Why navigation needs the digitally skilled navigator

01 Oct 2022 The Navigator

Ship operations at sea and on shore have become increasingly digitally integrated. New initiatives build upon digital technologies to improve communication, collaboration and decision-making through data gathering, data sharing and data analytics. The emerging field of Maritime Informatics (using information systems to increase the efficiency, safety, environmental and social sustainability and resiliency in global shipping) explores the effective use of digitalisation and data in the maritime industry to help ship and shore work together


In 1988, the IMO Member States adopted the basic requirements for a global maritime distress and safety system (GMDSS) as part of the Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). GMDSS brought about the introduction of digital communications – digital selective calling (DSC). In addition, GMDSS provides a degree of automation for ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore communication.

Navigational practices have continued to evolve with the uptake of digital solutions supported by new technologies deployed on ships and ashore. These include Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), navigational solutions like ECDIS and Dynamic Under Keel Clearance (DUKC). In addition, there are various pieces of digital marine communication equipment available with associated safety communication systems and electronic and autonomous surveillance technologies, such as radar and AIS. These solutions place the ship as an information node in the overall network, providing digitally enabled situational awareness.

The development of shore-based monitoring tools supports both regulators and commercial actors. For shipping companies, they can provide fleet surveillance, or give terminal operators accurate information on cargo throughput. Other users include shore authorities monitoring ship operations within their waters or supporting safety and security through Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), and engine manufacturers connecting propulsion systems with navigation systems. Progress has also been achieved in port collaborative decision-making (PortCDM) through projects such as port call optimisation and just-intime arrival. If the port knows where a ship is, they can collaborate on calculating speed and arrival time to minimise waiting time and emissions in port, for example.

Implications for officers onboard and ashore

Digital interactions between a ship and its environment are significant, and harnessing the information in a time- and locationsensitive manner is critical. A ship that is operating as a sophisticated sensor hub and data generator producing and transmitting data in real-time brings new requirements for those operating it. Today, officers face two fundamental questions:

  • How can officers onboard and ashore assess the quality of information; and
  • What role do officers play in creating data/ information essential for maritime logistics?

In a digitally networked industry, each navigator is not only a node in a network of navigators, but also part of a network of other actors in maritime logistics. Ship’s officers play an important role as user of data provided to them, and also as provider of data that help others to plan and manage their operations. Everybody who shares data provides components of information for enhanced situational awareness.

Increased connectivity also means higher vulnerability. Data that flows between systems may spread viruses. Automated systems may have in-built biases not immediately evident. Using multiple sources is a way to mitigate such cyber security risks. There is no single truth, no single source of data. Rather, it is a mix originating from multiple sources. However, the flow of information channeled to officers grows exponentially, which is already creating information overload and affecting the quality of decisions taken.

Some examples of information that comes from shore to ship include:

  • Hydrographic (charts and chart updates)
  • Meteorological reports / weather routing advice
  • Maritime Safety Information (MSI)
  • Port guidance and passage planning guidance
  • Cargo and loading / discharge information
  • Security information
  • VTS / pilot guidance
  • Quarantine health and safety information
  • Charter information

Opportunities for digitally savvy maritime personnel

The maritime officer of tomorrow is expected to be well-informed and well-informing. Some of this may relate simply to prudent seamanship and safe operations, such as updating AIS status or monitoring engine systems. Other functions may need skill sets beyond current STCW competencies.

For those that acquire advanced skills, new roles will emerge. Developments in maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) will include actively engaging with ships from a remote location or monitoring movements from shore-based control rooms (Remote Control Centres). Automation aids the onboard crew with specific autonomous functions and new decision support tools. 

Digitalisation helps synchronise what happens at sea with activities ashore. This goes beyond physical coordination to enable more efficient and sustainable sea transport. Digitalisation reduces distances and allows for coordination beyond physical presence. Digitally connected ships and terminals using the same infrastructure across diverse applications support the users in tasks such as avoiding collisions, forecasting congestion, advising on feasible arrival times to ports etc.

Maritime Informatics

Maritime Informatics offers a solid and well-anchored knowledge base and digital intelligence source, identifying the necessary skillset for tomorrow’s maritime professionals. We can build on connected ships, ports and people, to provide new practices, such as:

  • Enhanced communication between ships and shore on timing of arrivals and departures
  • Conducting and monitoring remote operations

Enhanced situational awareness for well-founded decision-making aiming at synchronised operations, sustainable shipping and sustainable and safe navigation

Achieving such progress will require the enhancing of existing maritime education and training with digital capability development.

Digitalisation is disrupting the traditional role of navigators and engineers onboard ships, as it calls for upskilling from traditional operator competencies to data analysis skills. This includes the ability to validate data feeds, analyse data and derive patterns of behavior and predictions from multiple sources. However, once these competencies are in place, properly skilled seafarers can truly live up to their role in today’s digitally enhanced supply chain networks.


Mikael Lind, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and Chalmers University of Technology, Wolfgang Lehmacher, Anchor Group, Jillian CarsonJackson, JCJ Consulting, Sukhjit Singh, University of Gibraltar, Sandra Haraldson, RISE, Andreas Bach, RISE and Mikael Hägg, RISE