Smart Shipping: comprehensive automation in the maritime sector

New technologies are changing shipping for good. For instance, assistive technologies for navigation and data sharing. These developments are part of Smart Shipping. They make the shipping industry more competitive, safer and more sustainable.

What is Smart Shipping?

The term Smart Shipping refers to the largely autonomous operation of inland vessels or seagoing ships. It covers not only on-board technologies, but also the design of ports and waterways so that, using data collected by sensors, a ship can manoeuvre autonomously or prompt the crew to take action.

Boosting competitiveness

By enabling vessels to sail more efficiently, Smart Shipping can make the maritime sector more competitive and therefore more attractive. For example, advanced digital systems can ensure crew members are deployed as effectively as possible and support them in their tasks, or take over some of these tasks.

Vessels can also make better use of waterway capacity by adapting their speed and receiving more accurate navigational data. Greater efficiency reduces transport costs and, in the case of inland shipping, boosts competitiveness in relation to road and rail transport.

Safer sailing

Smart warning and navigation systems assist the skipper while the vessel is under way and can also take over certain tasks. This makes work on board the vessel and along the waterway safer and more manageable. Every year around 140 accidents occur on Dutch waterways. Smart Shipping can reduce the chance of accidents due to human error.

More sustainable shipping

With Smart Shipping technologies, ships can save fuel and money and therefore sail more sustainably. For instance, the system can coordinate the navigation plan with the opening and closing times of locks and bridges, and take account of the available mooring space in harbours and port terminals. Using more precise environmental data (depth, current and wind) a vessel can adapt its speed so that it uses less fuel.

The future of Smart Shipping in the Netherlands

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management welcomes trials with Smart Shipping on Dutch inland waterways and in territorial waters. The effects of Smart Shipping can only be experienced on the water. The Ministry will be able to determine its policy and international position based on the experience gained during these trials. In addition, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Flemish government are working together to facilitate cross-border experiments.

Smart Shipping trials

Anyone may test Smart Shipping technologies on Dutch inland waterways, provided they first obtain permission from Rijkswaterstaat. Applications can be made online. For more information about Smart Shipping trials on Dutch inland waterways go to, where you’ll also find the application form. Please also read the administrative rules on trials with autonomous shipping on inland waterways (in Dutch).

Trials in territorial waters

In order to test autonomous technologies in Dutch territorial waters, you need prior permission from the Coastguard. The criteria your application must meet are described in the Administrative rules on trials with autonomous shipping in territorial seas (in Dutch). These rules apply only to trials in the Netherlands’ territorial seas, not including approach areas. For information about permission for a specific trial please contact the Smart Shipping helpdesk.

More information about Smart Shipping

The website presents several examples of Smart Shipping. The national Smart Shipping helpdesk was set up to facilitate innovations in Smart Shipping. It serves a variety of clients, including entrepreneurs who want to launch new ventures, other public authorities and other interested parties. The helpdesk coordinates and monitors trials in Dutch waters and shares information on grants, technology and safety.

Contact the helpdesk by email at: