Starting in 2017 from the 1st of June, 22 partners from 9 countries will elaborate on the concept of vessel platooning. Under the umbrella of NOVIMAR (NOVel Iwt and MARitime transport concepts) project partners will aim to improve economic feasibility of waterborne transportation by introducing the concept of the Vessel Train.

Overcoming barriers between transport modes as they exist today will increase the economic viability of waterborne transport. The ever increasing size of vessels, driven by economies of scale, makes it hard for waterborne transport chains to reach into Europe’s smaller waterways network and into some of the most populated urban areas. At the same time, there is a steady decline in the total amount of smaller vessels due to relatively high operational costs. The initiators of NOVIMAR believes these challenges can be solved by introducing the concept of the Vessel Train.

Logistic flexibility

The Vessel Train transport concept basically consists of one crewed “Leader Vessel”. This Leader Vessel will be followed by a number of lowly manned or unmanned Follower Vessel from different class sizes. The Follower Vessels keep their own manoeuvring capabilities, but will mostly be led by the crewed Leader Vessel. This enables individual vessels to sail with less personnel, if any at all. The reduction of labour costs by sailing unmanned or lowly manned will strengthen the over-all competitiveness of the sector and, more specifically, improve the economic potential for smaller vessels. In addition the concept of platooning incorporates the idea of short sea and inland waterways chain integration, through the development of innovative concepts for vessels and cargo handling, adding even further to the foreseen logistical flexibility.

The vessels within the train will be mutually interlinked by a digital connection. Individual vessels will be able to join and leave the Vessel Train at places adjacent to their points of origin and destination at seaside or inland. Partners of the NOVIMAR consortium will develop appropriate tools for smart navigation and command and control necessary to ensure safe operations. On the other hand skills set of employees must be in line with the new requirements. NOVIMAR will take these employment challenges also into account.

Ten Years

NOVIMAR is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon2020 programme for a four year period. For the platooning concept to succeed in the long term, regulatory affairs as well as economic feasibility are equally important to technological capabilities and will need to be addressed simultaneously. Market development is at the core of the project. A profound cost-benefit analysis based on real life case studies will be an important part. Subsequently the projectteam will come up with a set of recommendations with regards to regulatory affairs.

So far the NOVIMAR consortium has received wide endorsement from professional European associations concerned with logistics and labour. They will share their valuable insights in the critical components of the concept. This stakeholder alignment is key to success. The approach will help to make the Vessel Train sailing concept mature enough to reach the point of shaping a new transport reality in ten years.