Platform for the implementation of a future inland navigation action programme

Digital and automated infrastructure

Executive summary

Digitalisation, automation and smart shipping are very broad concepts. Digitalisation and automation can be understood as two separate concepts, which overlap in parts. Smart shipping is based on the concepts of automation and digitalisation. Many navigational and operational tasks and processes performed on-board of a vessel but as well on-shore are already supported and, in some cases, even replaced by automation systems.

Being part of the PLATINA3 WP4 dealing with Infrastructureandthe Task 4.3 Smart waterway and port infrastructure and management, this report focuses on the implications of digitalisation and automation developments in inland navigation on inland waterways and ports infrastructure. The report is mainly based on desk research to existing literature. The findings of relevant projects, studies and initiatives are consolidated in the report. In addition, interviews were conducted with experts in the field. Automation and digitalisation are broad concepts, however the scope of task 4.3 is limited and therefore not all aspects of digitalisation and automation are included in the scope of this deliverable. The following topics are left out of the scope:

  • automation of vessels, digital freight solutions, etc.,
  • detailed analysis of the legal situation, required amendments to the legal practices or similar,
  • financing and funding options of automation and digitalisation in inland navigation and in ports.

Terminology and definitions

Work on cross-cutting issues in the field of digitalisation, automation and smart shipping requires clear, accessible and understandable terminology. The aim of Task 4.3 Smart waterway and port infrastructure and management is not to develop new definitions but rather built upon existing knowledge. This report summarises existing terminologies and definitions elaborated by other platforms like CCNR, PIANC W210, project DIWA or the ones used in a business environment and builds upon them in this report. Where necessary, in order to improve understanding or limit the scope of this report, further clarifications are provided. The following terms are explained: (digital) technologies, automation, digitalisation and digital transformation, smart shipping, smart ports. The terminology is still subject to international coordination and agreement. Nevertheless, the report contains suggestions for such terminology, which is as well used throughout the report.

One of the defining characteristics of a smart shipping concept is the ability of a vessel to function autonomously. There are six levels of automation in inland navigation as developed and adopted by the CCNR, starting with level 0, the full-time human-based navigation and steering mode with no automation, up to level 5, which stands for full automation (see Annex 1: CCNR – Definition of levels of automation in inland navigation). The report focuses on the (future) infrastructural requirements to enable higher levels of automation in inland navigation, meaning scenarios addressing levels 3-5 of automation in inland navigation are the ones discussed.

The recently published PIANC WG210 report on “Smart Shipping on Inland Waterways” offers definitions of smart shipping and defines smart shipping in a broader term than just autonomous vessels. It as well defines the components of smart shipping such as Smart Vessels, Smart Traffic Management and Infrastructure, Smart Travel and Transport, Smart Regulation and Facilitation.

Inland waterways infrastructure

There are two main elements in waterway systems, vessels and infrastructure. Vessels are the means of transport. Infrastructure, like waterways, locks, bridges and ports are to guarantee a sound navigation and execution of relevant transport operations. Vessels navigating on inland waterways are also impacted by the external environment such as water levels, discharge, wind, ice or waves. Furthermore, rules and regulations provide framework to the skippers and crew onboard, specifying for example types of manoeuvres that should be taken in situations where there is a risk of collision.

Smart vessels (in the report addressed also as automated and remotely controlled) are vessels that use automated onboard systems, onboard sensors and external data to optimise their key operations, whether those of navigational character, including the remote navigation, or operations linked to management of fuel consumption, power management or maintenance. To allow smart vessels sailing on European waterways, a reliable, safe, efficient and smart waterway network is needed.

Research, developments and experiments regarding further automation of navigational tasks, remote control of inland vessels, or autonomous navigation is ongoing. The novel products, advanced sensors and positioning technologies to be deployed onboard vessels are already on the market. They primarily focus on assisting the skipper in navigation operations, supporting in decision-making, mitigating the effects of poor visibility, and eliminating blind spots (e.g. due to hull). Combining data from multiple onboard sensors creates a complete digital picture of the environment around a vessel. Such enhanced situational awareness enables safer manoeuvring in ports, effective navigation on waterways, or identification of potentially hazardous targets. Situational awareness is a critical building block on the pathway to greater vessel autonomy. These products are thus aimed at making sailing safer, more sustainable, more comfortable or more efficient.

It has to be noted that when adding automated vessels into the system of the traffic, a mixed environment will be created. In inland navigation it is hardly possible that (fully) autonomous vessels will use different route trajectories, different locks, or bridge openings etc. than human-driven vessels (such as it may be possible in road transport with physically separated lanes). In this sense, rules and regulations for the mixed traffic environment will need to top up the currently existing ones, sustaining the already very high safety and efficiency levels of IWT.

The chapter for inland waterways infrastructure looks into requirements around shipping operation areas:

  • navigation consisting of voyage planning, navigation on rivers and ports, passing locks and movable bridges, berthing, anchoring and docking manoeuvres, situational awareness and also collision avoidance,
  • communication network and system to transfer data externally and internally.

Voyage and route planning

The voyage plan (and its updates) is done based on environmental conditions, (expected) traffic conditions on route and require often manual input based on the personal experience and information collected from various scattered (electronic) sources.

Future (fully) autonomous and remote-controlled vessels will use voyage planning systems that automatically determine optimal route trajectories, taking into account definable constraints such as voyage time optimisation, fuel emissions reduction, or other configurable settings. For this purpose, the latest updates of navigation charts and other nautical information necessary for the intended voyage are required together with accurate, complete and real-time information on navigational restrictions (both permanent and temporary), water levels, bridge clearances, and weather and traffic (both actual information and forecasts).

The EuRIS portal, developed in the RIS COMEX project, will provide information services for reliable voyage planning (and other shipping operations) to improve the operations of skippers, terminals and ports. EuRIS gathers relevant RIS information from national data sources to provide optimised fairway, infrastructure and traffic-related information services through a single point of access for users, thus enabling reliable voyage and route planning, and many other operations on a pan-European level.

Navigation on the rivers, canals or in ports

Navigation refers to tasks performed from a vessel’s departure to its arrival at the destination, while interacting with the environment to avoid collision, grounding, or other hazards. Many conventional vessels (crew onboard) are already fitted with sensors and systems, such as radars, ECDIS, AIS and instruments showing own vessel’s condition. Sensors already assist the skipper in navigational tasks, and some of these tasks are even being replaced by automatic systems. Sensors help the skipper to obtain information on situational awareness. Combining this with information the skipper receives through own senses, such as sight, hearing and vessel movements, the skipper gets a complete situational awareness. On conventional vessels, decision making and control are still performed by the skipper and crew.

In the future, an autonomous navigation system will be able to dynamically plan and adjust the optimal route in real time to avoid collisions, groundings, or other hazards. Decisions will be done (depending on autonomy level, with or without human intervention) based on accurate situational awareness achieved through fusion of data from onboard sensors combined with real-time information from infrastructure providers about environmental conditions and (expected) traffic conditions on the route. Future developments will also enable greater connectivity between vessels and their environment, allowing cooperation and coordination between vessels themselves and between vessels and infrastructure, for example by sharing short-term intentions of vessels, planned route trajectories (thus optimising traffic management) or real-time information about the state of the fairway.

Besides accurate, complete IENCs as well the regularly updated depths contour lines based on riverbed characteristics (bIENC overlay) contribute to accurate situational awareness. Supplementary up-to-date collaborative depth data measured and shared by vessels, along with bIENC overlay, allow selection of a safe path for navigating along the route. Information about critical sections (with least sounded depth information) and critical infrastructure objects e.g. vertical clearance of (at least) critical bridges support skippers in their navigational decisions, and will be essential for the future.

Passing locks and bridges (approach, waiting and passage)

The scheduling of the lock and bridge passages influences the safety and also economic efficiency of inland vessels. The coordination is required between a vessel and locks or movable bridges whenever a vessel requires passage. At present, communication when planning passage, but also when passing locks or movable bridges, is almost exclusively done via VHF. In addition to VHF communication, infrastructure managers know that vessels are approaching a specific lock or bridge, either via AIS or through other systems such as IVS Next in the Netherlands.

The lock passage is a complex manoeuvre requiring high concentration from the skipper for adjusting the rudder, speed, bow thrusters, etc. External challenges comprise little space (in case of some locks, poor visibility with vessel hull blocking the sight, secure attachment of a vessel to the lock, or loss of accurate positioning information due to tall walls of a lock, etc.). Increased onboard sensors, lock passage assistance systems, high accuracy positioning and solutions for securing a vessel in the lock chamber are currently investigated in various research projects and remain the preconditions for safe passage of locks and bridges, when considering (fully) autonomous and remotely controlled vessels.

Mooring, anchoring and docking manoeuvre

(Public) mooring places, waiting quays or berths in ports and at terminals represent another challenge for (fully) autonomous and remotely controlled vessels. At present, the information about berth opportunities are scattered and available through various national websites or systems (e.g. BLIS system in the Netherlands). The berth reservation systems are in their infancy. The complex overview of the berth options along the corridors, and in some countries as well the berth reservation, is expected to be offered through the EuRIS portal.

