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Will Autonomous Ships Signal the End of Seafarer Jobs?

Will Autonomous Ships Signal the End of Seafarer Jobs?

Eve Jones

Autonomous ships and smart ships are just two of the marine tech buzzwords doing the rounds in the maritime industry recently leading some people to express concern for the future of seafarer jobs. But after all, what industry isn’t being threatened by automation these days? But the rise of self sailing ships doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the mariner. Here’s why.

Will autonomous ships affect seafarer jobs?

Automated vehicles are very much present in other parts of the transportation and logistics industries. Just look at driverless trains and metro systems for example. And self driving cars have been touted as the next big thing for some time now (although who among us can honestly say we’re taking that seriously at this current point in time?!)

So does this mean that the maritime industry is facing massive change - and huge job losses - when it comes to automation? And as an industry are we ready for that?
silver stopwatch lying in person's palm of their hand

The rise of marine tech and robots

While technological advances in sensors, cameras, and satellites are developing at breakneck speed, are we really about to find ourselves living in a world in which smart ships ply their trade without a single human being on board?

Of course, an industry that doesn’t future-proof itself is undoubtedly asking to be left behind. But autonomous ships are still far too vulnerable - and quite possibly too costly - to be a viable replacement for manned vessels.

Not only that but the human aspect is still very much a factor in ensuring that commercial and container shipping is safe and economical. Tech might be changing the future of shipping in some ways but vessels still need people onboard who can call the shots, make decisions, carry out repairs while at sea, and maintain a physical security presence.

cargo ship in port with colorful containers on dock

That breakthroughs in marine tech will continue to make shipping safer and more efficient is not under question. But the likelihood of autonomous ships taking over from human ship masters and crew is very small, at least at present.

Yes, it could happen at some point in the future but right now it really is pretty much speculation as shipping companies continue to explore the challenges and weigh up the pros and cons of smart ships.

But what if autonomous ships are introduced?

It is highly unlikely that the shipping industry will see a massive loss in personnel if autonomous shipping does become a reality. Yes, it is anticipated that the amount of onboard seafarer jobs will shrink - but they will be replaced by huge numbers of operational roles - albeit ones that are predominantly shore-based.

Seafarer jobs in the shipping industry will change rather than be eliminated.

After all, numerous people will be required to make a fleet of autonomous ships work. Technician roles will also increase as potential points of failure will rise and systems will need to be constantly maintained, upgraded and potentially repaired.

orange neon light saying Change on dark background

Is marine tech changing the future?

If you’re a ship owner, manager or operator you need to consider the possibility that autonomous shipping will require you to re-determine what roles will be needed onboard, and what positions will need to be created for work to be done remotely.

Smart ships and the associated change in seafarer jobs in the maritime industry will definitely require a re-thinking of roles and the identification of the new qualifications that will be needed. It’s highly likely that new contractors will need to be hired, while existing shore-based employees may need to be retrained.

Will it all come down to one thing: money?

At the end of the day, this is business we’re talking about. Yes, autonomous ships will save shipping companies money by reducing wage costs by having a much smaller crew onboard. But, as mentioned, the likelihood is that traditional seafarer jobs will be replaced by other workers - who may well demand higher salaries thanks to their next generation technical skills.

A complete overhaul of systems and creation of command centers will also be obligatory - and that won’t be cheap either.

coins spilling out of a glass jar that's been turned on its side

When it comes down to it: yes roles might change and there could well be a disruption in our ancient and traditional industry. An industry that, to be fair may advance with more caution than others, but is still willing to adopt change.

But autonomous ships are very unlikely to erase the human element - the maritime professionals, in whatever capacity, that make the shipping industry the efficient, secure and highly effective transportation system it is today.

Martide: Changing the future of marine recruitment

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Seafaring jobs aren’t going anywhere as our maritime job vacancies board proves! If you’re a crew member looking for your next contract, check out our open shipping jobs here. Apply for them quickly and easily by creating a free account either on our website or by downloading our app.

Get the app now from the Apple App Store or from Google Play!

And if you’re a shipowner or manager, while we can’t help you with autonomous ships, we can help you streamline your crew management and maritime recruitment processes! Talk to us today about setting up a demo.