February 16th 2018

The overwhelming majority of professional mariners responding to the Nautilus Federation’s survey on autonomous shipping say they disagree with the predictions of some equipment manufacturers that the first fully autonomous ships will be in service by 2020.

Members of MM&P and 20 other Nautilus Federation affiliates in 16 countries responded to the survey, which was conducted last year.

“With a host of projects testing various forms of autonomous vessels, and with the International Maritime Organization embarked on an ambitious project to assess the legal and regulatory framework governing their operation, it’s high time that the voice of maritime professionals be heard,” said Nautilus Federation Director Mark Dickinson in explaining the motivation for the survey and announcing its results.

The roughly 1,000 mariners who responded came from 16 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Denmark and Sweden.

The questionnaire was developed to gather the views of seafarers and other shipping industry staff on the issues surrounding autonomous technology and its potential effect on the maritime sector, and to give a voice to the maritime professionals who will be affected by the move towards ‘smart ships.’

The 30 survey questions sought to address the critical issues around the introduction of autonomous vessels.

Many respondents took the opportunity to provide their opinions, offering frank views and observations based on their professional experience and knowledge.

Concerns around job security and safety dominated much of the feedback, with nearly 84 percent of respondents saying they see automation as a threat to their jobs.

Just over 85 percent of those taking part in the survey said they considered unmanned, remotely controlled vessels to be a threat to safety at sea.

But respondents were not wholly hostile to the concepts and the underpinning systems – many of them noting the potential to use technology in a way that could improve seafarers’ lives by reducing or even eliminating a lot of routine tasks, and to make maritime jobs safer, more skilled and more satisfying.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said they disagreed with the rosy predictions of some equipment manufacturers that commercially viable unmanned/remotely controlled ships will be in service by 2020.

Fewer than 40 percent thought they would be in widespread service within the next 20 years.

To view the survey, go to: and click on the “Resources” tab at the top of the page.