Besides provision of information about mooring/anchoring places, or planning and scheduling of the mooring/ anchoring, the docking manoeuvre in itself will remain a challenge, especially for (fully) autonomous and unmanned vessels. Similar to the situation in locks, vessels need to be secured when moored, in particular during (un-)loading. Especially for unmanned vessels this may require infrastructural adaptations in the future, e.g. magnetic or vacuum mooring technology, fender systems at the docking stations currently installed and used in (pilot) projects.

Situational awareness

Reliable external perception of vessel’s surroundings is a pre-requisite for (fully) automated and remotely-controlled vessels to perform necessary functions safely. For autonomous vessels navigating in complex environments such as on rivers, efficient detection of nearby and small vessels and other obstacles is essential to ensure safe navigation. There is a variety of obstacles like river edges, other vessels, fishermen, swimmers, people by the riverside, or infrastructure such as locks and bridges. Currently, the position of vessels is transmitted via AIS. All vessels equipped with AIS transponders and also on-shore AIS base stations can see the transmitting vessels within their range. Thus, skippers, remote vessel operators, or autonomous vessels themselves have an overview of live traffic in the vessel’s vicinity. However, AIS-based vessel detection has its shortcomings (lower standalone accuracy, not all “swimming” objects are equipped with AIS).

Various aspects of the obstacle (target/object) detection and avoidance is discussed in the report. The reliable external perception is becoming a reality thanks to the increasing development and evolution of embedded technologies, integrated sensors and machine visions.

Communication system and network & connectivity

Automation requires reliable communication facilities, digital data exchange, and a cyber-security framework in order to provide the trust needed to remove people from processes. The future communication must be digitally coded, sent automatically as well as being machine-readable. Vessels must communicate with each other and with the infrastructure. Connectivity is therefore the key to increase the efficiency of smart shipping. Nowadays, traditional vessel communication system relies on AIS to provide low data services such as position, course, heading, destination, tonnage, speed, etc. Besides AIS, radio communication (voice over VHF), takes place between vessels, and with competent authorities. The reporting is done electronically or where no obligation, the reports are submitted even on paper. The mobile communication (4G/LTE/5G) and WiFi (where available) are used to transmit data to the shore. However, regional differences in mobile or broadband coverage can make communication hard.

The report summarises the future requirements on the communication networks, taking into account the criticality of the information to be exchanged. It addresses the need for high positioning information, the new developments in the Automated Identification System communication infrastructure (VDES), reliable mobile communication network along inland waterways, or need for local communication networks at critical infrastructure locations.


Not all navigational tasks will and should be replaced at once, nor does that seem feasible at this stage. Shipping operations related to the voyage and route planning, navigation and sailing on rivers, canals and in ports with necessary communication networks and sufficient connectivity, or assistance in case of lock and movable bridge passages are already in the focus of current R&D projects, and in some cases even in commercial deployment projects.

Other operations, which would require the changes in the physical infrastructure, may take longer on the way towards (fully) autonomous inland shipping. Commercial inland vessels dock significantly often, at locks, movable bridges, for (un)loading, supplies and change of crew. Replacing these activities by on-shore ad hoc crews is an option, however, it would be an organisational and financial challenge, in particular in times when also operations of locks and movable bridges changes from the operator which is currently present at the location to remotely controlled infrastructure.

Independently on how fast or which direction the automation in the inland shipping will go, for the sector it is important to know which waterways (their sections) are (will be) ready to provide information and services essential for different levels of automation. The classification of waterway network on its readiness for automation shall support the autonomous and remotely operated vessels to operate under more predictable environment.  To prepare such classification, activities in road transport such as ISAD (Infrastructure Support for Autonomous Driving) may be taken as an example to gain insights into classification of infrastructure readiness for automation. Having elaborated such classification, the open topic remains where to embed it: standalone agreed unofficially by all European inland waterway countries, river commissions, CEMT classification or even consider to include such classification under newly assessed RIS directive, or TEN-T directive and its linked (future possible implementing/delegated) acts.


The chapter on Ports focuses on the identification of user requirements arising from the water side (vessel operators) and from the shore side (transport operators, infrastructure operators, authorities, etc.), it lists existing gaps and emphasizes potential benefits of using digital and automation tools which shall allow port communities to manage their processes and activities in the most efficient, effective and sustainable way. The methodology proposed starts from assessing the digital maturity of ports in relation to the port’s needs, giving concrete examples of several digital tools and applications from selected European ports from the Rhine and the Danube regions.

