Smart shipping: what is – and isn’t – a smartship?

Smart shipping: what is – and isn’t – a smartship?

Dec. 19 2022 - 4 min


We’ve all heard of the opportunities of smarter shipping – enhanced monitoring and greater support for decision making, to name just a few.  But for many terms like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, autonomous ships are still somewhat abstract, verging on sci-fi.

To allow the maritime industry to embrace smart shipping, we need to bring the conversation back down to earth and ask a few key questions:

What makes a ship smart?

First of all, a smartship doesn’t refer to a specific type of ship but rather to the capacities of the vessel. Definitions of smart shipping vary and cover a range of smart concepts and technologies. Autonomous vessels are considered smartships, but not all smartships are autonomous.

Ultimately, smartships leverage ship digitalization to optimize onboard and onshore operational processes. Ship systems – such as alarm monitoring, power management, dynamic positioning, and integrated navigation systems and electronic engines – are increasingly becoming digital. That is to say, producing ever increasing volumes and frequencies of data. Evaluating this data and transforming it into actions is the key to making ships smart.

What does leveraging data mean?

Smart shipping holds valuable opportunities, but only when data is processed, contextualized and transformed into useful information to be pushed to the right person at the right time. This means collecting data; integrating and processing it to produce information, patterns and trends; and lastly contextualizing it to support decision making. Data can be transformed into customized dashboards, valuable insights, notifications and alerts. It can be used to predict and simulate optimized scenarios to gain a better profile and analysis of the ship’s performance and support operational decisions.


So if a ship uses connected tech and churns out data, it’s a smart ship, right? Not necessarily.

It’s true that each shipping company, from vessels to onshore operations, is a potential goldmine of data. But, several more factors are vital in turning data points into useful information, including data quality, and real time integration, contextualization and sharing. A mountain of data points does not make a smart ship – but timely valuable information for the right person does.

We could say that smartness is almost a state of mind. By focusing too much on the tech – and associated buzzwords like autonomy, artificial intelligence and the IOT – we lose sight of what smart shipping really is. And that is setting operational objectives and efficiently gathering meaningful information to achieve them.

Why should ships be smart?

By transforming a mass of data into action, ships become smart and can reap the benefits. Only with an accurate profile of the ship’s performance, can owners and operators optimize their operations. Through enhanced monitoring they can measure the improvements, analyze and compare scenarios and define efficient strategies. This gives owners greater visibility and results in time and cost savings.

Smartships equally facilitate reporting, partly automating data entry processes and ensuring greater accuracy. Ship owners can then best evaluate measures to improve their ship’s efficiency and sustainability – from voyage planning and weather routing to optimizing onboard machinery controls and maintenance planning. These short-term OPEX-driven solutions give industry players more time to implement longer-term CAPEX-driven solutions to meet emissions reduction targets.

How can companies manage their digital transformation?

Discussing smart shipping’s role in the maritime industry’s future can give the impression of a homogenous digital solution for all vessels. But that is not the case.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to digitalization and data quality management. The right technology, data points, analytics and solutions will all depend on a variety of factors, from vessel type, to operations to location and business model. These factors will define use cases, objectives and priorities.

Digitalization is a complete transformation; one that starts with a business-defined need that evolves to include the whole organization. Furthermore, digitalization can unlock new ways of working, promoting both collaboration and transparency.

Classification plays an important role in facilitating the shift toward smart shipping and supporting maritime stakeholders' effective adoption of data-driven processes. Bureau Veritas has developed SMART notations to help clients navigate their smartship journey. Consolidating the new skills required and the needs of ship owners, we are working to enable a safe, smart transition for shipping, in turn shaping a better maritime