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The Struggle for Seafarers and Technology


The cyber security concerns which are facing shipping are often talked about. However, it seems this could just be part of a wider problem. With an aging seafarer population, there are concerns some crews are behind the curve when it comes to technology. Is this true?



Technology onboard ships

The world of modern technology is a wonderful place. This is especially true in shipping – we seem to finally be on the upward slopes of a technological wave. After so many years in a trough of old Windows XP and even 95, there is a change coming.

Ships are becoming ever more advance. New systems, enhanced connectivity and even new ways of doing old things. The change is coming thick and fast. New radars, new integrated controls and even technology sweeping into training and power management.

The ships of tomorrow are very nearly here today. Even putting aside the dreams that some have for autonomous ships, the current passage plan for shipping is very much a yellow brick road to the land of promise.

That puts an immense burden on seafarers. The crews of today, need the expertise of the past. They also increasingly need new skillsets too. Quite how that is translating to life at sea is unclear, but the future is like a VLCC at full speed – it isn’t slowing or turning easily.


While there are still people on ships, and let’s face it going autonomous will likely take longer than expected. Even if the plans for unmanned vessels do manage to navigate the technological advances needed, there will be many issues relating to legality, insurances and carriage of goods issues which need to be boxed off.

Cyber security

Cyber security

So that means for now, shipping is in a tricky position. Seafarers need to be trained to use increasingly advance equipment. They need to be able to deal with cyber security risks and threats, and also need to keep on track with the lights on.

That may not be too hard if all seafarers were technological whizzkids. While many are, and while the new and next generations of maritime officers are, there are some concerns about the top end of the chain.

Are the masters, chief engineers, and the senior crew members able to make the most of the opportunities of technology and the challenges it can sometimes bring too? Now of course, many are extremely tech savvy – but there are those who may be wrestling with the kit and their needs should be considered and taken into account.


Technology gap between seafarer generations

Technology gap between seafarer generations

If there is indeed a problem in aligning the capacities and capabilities of younger seafarers and their more senior colleagues, then we need to think about what those problems could be and how to fix them.

The first thing to appreciate is that seafarers have been using complicated technology for years. So it isn’t likely to be the actual concepts which are new to them. What has changed is the over reliance, the fact that every decision needs to be technologically processed.

The links between their inputs and the vessel outputs seem to be lengthened, and that is not always positive. From the late 80s onwards satellite navigation was a thing, so too dynamic positioning. The technological foundations were already in place and have been for a long time.

The biggest issue is actual all about usage. How to align the ways in which younger seafarers process information and rely on technology, with the more back stepping, older seafarers. This is not an easy task.


Why do most millennial seafarers love technology?

  1. Technology makes them more important: From being able to learn more and faster, through to stepping up and explaining to their senior officers the difference between their FMEAs and their FEMAs.


  1. Technology means more freedom: It means more time, less pressure. When it works. In theory though, freeing up the second mate from nav corrections has been a great thing. Until it was replaced by something else.
  1. Technology exists, deal with it: For a generation that has always and only known the tech age and the internet it is the way things are done. People born after Sonic the Hedgehog don’t take kindly to a lack of technology in their lives and jobs.
  1. Technology means friends and connection: You make friends online, you keep connected to them online. Technology is about life style, about the modern ties that bind us.
  1. Technology means entertainment and training: Technology isn’t just there for the dirty work, it is for the good stuff too.
  1. Technology is the path of least resistance: It makes things easier. It streamlines processes, it makes reporting easier. It keeps records. It is the way to get things done.



Why do some older seafarers loathe technology?


  1. Technology makes them less important: It used to be about how much you knew, what experiences you had. Technology means that such skills count for nothing unless you know how the latest gadget works.


  1. Technology means less freedom: You are visible at all times, and all conduct is logged. There is no freedom when technology is around – so speak quietly or the VDR will know all!


  1. Technology exists, do we have to deal with it: If you don’t like tech, and want to do things the old way you can’t. Vinyl records may be making a comeback ashore, but there isn’t the same clamour to get back to the sextant and the Marc St. Hilaire method.


  1. Technology means less friends and real connections: With concerns about isolation onboard, there are some who think that connectivity is damaging relations at sea. Surely it doesn’t have to be like that?


  1. Technology affects entertainment and training: Classrooms for learning, shared experiences for entertainment. That was how it used to be. That has changed, and some have trouble dealing with that.


  1. Technology is the path of least resistance: Being a professional isn’t always about making things easier, it is about making the difficult look easy. So some senior seafarers have concerns that technology is eating away at skills at sea.

What do you think? Is technology the answer to every question? Are millenials right to always look to technology, or is it more sensible to be wary? Share your thoughts…we’d love to hear from you.