Based on the five identified digitalisation levels, it then continues with identifying digital tools targeting the different levels of digitalisation and it continues with listing requirements for integrating smart technologies into existing and planned port infrastructure. At the same time, the chapter highlights potential benefits related to the use of digital tools and applications from the infrastructure owner perspective, user perspective as well as from the authority perspective. It concludes with a recommendations table, summarizing at operational and policy levels – requirements, benefits and gaps in relation to dedicated target groups’ needs which are in correlation with findings of other respective project reports.  

Ports across Europe have different development trends behind them (related to regionalisation, multimodality, innovation, digitalisation, or optimisation of port operations), different operational and ownership models, specializing in different cargo and offering different services. For example, for most inland ports, digitalization is still a new topic, therefore they find themselves in a position where they need to follow the digitalization examples of major European sea and of ports from other regions.

For inland ports a hot topic of the present and for the next 5-10 years arises in relation to the adoption of a port community system solution. Based on the results of several projects dealing with the topic of port digitalisation (e.g. DAPhNE, Dionysus, RPIS, KIR, DIWA), it can be concluded that it is absolutely not necessary that all inland ports have a PCS as a standalone solution, since it can be foreseen that a national or a regional solution (on the SaaS basis) can fulfil all requirements within reasonable costs and at the highest service level. Teaming up enables inland ports to make use of economies of scale, as investment and running costs can be split between several users (ports), hence avoiding the situation that only one port needs to support the entire financial burden. Besides the financial aspects, another important factor reflects on aspects in relation to data sharing, data ownership and data protection & security from the point of user rights, liabilities and responsibilities. The complexity of these aspects requires strong cooperation, especially if several countries are involved (both EU and non-EU Member States).

Seaports are forerunners in the digitalisation transformation/adoption trend. In Europe, several seaports such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, Valencia, etc. have already built-up impressive experience in dealing with new technologies. In the area of seaports, the long-term vision is a network of trusted networks – global network of Smart Ports. It is expected to be an informal network of independent Smart Ports, sharing real-time information concerning the maritime supply chain and fostering the development and implementation of innovations. By joining this network of Smart Ports, seaports also benefit from optimized transport flows.

It can be concluded that an enhanced regional cooperation with an outlook to corridor integration is a viable and relevant solution for European inland ports, whereas only the integration of both inland and seaports will enable ports to become reliable partners in the European and global efficient and sustainable transport chains. 


While information and communication technologies enable automation in the shipping industry, these technologies also imply new hazards that are to be identified and new associated risks that are to be mitigated. The increased communication among vessels and between vessels and the shore brings concerns about the cybersecurity of related systems. The more interconnected inland navigation becomes, the more vulnerable it is to cyber-threats. Therefore, the design of both the infrastructure and vessels should take cybersecurity into account by applying multiple layers of mechanism, functions and barriers aiming at preventing, detecting and limiting the damage of potential security breaches.

The report gives brief insights into the typology of cyberthreats, their actors and motivations as well as various techniques used. This is followed by insights into cybersecurity aspects in inland navigation as well as potential impacts on cybersecurity breaches. The latter can be divided into impacts onboard a vessel and those on infrastructure, either physical or digital infrastructure. The damages in case of inland waterways infrastructure – caused by cyber-attacks – could result in serious damage on private and public properties, traffic disruptions, economic and environmental damages or end with casualties. Risks are greatest in case of vessel traffic planning services and IT systems, as these use an array of technologies, including radar, GNSS, and custom geodata. Next to that, information is routinely exchanged between shipping companies and with the public authorities or between private companies along a logistics chain; many of these data exchanges fall under the RIS umbrella whereas technologies used vary, e.g. AIS, web portals, etc. Many onboard systems and networks enable communication between each other, being it wheelhouse, machinery control systems; onboard sensors and instruments like AIS, GPS, ECDIS interact with each other; web-based terminals are used for reporting to authorities, etc. Once an unauthorised access to a shipboard network is obtained, attackers could well be able to interact with everything to which it is connected.

Therefore, the network components, servers, or operator stations should be configured to reduce the likelihood and consequences of cyber security breaches, with critical systems protected or even isolated from the public internet. This applies both for systems onboard of a vessel as well as any onshore system, being it remote control centre, vessel traffic centre, the infrastructure network or other. Concerning the further coordination activities on cybersecurity, the 1st international workshop on cybersecurity in inland navigation was held in Bonn in September 2019. During the workshop the inland navigation sector expressed the wish to, under the lead of CCNR, establish a coordination platform bringing the main inland navigation players together with cybersecurity experts. Besides establishment of a coordination platform, a strong need for awareness, training and information among the different waterway users were highlighted.

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