Article - May 24, 2019

Masters Win When Artificial and Human Intelligence Are Combined for Routing

Martin Shields

Martin Shields

Director Business Development Shipping

Ship approaching to harbor at night

With so many of today’s shipping operations automated, there is a tendency to take what the computer states as the absolute truth. But a computer is only as reliable as the data it’s fed. This is especially true for vessels at sea because of the limitations to sending and receiving data in remote locations.

Masters, under pressure to meet what is often a critical Required Time of Arrival (RTA), benefit most from a combination of computer output (specifically, the onboard software s-planner) and the advice of StormGeo’s shore-based Route Analyst experts. Located in the UK and the on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., these Route Analysts have access to a plethora of data unavailable onboard, which makes their advice invaluable. Using alerts for vessel motion, proximity to heavy weather and/or tropical cyclones, they are able to quickly address urgent strategic route optimization decisions.

“The beauty of having a shore-based expert on hand is that if the Master has a question or requires a second opinion, they can ask immediately,” says Martin Shields, Director of Shipping Business Development for StormGeo. “We encourage that the onboard crew be provided access to our Route Advisory Service (s-Routing), because it gives them immediate and free access to our highly trained Route Analysts. If the Master has questions or specific requirement for a passage, speaking to a person rather than a computer is often preferred.

After departure and arrival ports are input, BVS automatically calculates the vessel’s optimum track and corresponding ETA. Alternatively, the captain can input an ETA and the software will calculate the correct speed and power settings to achieve that ETA. StormGeo provides a 15-day forecast up to 4 times per day that the Master can upload into BVS (with a single key stroke) and use to optimize the voyage ahead.

StormGeo forecasters

When shore-based s-Routing is added into the picture, “the Master has access to an experienced group of people all looking at the same route,” explains Rolf Reksten, a Shipping Team Leader for StormGeo.

“There could be a whole armada of ships near each other, experiencing the same weather (and thus the same potential challenges). A route may be completely new territory for a Master, or it’s only been sailed in summer, or it’s been sailed twice a year for the last 20 years. Whatever the experience of the crew onboard, they will not be as familiar with the weather, sea and current conditions as the StormGeo Route Analysts who are providing global routing advice on more than 5,500 routes every month.” 

“A piece of software is only ever a piece of software,” adds Shields. “The Master can change the way different weather conditions affect the speed loss calculations within the software, but it is reliant on the Master to have a good understanding of how it works and apply his experience to some of the forecast conditions.”

“If you’re trying to get across the Pacific or the Atlantic, experience counts because the forecast is just a model. The more experience available, both on board and on shore, the better.”

BVS can run on the American (GFS) or European (ECMWF) global forecast model. The European model is slightly better for East Atlantic and European waters, while the American is best for the Pacific and Far East. But sometimes it can be useful to swap between the two models or look at both. On board the ship, the Master can only look at one or the other.

“In theory, the Master could ask for GFS one day and ECMWF the other,” says Shields. “He or she could even switch to use both on the same day, but this would require additional time and effort by the Master—and time is often lacking on board. Our Route Analysts have access to both models as well as the data from BVS.”

Coupled with this information, the Route Analysts are able to recommend the best track to follow based on the sailing time, arrival time and weather conditions forecast ahead. In other words, the Route Analysts use their experience to help the Master achieve the RTA.

Unique for the ship routing sector is the fact that s-Routing, both with access to StormGeo’s internet-located s-Insight, operate from a single platform.

“They were made with each other in mind,” says Reksten. “This enables the onboard product to work seamlessly with what’s on land. They are actually one product, rather than three that you hope are communicating and working together.

“With all our products on one platform communicating with s-Insight onshore, they’re able to access the same data and the same map graphics. This gives the user one company to relate to when service is needed, and if there’s an upgrade in one area or to one product, it will be made to work with everything else,” adds Reksten.

However advanced StormGeo’s ship routing technology, the real benefit of this connectivity is still in the human processes. Because sometimes the simplest and best option is to talk to someone.

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