Are Seafarers Being Bombarded with Too Much Technology?

Nov 21, 2019 · 13 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea, Maritime Industry
computer code

There aren’t many industries today that aren’t facing rapid change thanks to the invasion of technology but in a traditional sector such as shipping, many maritime jobs are changing almost beyond recognition.

This can be both exciting and overwhelming: on the one hand it helps streamline processes and cut costs. But on the other it can leave crew and other personnel with outdated skill sets and a feeling of general unease.

Are maritime jobs becoming too technical?

The maritime industry is packing up its sextants and paper charts and increasingly turning to automation and digitization.

And while the new way of doing things may be quicker and more cost effective, it doesn’t come without a price.

Cyber attacks, anyone? Back-up system failures? Making sure crew are trained in the very latest technologies?

In fact, crew members working in some seafarer jobs now seem to spend more time looking at electronic screens than they do at the ocean itself.

But if this means a safer, more regulated and more economically viable industry surely that’s a good thing?

However, as with anything, there are two sides of the same coin and the question must be asked: are mariners being bombarded with more technology than they can handle?

Traffic cone with the word caution on it sitting on a laptop keyboard

The age of sail versus maritime technology

In the “good old days” seafarers would learn their nautical skills and inherit maritime knowledge from their elders: their father, older brothers, master, or other senior crew members.

And while those traditional skills are still vital, seafarers are now having to cope with a whole new set of requirements.

On the plus side, this younger generation is one that has grown up with smartphones, tablets, Kindles and games consoles practically welded to their hands meaning that the transition to a tech-based workplace is generally not as difficult as it might be for older seafarers.

But does anyone really choose a career at sea because of their love of technology?!

As we just mentioned, the paper chart has had its day and has been replaced by a steadily advancing raft of alternatives: raster charts, vector or ENC charts, and now ECDIS.

But ask any seafarer with experience in using paper charts and they’ll more likely than not tell you that today’s electronic versions aren’t a patch on the original.

After all, a paper chart is exactly that: an unchangeable, unwavering map of the seas. It can’t break down, malfunction or develop a bug. It does what it says on the tin!

So not only are today’s seafarers at risk of losing traditional maritime skills, are they also becoming too reliant on the systems that we now use - systems that may be vulnerable to flaws?

Human error versus machine error

Of course, no human is completely infallible and errors of judgement can and do happen. But not only can electronic or digital systems break down, freeze or malfunction, they can also be at risk of operational issues.

The trouble with all of the technology that we’re now so dependent on is that it’s become almost like background noise.

woman with her hands over her ears

You know how it works - even in everyday life: the smoke alarm at home is flashing red - you really must get around to changing the battery but you somehow keep forgetting.

The oil change light on your car dash is blinking - but you ignore it and hope for the best.

Your phone keeps telling you it needs a software update - you’ll do it later.

Your laptop’s anti-virus warning is frantically telling you to run the software...okay, okay, you’ll do it next time you log on.

You know what we’re saying: technology is now so commonplace that we’re almost immune to it and its warnings. But there’s a difference between not downloading the latest OS for your iPhone and ignoring an alarm or alert on the ECDIS.

But who is to blame? Are we so complacent about all aspects of technology - even maritime technology - that we ignore it and hope any issues will go away?

Or are the systems and software we’re using too complex for some seafarers to handle?

Does training need to modernized, for example by using virtual reality, and a sense of accountability reinforced?

man wearing a VR headset

Cut through the noise and stop ignoring the warning signs

The issue that some shipowners or operators face is that some of their crew members simply might not be up to the job. Yes, systems can be complicated and confusing but, like it or not, seafarer jobs these days require a certain competency in maritime technology.

So if you’re a shipowner or manager and you’re using agency-based crew to man your vessels, how do you make sure the contractors you hire are adequately qualified and trained?

How can you be sure that you can trust them to operate your ship and its various new technologies safely and responsibly?

Read: How Up-to-Date is the Maritime Recruitment Agency You Use?

Of course, it would be great if any maritime technology implemented onboard was easy enough for seafarers of varying skills, backgrounds and educations to be able to jump in and get to grips with right away.

But that’s not a likely scenario, especially not when you consider that in just a relatively short space of time we’ve gone from electronic charts to integrated bridge systems and from ECDIS to automated smart ships.  

So what is the answer? It’s to ensure that shipowners and ship managers are filling their vacant seafarer jobs with qualified and competent crew.

It’s not enough to contact a recruitment agency and cross your fingers and hope that the seafarers they send you have some degree of maritime technology knowledge. You need to KNOW they have.

Trust Martide to help fill your seafarer jobs

At Martide we have a database of qualified and licensed seafarers who are either currently employed by one of our prestigious clients in the maritime industry, or who are looking for their next contract.

Best of all, you can search for crew who match your requirements and who hold the necessary documentation and qualifications using our handy search filter. This takes the uncertainty out of hiring for your vacant seafarer jobs and ensures that you stand a far better chance of securing the right mariner for your position.

To find out more about how Martide can help you advertise your crewing positions, track your applicants and manage the interview and hiring processes, get in touch with us to schedule a no-strings attached demo today.

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Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer, publishing regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea. Eve has been writing professionally for more than two decades, crafting everything from SEO-focused blog posts and website landing pages to magazine articles and corporate whitepapers.


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