Is an unmanned bridge a more efficient use of crew?

Is an unmanned bridge a more efficient use of crew?

ABB has proposed a conditionally and periodically unmanned bridge to make more efficient use of crew and improve vessel performance by reducing crew fatigue.

At present, an Officer of the Watch (OOW) is required on a ship’s bridge at all times to navigate, keep watch and radio watch on the vessel. The COLREGS2 regulation states that “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

While the current regulatory landscape does not permit an unmanned bridge, ABB has suggested that the technology is available and ready to be used on board to support an unmanned bridge, freeing up officers for other on-board duties and allowing them time to rest to avoid fatigue.

Where there is increased traffic or a vessel is approaching another, an OWW on the bridge is warranted. But ABB explains in a white paper that there are times when conditions are good and clear and the OOW is on the bridge for the entire work shift without touching any equipment or doing anything but looking at radar screens and outside the window making sure that there is nothing out there.

According to the technology company, this can cause mental fatigue with an associated loss of alertness and can lead to a situation where a human reacts too late to an event which could have been anticipated significantly earlier if the OOW was more alert during the situation.

For this reason, ABB proposes a concept whereby sensors, data analytics and computers are used to monitor the surrounding environment of a vessel, instead of an officer on watch.

In ABB’s concept, monitoring and diagnostic equipment for navigation would be required. Currently, this is an OOW task, but in an unmanned bridge situation there would need to be a system to monitor the status of the navigation equipment.

An equivalent lookout by means of technology is also proposed as regulations state that radar is not sufficient to be relied on alone.  In ABB’s concept, there would be continuous visibility from the bridge using cameras and other sensors, to give an equivalent field of view and range as a human eye.

Freeing up the officer in this way would lead to better resting conditions when there is no need for major navigation actions. The concept according to ABB would allow the crew to use the time during the work shift to more freely do tasks which will keep them more alert than staring at systems, increasing their wellbeing at work. Furthermore, the working hours during the ocean crossing voyage could be closer to normal office hours. Together, this will most likely increase the safety of navigation in areas where manned bridges would be required, according to ABB.

ABB believes that when alerted of an upcoming navigational danger, the bridge team will have a better awareness than when the situation is slowly building up over time.