WAYPOINT - Artificial Intelligence and the quest for greener navigation

07 Jun 2023 The Navigator

George Shaw from the Royal Institute of Navigation examines the potential for using Artificial Intelligence and Decision Support tools to inform greener voyage planning and positioning

Effective voyage planning is becoming increasingly challenging. This is at least partly thanks to widespread efforts in the maritime industry to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Green navigation options may also be affected in the future by more complex maritime environments. Ironically, many of the complicating factors are the result of moves towards greater environmental awareness, such as the navigational restrictions around Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) and the growing number of offshore wind farms (OWF) in busy sea areas. We might even see routes shifting seasonally to take account of whale migration patterns, for example. The cumulative effect of all these factors may radically impact sustainable voyage planning. In selecting the plan and en-route amendments, having access to trustworthy, up-to-date information in realtime will be essential. 

Advances in AI

Huge advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are highly topical as they become more widely available with the launch of facilities such as ChatGPT and Bard. In future, AIbased tools could aid the mariner by instantly analysing and updating options for greener and more efficient voyage plans. Similar AI capabilities could predict the cumulative effects of planned navigation restrictions on vessels’ future traffic patterns, emissions and efficiency, supporting marine spatial planning and integration. Innovative AI-based aids may offer effective routing solutions to unleash greener navigation through robust Decision Support (DS) for mariners. 


High-availability DS depends on being able to communicate large quantities of data reliably between ship and shore and in exchanges with nearby vessels. AIS is currently pushed to its limits in novel applications and can have very limited data capacity with poor integrity (being easily spoofed). Future communication needs may be met by the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) and growth in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, e.g. OneWeb and Starlink constellations. VDES is rapidly maturing with over 30 times the data capacity of AIS and in-built data authentication. The combined terrestrial and satellite links of VDES should offer extensive data coverage at sea when deployed from coastal stations and LEO satellites.

Robust data required

Trustworthy data for digital DS services also means the underlying data sources and sensors must be fault tolerant, and alert the mariner to any reduction in data quality. Positioning data is particularly problematic, as it is often provided by GNSS alone and with very limited integrity. AI can potentially be used to help identify rogue data.

Progress towards robust maritime service architectures has already been demonstrated by the pioneering capabilities of Sea Traffic Management (STM) and the concept of the Maritime Connectivity Platform (MCP). STM envisages a marinercentric world, ‘where all the information... is at your fingertips, updated in real-time.’ MCP users would be validated against its Identity Register and have access to a portfolio of assured services. Such practical elements bring DS solutions for greener voyages much nearer to reality. Mariners should cautiously welcome AI-based DS,as potentially empowering them to carry out greener voyages safely and efficiently. DS may reduce the analysis burden, but the ultimate judgement and responsibility for decisions will always lie with the mariner.

Contact RIN at: www.rin.org.uk | 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AT | Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 3134