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Secure at Sea: New technologies on horizon will alter seafaring forever

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Secure at Sea: by Corey Ranslem

A pencil, a chart and a GPS that wasn’t always accurate. That is how my navigation career started in the U.S. Coast Guard back in 1994. We were making the transition from Loran C and SatNav to GPS. The positions displayed by each system never seemed to agree.  It was an interesting transition. The government, and specifically the Coast Guard, are late adopters of technology because the procurement process seems to be very long and arduous, especially when it’s new technology.

Part of my training as a navigator and, eventually, a deck watch officer involved learning various types of navigation methods, including celestial, radar and visual bearing. As I think back to some of the original mariners, it is incredible to think how far they navigated by using the stars and dead reckoning. These men and woman were true pioneers in maritime navigation.

As my career progressed, so did the technology advances with GPS and eventually the integration of computers into our navigation operations. It was great when we progressed from standard to D-GPS. Now we were confident of our position within about 50-100 yards.

The early introduction of computer-based navigation was remarkable. We had a real-time reference of our position. The bridge of our 110-foot patrol boat needed to be reconfigured to mount the “new” navigation computer. But the Coast Guard still didn’t trust the new technology, so we could only use it initially as a reference and not for real navigation. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come over the past 15 years.

The world is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. The  advances during this time will alter how we live our day-to-day lives like never before. The interaction of people and technology will progress to new levels. How we live, work, travel and communicate will never be the same.

Technology also is going to have a profound effect on the maritime industry across all sectors, including large yachts. The digital bridge of the future is rapidly becoming a reality. How we navigate is going to change. The expansion of crowd-sourced and verified information will become a part of our day-to-day navigation activities. Navigation information will be shared and verified in real time by vessels of all types as they travel around the world,  providing a more accurate picture of changing port and waterway conditions. Vessels will be able to see radar, sonar and live video of ports and waterways to improve navigation. Charts will be “corrected” in real time so all vessels have access to the most accurate and up-to-date information. These advances will improve safety for crews, passengers and vessels, and reduce insurance losses.

Through advances in communication technology, vessels will be able to see risk and threat (including cyber) information in real time and share that information around the world. Major advances in satellite communications and expanded bandwidth, along with better coverage, will improve software applications, platforms and connectivity, improving the onboard experience for passengers and crew.

Integration of software applications, onboard IoT (“internet of things”), and system monitoring will improve vessel operations, reducing maintenance and downtime. These advances in technology will also improve the passenger experience, taking charters to the next level of services. Autonomous vessels are going to be a reality.

How we plan and prepare for these coming changes are going to be crucial to the long-term success of this industry. Training programs will need to evolve and continue to change in order to prepare the next generation to manage these systems and command the vessels of the future. Customer service will always be important and, hopefully, not a lost art with all the technology.

Advances in technology and software will require companies in this industry to form partnerships to offer better services to clients, as one company won’t be able to provide every solution effectively.

Changing technology in navigation will always have regulatory compliance ramifications, but don’t expect changes in regulations to come quickly.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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