Optimizing your vessel's route for time and fuel consumption

3 mins read  Marine DigitalSeptember 9, 2021

In 1952, the first vessel was given a routing service, the main task of which was to ensure that the ship was followed safely so that the crew and cargo arrived at their destination without losses and damages. This was shore-based routing in its infancy, and it used the first basic computerized regional weather forecast models to provide ships safely.

Today, safety is still a major concern for shipowners and shipping companies, but there are a number of economic factors associated with ship routing. Choosing a route avoiding storms, strong underwater currents, and just downpours and high waves can get the ship to its destination much faster, saving time and fuel.

How is the route planning for the vessel

The manager (route analyst) constructs a preliminary route in the route planning system (the route planner), which also receives the optimum speed recommendations in addition to the route itself. In case it is necessary to arrive by a certain time (Required Time of Arrival - RTA), some route planners can show an approximate fuel consumption (or accurate if the box is fitted). The vessel is fully tracked according to AIS data in case of deviations from the route, strong speed deviations, the manager in the office will receive a notification and contact the captain to clarify the measures taken.

Modern route planning systems allow the use of global weather forecasts to build optimal routes. Such tools use models to help the managers of the shipping company plan ahead and the captain decide on the spot which route will eventually help the ship achieve its primary goal - arrive safely and in time at the port of destination. For container ships, the key point is to build a route taking into account the required arrival time (RTA). For a container ship, the ideal route would be one that would allow the ship to avoid changing speed too much for it to maintain constant power. Other factors may also affect which route is most economical. Rent prices, bunker prices, speed inside and outside emission control areas all play as important a role in the cost of a trip as the cost of fuel.

Older routing approaches simply recommend that the ship go very fast for the first part of the voyage and then slow it down as soon as it can comfortably perform RTA. But the influence of a lot of external factors, including the variability of the weather, contribute to their peculiarities. The captain on the bridge needs to react at each time to rapidly changing weather conditions and decide whether the ship makes sense to adjust its speed or RTA. The ship can then arrive at the port at the safest and most optimal speed. Pre-planning of the RTA is primarily for container ships, but can also be used for drilling and tankers, while not always effective.

Before route analysts can provide information, they need to know the type and size of the vessel. They know that, for example, a Panamax bulk carrier or an ultra-large container ship in conditions or heavy weather are controlled very differently than, for example, Handymax. It is necessary to take into account loading conditions and cargo type. A vessel in ballast would operate differently from a loaded vessel, and a loaded vessel with sensitive cargo would need a less aggressive route than a route with more bulk cargo. In addition, the boat master is most familiar with the technical sucking and limitations of the vessel and transmits this information to the analysts of the route. Once the route analyst has collected this data, he or she can determine what kind of pre-planning is appropriate for the vessel. The ship manager receives loading, unloading places from the customer, picks up supply and bunkering locations.

Choosing the right pre-planning strategy

Comparing potential routes for ships

Option 1 - a direct route - is not always ideal, it can pass through the eye of a typhoon, a storm with high waves, or other unsafe places, for example, with pirates.

Option 2 is a route, bypassing severe weather conditions can lead to late and burning additional fuel.

Option 3 is a route that can involve periods of drift where the ship experiences much better weather and does not expend much fuel. Yes, the vessel may be late, but the vessel burns less bunker fuel throughout the voyage.

It's usually the best option for balkers - stop, drift and miss the storm - especially when rental rates are low and DTAs are less important than fuel economy. This allows the ship to stay safe, enjoy good weather, avoid burning fuel, and, eventually, save a significant amount of money.

In any case, choosing the best route is safe in terms of team health and cargo integrity, as well as saving time and money.

Optimal routes based on different requirements

Modern route planners for maritime navigation

Navigation systems are now evolving and improving the safety of navigation and cost-effectiveness of ship use. The most famous route planning systems can be distinguished: "Navi-Planner" of Tranzas, "PassageManager" of ChartCo, "Bon Voyage System" of StormGeo, "Ship Performance Optimization" System" of MeteoGroup, "Commercial Marine Vessel Routing" of Jeppesen, Navtor. These systems have a range of functionality and limitations on the number of services offered, including weather. To use route planning systems with maximum efficiency, route planning systems require connecting to the company server and updating information twice a day or more. In this case, the route is updated to take into account changes in navigation and hydrometeorological information.

As additional features that can be included in the functionality of route planning systems, modern capabilities of processing information from digital and analog sensors are offered and are also used to optimize the movement of the vessel additional capabilities of modern ship navigation equipment. Thus, the use of machine learning in Marine Digital FOS (Fuel Optimization System) solutions processing data on various factors affecting safe transportation allows you to build a route with varying degrees of economy, speed, and the minimum level of safety and comfort, and to take into account the particularities of the vessel with greater precision. Marine Digital FOS collects and processes data of vessel condition and its environment, allowing you to have a more detailed forecast and more accurately take into account the impact of the environment on the vessel when building the optimal route in the sea.