Understanding The Seafarer of The Future

July 9, 2018 12:45 pm















Thinking about the issue of maritime training in isolation is a mistake. Shipping companies, owners, operators and shipmanagers need to understand the people that are being trained. So, let’s look at the seafarers of the past, present and future.


Close your eyes and picture in your mind a “seafarer” from the past. Got one in our head? Excellent. He, because it is likely to be male you are thinking of, will probably be of Western appearance in your minds’ eye.

There could be tattoos, perhaps a beard? You are probably seeing a robust, rough and tough, no nonsense kind of man. One who knows the stars, but also the tar of a deck. A veteran of wars, and resplendent in a rain coat with epaulettes of gold braid showing, someone even Moby Dick would shy from.

Now, think of a seafarer today. Yes, again, probably male – this time though, your imagination will place them from probably The Philippines. They will be smartly turned out in a nicely company branded boiler suit. They will have one eye on the ECDIS, but another on the calendar thinking about going home.

These are of course wild stereotypes – images constructed from movies of the past and from smiling maritime welfare charity photoshoots today. The truth is, shipping probably doesn’t know enough about the real lives, people and challenges of being a seafarer. Which means if we don’t get to grips with the issues now, we are likely to repeat any current failings when it comes to future seafarers.


In order to ensure that the needs of seafarers are being met, and indeed the needs of industry too – there needs to be an in-depth exploration of what the profile of the seafarers of the future will look like.

Who will they be, where from, what education, what skills, what motivations? There are so many questions that need to be asked. For shipping there is often a tendency, and understandable one, to think of the realities that will be faced and then the crewing cloth can be cut accordingly.

What though, what if we as an industry were able to build a profile of the people we want, and not have to eventually enter into some kind of panicked scrabble trying to find or create the people we need?

So, let us look to the seafarers of the future and appreciate what they will need to succeed. While also asking what will shipping companies need in place to make this all work? You may now be thinking all this is academic, as autonomous ships will have replaced everyone. They are coming, that seems to be true – but even the optimistically technophile may be disappointed by how long that will take.


CompassOne of the hardest aspects of professional development for each subsequent generation of seafarer is that they must have all the skills and experience of their forebears but are also burdened with new leaps forward in technology. Seafarers are still expected to know the maritime arts, the celestial skills, dexterity with paper charts, parallel rules and dividers. While knowing the clouds, waves and weather.

They do so, with their heads also filled with so many other demands – being able to switch on and between various pieces of technologically advanced equipment. The challenges are to build on the foundations of the past, but with a view of what is ahead. Issues such as cyber security perhaps highlight the need for such maritime polymaths better than most.

Earlier this year, a slew of vessels lost their GPS signals off the Suez Canal. Faced with multiple alarms, and with smart equipment that had turned resoundingly dumb, the masters and officers set about recovering their situation.

They did so by looking out of the window, by smoothing down the paper charts and by applying common sense and seamanship. The reasons you may not have heard more about the incidents? Well, those seafarers had the skills to deal with what was thrown at them.


Seafarers of the future will have incredible tools at their disposal, as will their employers. The future of training is evolving all the time – and with simulator-based and computer-based training to the fore, we will also see a rapid and incredibly exciting rise in virtual reality training.

At the various shows and events KVH Videotel has exhibited at in the past couple of years there is always a queue of people looking to try their hand at virtual reality. They don the headset, and suddenly there they are, in the engine room – struggling to open valves and set up equipment. While we ensure they don’t fall over or run head long into the crowd.

Virtual RealityWith the changes in training methods, what will be the things that are needed to be learned in the future? These will be people with very different attention spans, different expectations, and who will be at the fore of automation, communication, and digitalisation

So what skills will our future seafarers need, and how can we think in a wider sense about delivering it for them? Well, digitalisation changes the game completely and the advent of blockchain technology will place ever more emphasis on the checks and balances in the system. Which means tools such as our Performance Manager will become ever more vital.


So, now think about the seafarer of the future. It is hard, will they be male or female? Where will they come from, and what will be the drivers that get the best from them? Let’s look at the key trends and approaches that will be necessary to build the human resources we need at sea in the years ahead.

1) Personalised training and personalised education: Seafarers will want and need more control over the ways in which they learn and the paths that they follow.

2) Closing the gap between compliance and competence: At the moment compliance means that competence is the measure of success. It is likely that the industry will grow above and beyond these base, lowest common denominator approaches in the future.

3) Evolving equipment: With rapid changes in technology come ever more rapid changes in technology. So, seafarers will need to be adept at understanding how things work, not just what they do. They will have a sense of the logic of maritime technology and of how they get the best from it.

4) Right experience in their training phases: Future seafarers will be focused on the needs of their role and trade, not just the wider competency frameworks and matrices.

5) Focus on science, technology, engineering, and math: As education systems the world over begin to focus on the STEM subjects in a far more involved way, then maritime training needs to react to that and fit into the ways in which future seafarers expect to learn.

6) Logic and critical thinking: The rise of the machines will not necessarily instantly translate into the end of seafaring. What it does though is change the relationship of command onboard. Future seafarers need to think around the ways in which machines will perform tasks. So, these seafarers need to be critically appraising the machines. There are already examples of this in the industry, and the best Dynamic Positioning Operators (DPOs) provide a vision of how humans can retain the operational control, vision and experience to work in tandem with technology. People are likely not to be driving the ship but driving the systems which drive the ship.

7) Leadership: We need seafarers who are trained to understand leadership and interactions onboard. Whether they are leaders or followers, an appreciation of how the societal jigsaw fits together will be vital. Ensuring seafarers know their strengths, weaknesses, role and self-awareness through reflection, personal profiling analysis, discussions, will all be fascinating parts of the development of our future crews.

What do you think the seafarers of the future will need? We look forward to hearing your thoughts…