Better, Faster, Sooner: Voyage Optimization Goes Digital

The OMA 548 – the Frey – is a hybrid battery-electric express boat delivered in 2023 to Norled AS (SEAM)

Published Mar 10, 2024 10:49 PM by Sean Hogue

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2024 edition.)


The current state of long-distance voyage planning can be traced back to an unlikely place.

The post office.

In 1737, a young Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia. His experience running the successful Pennsylvania Gazette – a publication he had purchased at just 23 years of age – was a key factor in obtaining this assignment.

Franklin was tasked with organizing the city's mail and post routes, which he did with impressive efficiency for the next 16 years until appointed Deputy Postmaster General. The new role was important as he now oversaw postal operations for all of the colonies, a task requiring considerable logistical and administrative skills.

His new job also included managing overseas mail delivery, and Franklin began to question why it took British ships longer to cross the Atlantic east to west than it took American ships to travel west to east.  Seeking an explanation, Franklin turned to his cousin, Nantucket whaling captain Timothy Folger, who was experienced in navigating the Atlantic waters.

The whaling industry was active and growing at the time, and Nantucket whalers knew about the Atlantic current that affected their travel times in pursuit of whales. They even had a name for it.

The Gulf Stream.

Folger provided Franklin the practical knowledge from his own experience, helping him understand the stream’s location, width, depth and impact on navigation. Franklin, for his part, produced a chart between 1769 and 1770 that depicted the stream. This became a significant navigational aid for transatlantic crossings, allowing sailors to catch the stream or avoid it altogether to improve their speed and safety.

And the international mail system became so much more efficient.

Modern Goals

Today, the need for efficient voyages is greater than ever, but the drivers of this need have changed significantly.

Instead of being powered by sail as was the case back in Nantucket, more than 90 percent of the world’s shipping fleet now relies on diesel and heavy fuel oil. While an efficient way to create power, this also accounts for three percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of total CO2 emissions, making the industry the second largest contributor to global carbon creation.

With international regulations in place driving aggressive goals for reducing shipping’s carbon output, vessel operators needed to become much better at optimizing their voyages. The singular goal of speed to destination now had to be balanced with the requirements of efficient engine operation and fuel efficiency.

Optimal RPMs

The amount of fuel a ship burns is largely a function of the load on the engines and the RPMs they’re running at. The first step towards a voyage optimized for fuel efficiency is therefore understanding the performance of the engines and the fuel they’re using.

Integrated bridge manufacturer Kongsberg Maritime has a proven set of tools to assist with this crucial first step. Its Vessel Performance System (VPS) provides tools to address engine performance, speed profile, optimal trim, speed and RPMs. Delivered as either a standalone unit or integrated with its K-Chief automation system, VPS provides a user-friendly interface to aid vessels in making smart decisions.

Paired with the K-Chief integrated automation system’s sensors, which monitor such data points as cylinder pressure and shaft RPMs, the system will report engine status and recommendations for improved efficiency.

By harnessing data from onboard sensors and automation systems through Kongsberg Digital’s vessel-to-cloud infrastructure, Vessel Insight, VPS has been a source of valuable insights and analytics for shipowners and crew members since its introduction in 2020.

A further development is the recently released Vessel Performance Merchant application, which is optimized for the merchant fleet as opposed to the more stationary, dynamically positioned offshore fleet. This is built with a particular user-centric approach, testing and iterating continuously to meet users’ needs.

“This iterative approach makes the application focused on what is important to the users and allows for a better understanding of what data and analysis are prioritized for driving down fuel consumption and running the vessel smarter, safer and greener,” says Kongsberg Digital spokesperson Sigrid Siksjø Johansen, Product Manager-Performance.

The application provides vessel operators with dashboards to enable understanding of the vessel’s current situation while giving decision support to reduce fuel consumption without having to invest in larger retrofits for energy-saving devices. 

Optimal Route

If optimized engine performance is one side of the fuel efficiency coin, optimized routing is the other.

Running directly into a storm will burn more fuel than running with it. Increased resistance from the wind, waves and currents require more fuel – increasing both costs and emissions. How your vessel navigates these regions then becomes a major area of potential savings.

The key to this is access to highly accurate weather predications and route guidance. Traditional weather routing services are largely reactive with analysis spanning broad areas. For this to be maximally effective, there is a need for highly accurate localized weather predictions and route guidance.

Which Sofar Ocean provides.

The company has designed, built and deployed the largest privately owned network of marine weather sensors – known as Spotter buoys – to collect real-time ocean data on a global scale. The Spotters are about the size of a basketball. They are free-floating and collect data on wind, waves, surface temperature, barometric pressure and more – all required for accurate forecasting.

The collected data is assimilated into Sofar’s marine weather forecasts, which integrate models generated by organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) to provide location-specific updates in real time.

