Autonomous Ships - Rule 6 & Rule 7

Is it just me or is all this talk about autonomous ships moving the ball down the road a bit fast? I read an article today speculating that autonomous ships will happen before autonomous cars.

I remain confused as to how these remote operated vessels will comply with Rule 6 as currently written. If one is required to take into consideration things such as the “state of visibility” and “the state of wind, sea and current”, how does that work when the operator is in a separate space thousands of miles away from the vessel?

Also, Rule 7 says “every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists”. If there is not a physical lookout posted on the bridge because the vessel owner chose instead to have the vessel operated remotely, can it be said that the vessel “used all available means” to avoid collision?

No doubt there are an array of other issues surrounding autonomous vessels (fire fighting, engine maintenance, fuel purification, etc.) but these 2 particular issues have been on mind for awhile and I wonder if I am simply off base here.

When the automobile was first introduced it was required that a person with a red flag walked in front to warn people of the danger it represented.

Initially there will be exemptions from the rules on a trial basis. but eventually the rules will be changed to accommodate changes, here as in all other cases of new inventions.

It is already becoming clear that to take an existing vessel with conventional machinery and equipment is NOT the way to go.

Hydrogen fuel cells are fast developing into viable power source for propulsion, even for large vessels. But initially the technology will be tested on small vessels in domestic and short sea trade.

A new company dedicated to developing solutions for maritime use of hydrogen as power source was officially launched yesterday:

PS> If you have not already followed the conversation in another thread here on the forum, you will find a lot of informations and arguments, fore and against here: Future of ships

Consider the logistics of disembarking on departure and boarding on arrival pilot(s), deck crew, engineers, etc. A whole new system will need to be implemented. The lone pilot(s) coming alongside on a small-ish pilot boat becomes a thing of the past. They’ll need a fucking crewboat for all the personnel, their gear, etc. It’s going to cost the shipowner as much for these local crews as it would to pay foreign crew labor costs for the ocean transit is my guess.

Nobody is talking about taking a conventionally equipped vessel and send it across oceans autonomously anytime soon. What is envisaged is:

Pilotage will be by remote control from shore, or from a pilot boat accompanying the vessel within pilotage zones, if local regulations requires.

Nobody will need to board before the vessel is safely moored by automatic mooring arrangement (already in existence and in use for ferries etc.) No mooring crew or tugs required.

Fire fighting by Water Mist and/or CO2 in enclosed spaces. Deluge and/or foam otherwise.

One of the main problem will be to get Ports and Unions to accept the development and need to adapt to a new reality.

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Yup… he’s actually right about that one… you really did have to have someone flagging for you, but since they only went about 2 miles an hour, that wasn’t all that hard. We’re not talking the Model-T era though either.

No need to be confused our Norwegian overlords have all the answers. It’s good that you’re on the beach now. Once these roboships catch on the rest of us will be joining you.

My dream, is that one day we can harness the smugness of the Norwegians.


Username checks out. I’m sure he knows what to do.

Not everybody will be on the beach, somebody will be sailing old rust buckets around the world for MANY years to come. Luckily I’m out of it.

I’m sure you would, but you would be better off trying to harness the POWER of the Norwegians.
We got plenty of it in the form of hydro electric power, with great potential for wind, wave and tidal power along our long coast. The technology to harness these power sources are being developed and improved as we speak, right here in Norway.

The future is Hydrogen produced from renewable sources to power all things mobile, incl. ships, boats, ferries, trucks and cars. Even without oil and gas Norway will be a major energy supplier, directly and indirectly, as it was before oil and gas was discovered off it’s coasts.

Nikola are going that way:

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You think?! I can’t imagine one state in America that would allow an autonomous ship, especially a foreign flagged autonomous ship, to enter their waters without a pilot or without adequate human resources on board to deal with the emergencies that happen every day in pilotage waters.

