How UAVs Are Revolutionising The Shipping Industry

Last updated on

July 15, 2016


The global shipping industry is one of the leading lights of commercial drone development: there are so many stages and elements of ship building, maintenance, and monitoring there is a drone for every part.

A notoriously and historically dangerous industry, the marine sector needs all the help it can get in making every part of engineering, building, maintenance, and transportation as safe and simple as possible. The harsh environments posed by the sea automatically make it an even tougher challenge to develop any type of technology than land-based projects. However, there are many companies who have taken on that challenge to great effect.

We’re going to take a look at just some of the ways the shipping industry is using remote controlled vehicles to improve safety, speed up operations, and boost efficiency.

Deliveries in Shipping: Ship-To-Shore Via Drone

We’ve already taken a look at Maersk’s study into shore-to-vessel deliveries – ideal for dropping off replacement parts or urgent supplies. This proved that the shipping industry is already considering drones for vessel operations. However, another company have taken it a step further: ship-to-shore deliveries with a view to disaster relief management.

Imagine if ships were able to deliver medical supplies in the wake of natural disasters? The team at Flirtey have already started experiments along the New Jersey coastline to help create disaster management drones designed for marine-based deployment.

The possibilities are huge: where earthquakes or floods may have ruined road transport systems, a drone can fly across all of these problems to deliver aid where it’s most needed. An army of aid UAVs like this would ensure medical supplies and emergency rations could be delivered to people who are cut off. Keeping them alive and as safe as possible until rescue can be deployed.

Underwater Hull Inspections

Drones underwater? Yes: technically a ‘drone’ is a remote operated vehicle (ROV) – many people automatically assume the word relates only to sky-bound quadcopters or similar, but it applies here too. It also makes sense to consider a submersible UAV when talking about the shipping industry!

The huge advantage of an underwater ROV is the obvious submersible features: it can be deployed while a ship is at sea, which is perfect for monitoring damage or conducting hull inspections. Previously only two options would be available: send someone down for a manual inspection (nobody raises their hand to volunteer for that dangerous task), or risk it until a ship could reach port and be dry docked at huge expense for inspection.

An underwater drone works in the same way as an aerial UAV: remote controlled, it can deliver real-time high definition video footage and photographs back to the command centre for immediate assessment. Problems are easily highlighted with such detailed video, and a clear plan of action with a fully developed risk assessment can be delivered to resolve any issues.

A submersible drone also poses additional advantages: it can be sent ahead to navigate difficult reefs, highlighting potential paths or hidden sandbanks which might not be shown on the ship’s electronic charts. Even more importantly, in areas of particular danger, a submersible drone can be sent to investigate and identify underwater mines – potentially saving thousands of lives.

Dangerous Inspections Become Safer With Drones

It’s not just underneath the ship that needs constant monitoring: tank inspections are commonplace on vessels, which always place a risk to the participating crew. Dangerous gases are the biggest killer at sea: often, a crew member will enter an enclosed space buy norvasc which – unbeknownst to them – contains a noxious gas. They become unconscious and suffocate – and when there’s no response, a second crew member will go in to investigate and rescue their friend…and the second person also dies from suffocation.

A drone changes that: gas detectors can easily be fitted to a UAV which is sent ahead of a tank inspection crew. Easy and quick air analysis will determine the safety of the tank for entry – saving lives with a few simple minutes of drone flight.

Drones can also be flown into high up or other hazardous areas to check the structural integrity of a vessel or loaded cargo. Whereas previously this high risk job was down to a brave hearted crew member, now a drone can be flown to the inspection point, with high definition video fed back to the control centre. Any problems are identified and engineers can tackle the issue immediately without spending time finding and planning the repair.

Finally on this one, thermal imaging can be used to detect problems for cargo vessels. Bulk cargo can produce heat that may be initially undetectable – until it’s too late and the cargo begins to smoulder. A drone sent into the hold can be rigged with a camera such as the Zenmuse XT Thermal, which enables the pilot to set alarms for temperature level detection: the heat spot can be found and fixed before it becomes a dangerous problem.

Fighting Piracy With UAVs

The Spanish Navy and ATALANTA, the anti-piracy mission in Somalia, have already proven the efficacy of reducing marine crime using drones. The advantage of drones in these situations is two-fold: a multi-rotor can be set to hover undetected for hours, providing what is essentially at-sea remote CCTV, while at the same time people can be placed far enough away to ensure they are not at risk of kidnapping during these operations.

Marine crime is ever-changing, be it piracy, smuggling, or damaging wildlife activities, and it causes the shipping sector many delays, risks, and huge costs every year. As such, a responsive and pro-active approach is the only way to ensure international securities are achieved. Drones specifically designed for such tasks have benefits such as vertical take-off and marine-designed bodies to protect against harsh marine elements. Their long flight times allow for continued monitoring, while tracking abilities help authorities monitor and trace potential or actual criminal activity as it happens.

Where Does COPTRZ Come Into All Of This?

We’re particularly excited about the possibilities of drones in the marine industry for one key reason: it’s what inspired the team to create COPTRZ™! Previously, our founders worked together for over 15 years at our sister company, Martek Marine, manufacturing and delivering safety innovations to the global shipping industry.

The combined knowledge of the COPTRZ™ team and the recent advances in drone technology makes this a very exciting area to work in. If you’re in the shipping industry and want to find out more about how we can help hook you up with the right marine drone for the job, remember we’re just a phone call away on +44 (0) 1709 499 458 or email

Drones And Offshore

The marine industry often encapsulates the offshore sector, and drones are of course exceptionally useful tools here too. That’s why you should keep an eye out for Part Two in this series, which will focus on the uses of UAVs for the offshore sector!

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