With more than 550 Spotters providing 1.5 million data points every day, the company is able to generate medium-range forecasts that outperform standard government-generated models by 50 percent.

These accurate forecasts are central to the RPM and route recommendations sent to vessels using Sofar’s Wayfinder platform. Wayfinder provides daily optimized voyage guidance that considers not just fuel but also vessel safety (including reducing containers lost in heavy weather), emissions and commercial factors such as bunker price, day rates and required arrival times. Sofar’s solution is unique because it considers both the commercial and operational aspects of a voyage.

Eagle Bulk Shipping CEO Gary Vogel, recently named one of the 100 most influential people in shipping by Lloyds List, said in a Q3 earnings statement, “Our OPEX costs were down sequentially for the third quarter in a row and Eagle’s entire fleet is now leveraging Sofar Ocean’s advanced voyage optimization system.”

Wayfinder can provide average per voyage savings of four to six percent on fuel, time and emissions. The platform is like Waze or Google Maps for the ocean. It identifies the most optimal route given changing weather conditions, market factors and a vessel’s business, safety, time and decarbonization constraints.

Optimal Modeling

The predictions delivered from any system are only as good as the model of the vessel to which it’s applied. And when it comes to vessel modeling there are few as powerful as the BMT REMBRANDT ship hydrodynamic simulator.

The system, offering multiple applications across the maritime sector, is widely used for design, port and terminal access and berthing studies as well as marine incident investigation and custom training for maritime professionals.

One such example is the recently awarded contract from the U.K. Ministry of Defense for Admiralty Pilots and Tug Masters supporting the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The program uses five fully networked REMBRANDT ship and tug bridge simulators to practice challenging maneuvering and alternative berthing strategies.

This latest iteration of expanded platform navigation software is supported by next generation hydrographic dynamic S-100 data, providing hydraulic and hydrodynamic synthetic environments and delivering the highest levels of precision e-navigation, situational awareness and realism.

Dr. Phil Thompson, Maritime Products Director at BMT, says, “Our talented software team’s fusion and stitching together of the company’s highest-standard hardware and BMT REMBRANDT software platform is the very latest of its ‘navy mastery modelling,’ which helps to shape the process of learning for current and future Admiralty pilots.”

Optimal Data

With so much data available, the final step towards a robust optimization solution is managing it.

ABS Wavesight helps operators boost fleet performance using data-driven insights. With modules for monitoring the environment, vessel performance and the quality of data received, the Wavesight platform helps drive ESG initiatives, maintain safe operations and optimize routes in real time.

The dashboard allows full fleet monitoring and includes an integrated Vessel Risk Indicator that uses a traffic light system to quickly indicate fleet status.

The data-monitoring module provides continuous visibility into the health of the inbound vessel data and uses a similar traffic light system to assist with quality scoring. Quality data in means quality insights out.

The road to decarbonization is paved with data, and the ABS Wavesight platform is a powerful solution for managing, assessing and applying the lessons learned from smart data collection.

Optimal Emissions

The best way to cut emissions is to have no emissions at all.

SEAM AS is a leading supplier of zero-emission solutions to the maritime industry. Its e-SEA line of control systems, switchboards and drives, paired with the e-SEAMatic automation, energy and power management systems, allows for newbuild and retrofitted systems that reduce emissions while maintaining peak operational efficiency.

The OMA 548 – the Frey – is a hybrid battery-electric express boat delivered in 2023 to Norled AS. The catamaran design and aluminum construction required a balance between weight, space and energy efficiency. SEAM engineers managed this by launching a full-scale redesign of its e-SEA® Drive power system platform until a satisfactory weight and space reduction was achieved.

The company has a number of other world firsts in the queue including a large-scale hydrogen ferry project and an ammonia-powered tug.

The tug NH3 Kraken is a partner project with Amogy Inc. to retrofit a 1957-built tugboat for zero-emission operations. This involves a comprehensive overhaul of the original diesel generators and electric motors, replacing them with Amogy’s 1-megawatt ammonia-to-power system. The ammonia-to-power technology feeds liquid ammonia through its cracking modules integrated into a hybrid fuel cell system, which powers the SEAM-supplied electric motors for zero-carbon operations.

Pal G. Eide, R&D Manager at SEAM, says, “We believe this collaboration will result in groundbreaking technological achievements that may substantially impact the industry’s journey towards zero-emission shipping.”

Optimal Operations

From the simple solution of using the Gulf  Stream to speed mail delivery to the complex logistics of managing commercial benchmarks, decarbonization initiatives and fleet OPEX, it’s apparent that an integrated mix of technologies is required.

Sophisticated weather routing, accurate data collection and detailed hull modeling make up different parts of the total solution. When combined, they help operators achieve profitable operations while meeting future requirements.

It’s a goal you can set your course by.  

Master mariner Sean Hogue is Senior Vice President of Operations at Baker Marine Solutions.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.