• The Importance of Weather Routing in Fuel-efficient Shipping

The Importance of Weather Routing in Fuel-efficient Shipping


September 18, 2018

Originally published on VPO Global, September 14, 2018.

VPO Global


Weather, including currents, waves, wind, and swell has been found to affect the performance of a vessel by between 50 and 80 per cent and cost thousands of US Dollar in additional fuel consumption. Routing a vessel based on predicted current and weather conditions is about improving the fuel efficiency, keeping to the sailing schedule, and remaining safe. VPO Global spoke with Dr. Thomas Weber, Product Manager FleetDSS, StormGeo Shipping to find out more about how weather can affect the performance and cost of operating a vessel.

The main purpose of ship routing is to recommend safe and efficient routes, taking into account constraints like weather thresholds or the nature of the cargo. In addition, liner ships have a required arrival time that necessitates a speed recommendation to be given along with the recommended track. Operators can monitor whether a Master is following the suggested route and, if applicable, the suggested speed setting within FleetDSS — StormGeo’s Fleet Decision Support System. This system integrates weather, voyage reporting and, sensor data and expert Route Analysts to provide profound levels of decision support to ship owners, liner and tramp operators.

StormGeo’s weather and voyage routing portfolio includes its FleetDSS system, which was developed to support decisions made by ship owners or operators. Dr. Weber began developing this at StormGeo three years ago.

For owners, FleetDSS provides access to data on fleets or individual vessels to manage the fleet's commercial, technical and environmental performance. This includes hull and propeller performance, speed and consumption, main engine performance, how many days have been spent at sea, what types of fuel have been consumed and other KPIs. Operators can track a vessel’s efficiency and voyage performance as well as the predicted surface pressure, winds, wave heights, currents, storms and more via the four-times daily updates or forecasts up to 16 days in advance. In addition to that FleetDSS provides access to the historic data for years.

“We are making 5,500 routings per month”, confirms Dr. Weber. “The user can define his own diagrams as scatter graphs, so he can basically define any parameter that he feels is useful for his work. We can use and store any data the clients want, it is not limited to anything.”

“The majority of our customers are operators because they want to make sure the vessel is being operated safely and efficiently. We work for owners too but on the performance side, providing technical data and monitoring information as well as data analysis in relation to the charter party requirements.”

In a recent case, StormGeo routed a bulk carrier from the Amazon River to southeastern Norway. The Master’s intention was to sail via the English Channel, while StormGeo’s recommendation was to pass via Pentland Firth. The distance difference between the recommended route and the intended route was only about 35 nm, thus StormGeo agreed that the time savings between the two routes was minimal. The most important difference was the time spent traveling through the European ECA. Along the recommended route, the vessel would consume 37.5 mt more high-sulphur fuel oil, but 36.6 mt less of the more costly low-sulphur fuel oil. At a price differential of around $250 between the fuel grades, the monetary savings were about $9000 by minimizing distance sailed in ECA. (read the full case study here)

Environmental regulations are putting additional pressure on owners and operators to run optimised, fuel-efficient ships. Dr. Weber says that the IMO DCS and the EU MRV have pushed the industry to think more about recording and reporting emissions, but that this is not so hard. “When it comes to 2020, this is different. Even some owners do not yet know what they are going to do. Should they install scrubbers or buy expensive fuel? It is difficult because you have to make a huge investment into the ship, some of which are older, so the payoff is unknown.” It is even more important to consider the impact that weather has on fuel consumption if a ship is operating in an environment with higher fuel prices than today.

On occasion, routing a vessel to avoid bad weather is more about safety than cost efficiency. “Sometimes, the safe option may not be the most efficient,” says Dr. Weber. Optimised routing of a vessel is about maintaining good communication with the Master. “If a storm is brewing, it may be better to let it pass or outrun it by speeding up but sometimes the operator will say this is too costly. When we are routing, we are in contact with the Master and we may suggest something but it’s up to him whether to agree or disagree. We have to find a common solution that is both efficient and safe.”

Dr. Weber is keen for the industry to take a more committed approach to implementing an energy efficiency culture. “Crew efficiency is something that needs to be measured, and we need to look more at how it affects operational efficiency of the vessel. This is very important in my opinion. A ship owner can do a lot to improve the efficiency, but he needs the crew to support him and act accordingly. There is no sense if you have all tools on-board for trim optimisation or planning if no one is using them correctly.”

Operational efficiency is also about more than just compliance. “Even if your vessel complies with the charter party, the charterer may have another measurement or scorecard system where the vessels are also rated due to the performance. If you are not on a high score it could be difficult for you as a ship owner. The operator may say they are not chartering in from this company again because they are not satisfied with the performance of the crew. This, the human factor, is very important and has a huge impact on vessel efficiency.”

“What you see on ship performance and operational efficiency software like FleetDSS needs to be available to the crew on-board. They must be able to understand it and make the right conclusion based on it, and maybe change their behaviour.”

Transparency is vital in this aspect. “If there is a good source of data to support decisions, data-driven decisions, then sometimes it will be easier to understand what is going on and why a certain decision should be made. “If you are visible then you will get better results.”

In response to increasing demands for energy efficient shipping, StormGeo plans to focus its efforts on giving operators the tools they need to improve vessel performance. “The owner or operator needs to have the tools to evaluate the performance of the crew. This is the most important part of the future I see.”

Dr. Weber also emphasises the importance of not relying solely on computers and software and urges the industry to be cautious when it comes to assuming data are right. “You should not sail a vessel just by looking on the radar or on any computer, you need to look outside and make a decision based on what you can see. Data are not always reliable.”

About Dr Thomas Weber, Product Manager FleetDSS, StormGeo Shipping

Thomas Weber2Dr. Weber’s interest in the maritime world began at a young age. “Since I was a child I have been interested in ships and shipping. I decided I wanted to become a Master so I studied and later on I did my doctorate on vessel and speed optimisation. I joined StormGeo when it was called AWT and have now been here for 7 years.”

Dr. Weber says that optimising performance and the relationship between people and ships has always been important to him. “I have always been involved in product development and route optimisation. I am interested in the usability side and how route optimisation can be made easy for navigators – it must be intuitive as much as possible, as any system.”

Dr. Weber is speaking at VPO Global’s forum in Singapore this October 9th. View the agenda here. Registration is free to all shipowners, operators, managers, and builders.