional Training Scheme provides a solution to help regulate uncrewed systems operations.

Image credit: © featuring BMT Rembrandt Software.

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