WAYPOINT - Collaboration, communications and confidence: the winning combination?

01 Sep 2022 The Navigator

George Shaw from the Royal Institute of Navigation examines how mutual trust and collaboration between ship and shore communications can lead to enhanced operational efficiency – and increased confidence all round

Effective ship/shore collaboration relies on mutual trust and shared goals between parties. They must be willing to co-operate and use dependable communications throughout the voyage. Positive outcomes from this include enhanced operational efficiency (timely arrival, minimal emissions/ fuel used) and a safer vessel. Sharing wider situational awareness is essential in increasingly complex sea areas with a growing number of offshore installations. Rigorous co-operation, based on trustworthy crowd-sourced and networked data, could smooth potential voyage conflicts and reduce delays, supporting navigator decisions on course or speed.

A positive operational culture of mutual collaboration and shared benefit is the most important part of achieving efficiency gains safely. Technology also plays an key role. In order for participants to rely on information, underlying data must have inherent integrity. Communications must be secure (resistant to cyber assault), robust (resistant to physical interference) and resilient (minimising interruptions and recovering rapidly).

AIS messaging is currently overburdened and insecure, with ever-increasing demands for data quantity with low latency to support burgeoning digital services. The introduction of the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES), together with expanding satellite communications, offers much greater data capacity and geographic coverage, with cybersecure and authenticated messages. VDES will enable mariners to check that messages truly originate from a recognised authority, and that the information is timely and as intended. Furthermore, standardisation of machine-readable information formats provided by the IHO S-100 family of data product specifications avoids misinterpretation and underpins effective portrayal of information to the mariner. All of this supports dynamic decision-making.


Voice communications will always play a part, but caution is needed when used in safetyrelated applications. The aviation world continues to use voice communications, despite issues of language and cognition. In a recent incident, a Swedish A320 plane descending to Paris came within two metres of ground collision, following a confusion in transposing digits in the altimeter setting conveyed from ATM by voice. Maritime services need to heed this lesson.

Even with advances in VDES, underlying data sources may have no inherent integrity, with no warning of statistical uncertainties or flags for possible occurrences of dangerous errors. Importantly, GNSS position information cannot be trusted for maritime safety applications. Aviation GNSS benefits from regional satellite-based augmentation services (e.g. WAAS/EGNOS), but no equivalent yet exists for maritime. Until GNSSs are complemented with resilient, high integrity positioning services, mariners must be alert for misleading information and consider the impact on decisions and services.

Collaborative developments, supported by a progressive culture, training and appropriate technologies, should aspire to reduce the workload on the navigator and free up time for vital ‘thinking space’. Procedural and technological developments could rationalise paperwork required for port calls via automatically generated standard forms. Co-operative digital services for passage adjustments en route and dynamic checks of under-keel clearance may also help, building towards the introduction of wider Sea Traffic Management (STM) services, such as those currently being evaluated in the EU.

Such steps herald safer expansion towards autonomous vessel operations. However, enhanced ship/shore communication must not distract the navigator from their primary responsibility: the safety of the ship, crew, cargo and environment. The combination of culture and technology is a matter of trust and confidence to deliver safety, but this is not easily won.

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