How to make operating a ship as easy as driving a car

To test drive a new car, the hardest thing I have to do is convince the sales person I am serious enough about buying it for them to let me behind the wheel.

The skills that I have learned to safely operate my current car are almost completely transferable from one vehicle to the next. Even the car's entertainment system, which up until recently required a PhD in Control Theory to connect your mobile phone to, is now increasingly standardised to work with iOS or Android.

It's a different world completely when you step on to the typical ship's bridge. Whilst there are some basic standards that exist for safety critical systems such as the ECDIS, there is enormous variety in the crew experience across both the digital and non-digital interfaces to the ship's systems.

As a shipbuilder, we are very much aware of this challenge. We have developed certain design standards for our interfaces which we believe best meet the needs of our customers. But customers will often request customisations - either in the layout of the bridge, or of the digital interfaces employed - to build commonality across their fleet.

Wouldn't it be better if operating a ship was more like driving a new car? Where every vessel had a standardised approach which minimised the opportunities for error and increased operational efficiency?

It's for this reason that we're watching the Open Bridge initiative closely. The Open Bridge consortium have done some fantastic work over the last few years in developing design guidelines for digital bridge systems. The goal is enhanced commonality of user experience and the propagation of best practices across all the ship's digital interfaces.

The design guidelines are not just dry descriptions of interface principles. Instead they are full design components ready to be downloaded and used by system providers.

At the moment we are using the principles of Open Bridge to inspire some of our work on the MARINELINK product range, rather than follow the guideline in detail. But it is certainly an innovation of interest to us and others in the industry too - they have had over 1000 registrations to use their design guidelines since they were first launched.

All images on this post courtesy of