Required skills on autonomous ships

Illustration Kongsberg

More autonomous ships will come. The development has already started. Unmanned ships could be far away but ships with smaller crews could soon be reality due to rapid technological development.
The biggest impact of this technological change will probably be in the required skills. It is obvious that requirements for engineers and navigators will change to include more knowledge of autonomous systems and the like. In addition, more all-round competence will also be required and not to mention the ability to handle unforeseen incidents that cannot easily be dealt with digitally. Such incidents could be navigational issues like grounding or collisions and different types of failures and breakdown in the machinery, electrical systems, etc.
If we compare with aviation, autonomous planes are already flying but stilled manned by two pilots. It is not many minutes during an intercontinental flight the pilots actually have to physically do something! Their job is mainly to monitor the instruments and the preprogrammed flight and – to be there if something goes wrong especially during takeoff and landing. A good example of this is the famous and successful landing of an airliner on Hudson river. The explanation given as the main reason for this being successful was that the pilots had done it before. Not in real life of course but several times in advanced full-scale simulator.
Maritime simulators have become more and more advanced over the years. Today we can do the same kind of training in these simulators as in aviation especially when the simulator model is a “digital twin” of the vessel in use. Even more: We can simulate both bridge and engine control rooms in holistic scenarios that reflect tomorrows all-round skill requirements.
Again; the people on-board any vessel, indeed also on autonomous ships, need to be prepared to meet incidents by training. The most efficient learning strategy to handle challenging situations is based on simulator training.