The Internet is full of information – some relevant, some not. However you look at it, information is power. It helps us make strategic decisions and relieves us from being in constant tactical mode. For example, in the morning before a yacht race, I spend a substantial amount of time on the Internet; examining the weather from multiple sources, checking road traffic (I don’t want to miss the start of the race), referring to AIS if any competitors are in the area, and even looking up restaurant menus for places close to the yacht club. This way, I can plan my strategy with as much information as possible and leave tactics for only changing situations. That’s the recipe for winning races and having a nice evening – knowing what lies ahead and what the possibilities are.
In shipping, events constantly occur where substantial savings could have been made if the available information had been used in decision-making onboard. Here is a low-level example: an early adaptation to ETA change gives good savings on speed profile. Regarding a high level example, there have been several occasions of ships sailing straight into a severe storm that the onboard forecasts had not revealed – resulting, at times, in a total loss of a large container vessel.
If I were to use the same diligence in planning a voyage on a commercial ship, I would compare other weather sources to my weather routing software, check the local news at the next port of call for possible delays and ensure that there are no natural disasters in area. I would also look at land traffic, review the security info of the area, check AIS for the number of vessels in port and how many are headed that way, and maybe even take a look at nearby restaurants. Furthermore, I would constantly update this information en route. But I don’t do that for obvious reasons – I don’t have the time, and the Internet bandwidth is not sufficient enough onboard. However, I should do these things because, in shipping an early adaption to changing conditions can save miles, time, and money – and sometimes even ships. In the long run, it would save a lot more than the cost of hiring an extra mate or getting a faster Internet connection. I think it’s important to question old fashioned ways – is it truly worth it to put extra manpower and hardware onboard? Maybe not.
In the world of yacht racing, there are several new apps that gather weather information from multiple sources and visualize the results on a simple screen. They even make a subset for only necessary sea area and timespan and send the compressed information to the app. Why not do the same in shipping? Make an app that gathers all – and only – relevant information for an upcoming voyage, send it compressed onboard, and update the information when needed. And why limit it to onboard? Wouldn’t it be useful for the shoreside as well? This would allow for the chance to see what kinds of challenges the ship may encounter as well as the ability to react to changing conditions and better understand the decisions onboard.