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Autonomous Maritime Vssels


There has been significant speculation and research into the feasibility and implementation of autonomous vessels. Several prototypes are being developed and tested in various industry segments. The IMO has defined 4 levels of autonomy:

  • Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated.
  • Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location, but seafarers are on board.
  • Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
  • Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The International Maritime Organization has recently defined Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) as a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction. While autonomous vessels present a wealth of opportunities for the maritime industry, they also present a significant number of challenges related to marine safety and human factors.


The Committee on Marine Safety and Human Factors (AW040) encourages research into the potential impacts and implementation challenges of autonomous vessels. Anticipated research topic areas include but are not limited to, the following subjects:

  1. The safety ramifications of mixing manned and unmanned vessels in commercial maritime operations

  2. The safety ramifications of mixing unmanned vessels with unlicensed mariners (e.g. recreational, fishing vessels) in mixed waterway operations

  3. The economic and socio-economic impacts of reducing or eliminating crew members from vessels

  4. The technological requirements for the entire marine transportation system necessary to ensure safe operation of autonomous vessels in maritime commerce.

  5. Necessary changes to the current Regulatory regime in order to accommodate autonomous vessel operations.

  6. Cyber security and system integrity requirements to ensure safe operations of autonomous vessels.

  7. The safety ramifications of using Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) as a viable alternative mode of transportation that redirects containerized freight from highways and rail to waterways.


This research could help identify and address emerging risks in the marine Transportation System raised by the development and deployment of Autonomous Vessels.

Sponsoring Committee:AW040, Marine Safety and Human Factors
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
Date Posted:09/05/2019
Date Modified:09/06/2019
Index Terms:Ships, Autonomous vehicles, Remote control, Automation,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation
Data and Information Technology
Operations and Traffic Management
Safety and Human Factors
Vehicles and Equipment

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