Marine Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) for Mates/Masters

Research identifies training requirements for Mates/Masters to transition to autonomous shipping.

September 13, 2022


Autonomous and remotely operated vessels are here and operating in our waters, they are no longer a future concept.

In early 2021 Fugro used a 9m long Autonomous vessel in tandem with the main survey vessel to conduct a hydrographic survey of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia.

Over the past couple of years, autonomous vessels have completed crossings of the Atlantic Ocean, interacted with hundreds of vessels complying with COLREGs, and navigated restricted waterways.

We are now living in a time where autonomous and remotely operated vessels are no longer the future but are of the present and are here to stay.

So, what do seafarers have to do to evolve with the advancing maritime industry?

10-year forecast

AMC Search forecast major changes to the maritime industry as it further integrates autonomous and remotely operated vessels. However, most of these changes will be procedural and regulatory.

The logical step, on the road to autonomous vessels, is to operate and monitor vessels remotely.

The largest uptake of these vessels will be in support of small operations, such as surveying and scientific research. Cross channel ferries operating between the UK and Europe are also a high contender for conversion to remote or autonomous operations, due to the limited variance in their passages.

Ocean going ships will likely use this technology to help resolve industry’s fatigue problems by autonomously or remotely navigating open water while the onboard navigation team rests.

Gap analysis

As there are already several Remote Control Centres operating vessels in other parts of the world, AMC Search have undertaken a gap analysis of the roles of an onboard navigator against a remote vessel operator.

Similarities & differences between roles


As a remote vessel operator, you will be using the same navigation aids you have on ships, such as radar, ECDIS, echosounder, etc.

They vary slightly from what you are used to, but it is no different from joining a new ship with different OEM equipment.


The biggest and most obvious difference is you no longer have a window to look out of when operating a vessel. Depending on the set up, a visual feed can be provided to the remote operator, and this can vary from a simple monitor to a 360 degree view.

However, operators lose their inertial sense, i.e., they cannot feel vessel movements (roll / pitch / yaw). This can be very disorientating as you have effectively lost one of your senses that is crucial to operating a vessel.

There is likely to be a time lag between orders given and orders actioned, this will vary depending on data connectivity from the Remote Control Centre and onboard the remote vessel.

Enhancing existing skills

Most navigators now rely on GPS for position fixing, but, what if this fails? There are many other methods and technologies to help determine a vessel’s position, many of these are not known to seafarers.

Operators will have to contend with new emergencies, such as loss of communication and loss of data feeds. As video feeds take up a large amount of bandwidth, the loss of visuals is likely to be common, therefore operators need to upskill their blind pilotage techniques.

New skills required

Operators are no longer directly controlling the vessel, they are operating a computer, which in turn is controlling the vessel, therefore other skills are required. These include, but will not be limited to:

  • Computer networking
  • Data communication & transfer
  • Data analysis & management
  • Proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controls
  • Theory and science of autonomous maritime systems

The need for redundancy

As with ECDIS, the need for a back-up system is essential. In this case it won’t just be a backup ECDIS, it is highly likely there will be a back-up remote bridge, either already connected or ready to connect in case of emergency.

This back up bridge is best situated at another location, away from any potential interference at the main bridge.

During the transition phase, while we build trust in the new systems, ships will remain manned with a skeleton crew, ready to take over in emergency, and on station for transits in pilotage areas.

AMC Search’s developments in unmanned vessel education

Autonomous Maritime Systems training

At AMC Search, we prepare ports, seafarers, and operators for the maritime industry of tomorrow by pushing the boundaries of maritime education, training and innovative research.

For the past five years, we have delivered autonomous maritime systems training to the Royal Australian Navy, consisting of two main channels, one focusing on surface vessels and the other on underwater vehicles.

The AMC Search three-week Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) course extends on from what the trainees have previously learnt to locally operate small vessels. For example, they are trained on how autonomous or remotely operated vessels comply with COLREGs, and how to cross check GPS accuracy and plot positions when the GPS and other data feeds fail.

The course also focuses on planning and the software used to monitor and operate the autonomous vessels and reacting to additional emergency procedures, such as loss of communication with the USV and location issues.

We have also connected our simulator to the USV planning software. This allows us to have greater control of the scenarios and challenge the trainees. Our practical exercises also focus on the physical launch, recovery, and operation of the USV.

New addition to the Maritime Training Package

In 2021 AMC Search took a proposal to the Australian Industry Skills Committee to develop autonomous maritime systems units, which will be added to the Maritime Training Package.

The prerequisite course for Unmanned Surface Vessel is the Master up to 24 m Near Coastal, Coxswains or equivalent course. In short, you need to be a qualified Master for the size of vessel you intend to operate autonomously or remotely.

We developed 8 draft units, based on the training we developed for and deliver to Defence. These are going through the final stages of approval with the Australian Industry Skills Committee.


There is no international standard of training for navigators to become remote vessel operators.

The IMO has committed to developing a MASS code, which will include training requirements, however this will not come into force for at least 6 years.

In the meantime, it falls upon industry and commercial training providers to ensure seafarers are adequately trained in this new age of technology.

By keeping on the forefront of technology, AMC Search is doing just this with several projects running, including the development of a ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) Mate/Master’ course with applications opening in 2023.

For further information about the contents of this paper, please contact Mr. Nick Bonser,