Shipping is long on optimistic claims but short of good optimisation data

A new technology gold-rush is confusing buyers and encouraging providers to make unrealistic comparisons, writes Anders Bruun, CEO Coach Solutions.

To read some of the claims being made in the shipping market it seems as though if we took all available vessel optimisation solutions and implemented them across the fleet, shipping would be a net electricity generator. Of course, we know it’s a bit more complicated than that. It doesn’t need to be: here are six things the industry needs to know if we want to make sustainable shipping simpler.

Optimisation software will not save the world – the IMO and EU have that job

The question we often get from people in the shipping industry looking at our services is ‘how much money/fuel/CO2 can your software save us?’. It is typically not a question that comes from the users but rather from their managers or financial departments. 

Some decision-makers still try to rank the value of a given system by the potential savings they claim they can offer. This mentality is kept alive by optimisation solutions making big claims about tonnes of CO2 avoided with an infinitely increasing savings ticker on their website.

Regulations mean owners need to optimise but we need honesty about the process

It is an undisputable fact that performance monitoring and route optimisation are among the best short-term methods to cut emissions and increase operational efficiency and any shipping company not utilising both should start doing so sooner than later. However, both methods only offer decision support, and the actual savings are found in the actions they invoke.

Shipowners by and large are willing to comply with regulation but they are in shipping to make a profit. It doesn’t need to be either/or; profit and sustainability go hand in hand. What optimisation really requires is a change management process.

Claims of emissions reductions are meaningless unless they can be benchmarked

There are so many optimisation solutions around, each claiming they can save 10-15% of vessel carbon emissions, but there’s no way of judging whether these claims have any value because we can’t know what any of them is being compared to. Most such statements don’t stand up to detailed scrutiny.

There are way too many companies pushing solutions that they can’t really stand behind and that makes choice confusing for operators. We totally get that a start-up mentality is useful; when we started Coach in 2013 we were two guys in the basement at Clipper Shipping but we understood the commercial, operational and technical aspects of shipping. 

Commercial imperative comes first, environmental responsibility naturally follows

We think that sustainability means more than just defending the environment, it’s about protecting your business. Of course shipping has a really strong focus on carbon emissions reduction and that’s a good thing, but the truth is that take-up is always going to be slow unless there is a benefit to the bottom line. 

Any optimisation system a vessel operator chooses needs to cater to their commercial needs; simply presenting data does not equal insight that necessarily has any value.

Good quality data and validation points are what makes the difference

Despite the noise around digitalisation, gathering accurate, actionable vessel performance data continues to be a huge issue for vessel operators. It is hard enough on owned assets but on chartered tonnage, getting valid data is a difficult, time consuming process that often still relies on interpreting noon reports. 

Without valid data you are just another person with an opinion; the key aspect is the ability to optimise on the right data. This sounds logical but many systems don’t include a proper validation process but simply rely on whatever reporting already exists onboard.

Software needs to be simple to be used onboard – we can do the complex bit ashore

Ultimately, optimising a voyage requires taking the complexity out of collecting the data, especially if that complexity is there as a smokescreen for knowledge gaps. Small amounts of data can create actionable insights, they just need to be compared to something meaningful.

Optimisation software plays a crucial role in this context by giving the responsible staff the necessary clarity to navigate the many and often conflicting drivers and restrictions around daily vessel operations.


Reducing emissions from vessel operations is a result of doing things differently and can be supported by optimisation software. But the real driver is to make better decisions, and as shown by the latest upturn in shipping rates, unchecked profit tends to take priority over sustainability. This is why global carbon taxes and a level playing field are important tools to drive the sustainability revolution.

As such, we do not claim that we can reduce emissions; but we promise that we will make it much simpler for you to reduce them by making the sustainable choice every time. You just need to make that choice.

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