The Future of the Maritime Industry Depends on Ship Design Expertise

Written by Chris Boyd, Director General of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) (pictured right)

With Greece’s maritime history stretching back thousands of years, it seems fitting that the quote that comes to describe my experiences in naval architecture is that of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus; “Change is the only constant in life.” In fact, embracing change for the future safety and efficiency of the maritime industry was a key driver for the establishment of RINA in 1860, and for its predecessor, the Society for the Improvement of Naval Architecture in 1791. Engineers succeed by applying lessons from the past so that they become lessons about the future, aided by healthy doses of curiosity and creativity. Today, RINA’s mission is to “promote and facilitate the exchange of technical and scientific information, thereby improving ship design”, and I truly believe it is as relevant today as it is. was when the Institution was created.

Thinking back to my first job, I realize that I witnessed firsthand the effects of rapid technological change. I served on a survey ship and really enjoyed drawing sea charts and manually working the echo sets, which were busy etching on carbon paper. It felt like one day I was gathering oceanographic data for the hydrographic office, then overnight the process was automated and many aspects of my work were suddenly redundant. More changes were imminent, but at the time I wasn’t preoccupied with Moore’s Law, the digital revolution, or the advancement of autonomy as I navigated my career path. I knew my experience was adaptable to new situations; I continue to believe that there will always be a need for human intervention in the maritime industry, although this may go hand in hand with increased help from digital systems.

Now we are taking remarkable steps towards sustainability and the 2030/2050 net zero goals and assessing the impacts of autonomy and AI. As engineers, we rise to the challenges ahead, as we have in the past when developing construction materials, fuel and propulsion systems. Our challenge is exciting, perhaps daunting; but that is precisely why I decided to pursue a career in naval architecture.

So how can modern naval architects rise to the challenge and why do they need a professional body? RINA recognizes that to meet the challenges ahead, we must update our communication systems and digital tools, invest in staff, training and resources to proactively support all those working in the wide variety of sub- maritime sectors, from defense to offshore wind power and maritime transport. From yachts to STEM projects, and everything in between. Collectively, we understand the benefits of an independent knowledge center providing the benchmark for research, debate and learning. Additionally, my goal is to provide transparency, captivation, and engagement through a clear roadmap to demonstrate why an engineer should engage with the institution.

Our committees and working groups are where the Institution fosters the relationship between industry and academic partners to discuss maritime safety, innovation and environmental issues with peers and colleagues in an independent forum, open and dynamic. There is something for everyone, whether it is by participating in training or technical seminars, by presenting an article or by participating in several of our programs. The benefits of continuing professional development and maintaining one’s career path, combined with networking, serve to improve communication, stimulate collaboration, and discuss ideas that we all need to foster for our own innovation and thought leadership.

Some of the changes we see affecting our industry have been unpredictable. The Institution supports those who have struggled during the pandemic. We understand that some students and young engineers have felt isolated, needing the support of a mentor or a ‘buddy’ system, and we’ve seen members step in to help.

Finally, what are the skills and abilities of the modern naval architect? For me, the critical path remains the same. We must provide visioneering. Our inquisitive nature will drive innovation, but the speed of change is upon us. I consider myself a systems integrator, but I don’t think that’s drastically different from my work in some of the previous roles in my career. As naval architects, it is our responsibility to stay modern, up-to-date and forward-looking. The credibility of the maritime industry depends on it.