Try getting a pilotage authority anywhere in America to accept that a Norwegian at a desk somewhere will drop the anchor on command in a way that satisfies. Or, will drop an anchor by mistake all by him/herself.
Try getting environmental groups in America to accept autonomous ships in US pilotage waters.
Try getting voters and pilotage commissions to accept ships under foreign remote control into US pilotage waters.
Try getting automated mooring systems past the longshore and stevedores’ unions. What happens when they fail? It’s one thing stuffing a ferry into a wing walled slip and pushing. It’s another to have a remotely controlled ship sliding along a dock because the mooring system in non-functional.
Try getting ports to allow autonomous ships to dock without assist tugs.
Try getting assist tug operators to accept maneuvering orders from a desk in Norway.
Try getting the USCG to allow an unmanned vessel into a US port without inspectors crawling all over it prior to reaching the pilot station.
Try getting the USCG to allow unmanned autonomous ships into American Federal pilotage waters.
Try explaining to the American public how an autonomous ship collided with a fully laden oil tanker and created a major spill event. "Oh, sorry. The Norwegian desk ship driver was texting his mistress."
Try explaining how, during a solar flare, the GPS and GLONASS systems burped and an autonomous ship ran aground in a sensitive environmental area. Or slammed into a riverwalk shopping area full of tourists. Or all the things that already happen with manned ships.

Now, repeat the above for departures.

Oh, I’m sure that one day it will happen. I’m no fool. But it’s going to take quite some time to convince the powers that be in the United States to allow it. It’s more than waving a red flag in front of an autonomous ship. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

I agree, it wouldn’t happen in US waters for a LOOOONG time yet.
Will it happen in the rest of the world? Yes, not over night, but by 2020 you’ll see the first vessels in autonomous operation in Scandinavia, followed by rest of Europe, Japan and China.

Nobody say piloting from Norway or anywhere else, but letting pilots take remote control from their control room, or from a pilot boat close by.
Future ships will have more thruster power and redundancy then anything but DP-3 vessels today. Do you see any tugs assisting the big Cruise ships entering and leaving US ports every day?

Automatic mooring is by pneumatic suction cups attaching themselves to the shipside, adjusting for tide and load condition etc.

It is all existing technology, not gimmicks.

Yes, Manhattan cruise terminal they take an assist quite often. More than once I’ve seen them take a tug back out of the MOT channel with a strong breeze and ebb tide as well.

as a general rule cruise ships don’t, but there are terminals and conditions that warrant it.

I’m also of the opinion that thrusters will slowly start to replace several tugs on larger ships in the future. We may still see a unit centerlead aft as a brake, and center lead forward in certain places, but the number of boats needed on a job will certainly be cut.

Big tankers doing long voyages will still be using tugs for berthing and unberthing, likewise the ULOC and other such big monsters.

Even the large Mega Container ships are likely to get enough thruster power in the bow to manage with one tug aft. When they become autonomous propulsion will probably be by Azipods/Azipull, or whatever became the next big thing, thus not require any tugs under normal circumstances.

PS> The Bow thruster Frequency Converter may also be used as shore power connection in ports where that is available/mandatory.

Port Authorities that try to force vessels to accept services they don’t need or want, will find that their port will loose traffic.

Likewise ports where Stevedores refuse to adjust to times will find that nobody comes. This happened in the UK in the 1960/70’s and to some ports in Australia when the Union bosses that had killed Liverpool and other ports in the UK migrated there.

One such port was Port Alma. Qld. In 1968 we arrived with a load of sawn timbers from the island and it took 4 days to discharge a 1400 DWT ship. Returning with a similar load in 1970 it was done in a day and a half. I was wondering what had changed and was told that the reefer ships had stopped calling because of their slow work. They insisted that any meat for export was transported to Gladstone or even Brisbane for loading there.

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maybe local pilots will get full control of the vessel when it gets close to the port.
A secure hand over from the previous controller. Remote control gets built to a standard so all ports can use it.
Same as aircraft yet we have the guy in front as the interface from the commands to the action.

Pilots don’t want that kind of responsibility


Tough, I’ll bet the ship Captains will go ashore and do it

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