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Use Case

Inland Cargo


Inland cargo shipping refers to the transport of goods on inland waterways in the Netherlands and across our borders. In 2030, inland shipping is to have reached a level of automation described as “Human-Assisted Autonomy” (stage 3 in IMO, level 4 in CCR). We expect 25% of the total Dutch fleet of inland ships to have reached this level of automation by 2030.

Vision for 2030

By 2030, highly automated sailing (smart shipping) will be normalised in inland shipping. That seems to be a necessity, because the current pool of skippers and personnel (2021) will largely retire by 2030, while the influx of new sailing personnel and skipper-entrepreneurs is lagging behind. The Dutch labour market for skippers, sailors and other sailing personnel will be 25% smaller in 2030 compared to 2021. But automation in inland shipping has ensured that more cargo can be transported in 2030, despite fewer people being employed in the inland shipping sector. The investment in new software and sensors for inland vessels is economically profitable as operational personnel costs are reduced. 


Automated inland vessels use artificial intelligence and various sensors on board for large parts of the journey, supplemented with data from waterway authorities and data from other ships. On-board software is able to read the waterway, warn the operators, anticipate changes and resolve traffic situations involving other ships. Most ships have intelligent warning systems that support the crew in sailing smoothly and safely. Part of the inland shipping fleet can sail semi-autonomously, supported by the crew on board or from a shore control centre. Fully autonomous inland vessels (stage 4, no crew on board, no crew in a shore control centre) are not expected in large numbers by 2030. 


Inland vessels are allowed to sail with fewer crew thanks to the increased automation on board. Requirements have been set for shore control centres from which remote-controlled operation is possible. The government checks whether these are set up safely. 


The social need to transport cargo flows via inland vessels to the greatest extent possible has increased in 2030, with more attention also being paid to city logistics via water as a sustainable alternative in city centres. Container shipping has increased significantly, and more small inland vessels have also been added to navigate the capillaries of the waterway network with fewer crew. Tanker transport of petroleum products has decreased slightly. 


Making the existing inland shipping fleet more sustainable has developed hand-in-hand with smart automation, which means that smart shipping is not only used on new-build vessels. Because the route and loading of inland vessels via data platforms has become more transparent, the sector can better anticipate with respect to the effects of climate change.

Key Challenges

The growing shortage of crew in inland shipping makes the large-scale implementation of automated sailing with reduced crew a matter of urgency. The sequence of developments in setting the functional requirements for ships, shore control and the interaction with ports and infrastructure, obtaining regulatory acceptance for these systems and embedding new standards in legislation, both at national and European level, will take a minimum of five years to achieve.  


This means that development work and pioneers in the market (operators, technology companies and shipyards alike) need to start their development work now, while the business urgency and market uptake is still some years in the future. As a significant number of smart and digitalised ships will need to be operational to combat the crew shortage by 2030, the development of necessary skills will need to happen partly in parallel with the technical and legislative developments. 


It will require extensive experimentation to validate such regulatory proposals, which may be proposed from the Netherlands, but will require extensive international co-operation and dialogue before being accepted for ships on international voyages. 


The limited timeline to develop and install smart shipping solutions for a large part of the inland cargo fleet by 2030 as a solution for crew shortage is a key challengeAlongside the timeline, reaching acknowledged equivalent safety levels in automated shipping is another challenge. Finally, upgrading the technical IT capacity of yards and system integrators is a further major challenge. 

Knowledge Base

Want to know more about Inland Cargo Shipping? Go to our knowledge base.

2021 2024 2030
1Skills & Industry Acceptance
Critical attitude towards smart shipping
New skills requirements for shore control centre personnel
Transition of tasks and responsibilities: monitoring instead of operating
IT and digital capabilities of the (refit/repair) shipyards
2Liability & Insurance
Innovating in risk-averse industry
Risk and liability contract models
Revised risk distribution and liability conventions
3Implementation & Market Uptake
Lack of external push-factors
Start re-fitting in 2023 to reach 25% in 2030
Market capacity to re-fit >400 inland ships per year
4Waterways, Locks & Bridges
Determine functional requirements of infrastructure
Create support for public investments
Automated mooring
Talking objects
Automated mooring systems installation
Determine function requirements for Interaction with smart ships
Automated mooring planning
Digitalization of ports
Automated mooring installation
Facilitate experiments
Objective safety requirements
Validate and certify
National and international legislation
International legislation
Manning requirements
7Navigation & Guidance
Functional system requirements
Journey and route planning
Situational awareness
Collission detection & avoidance systems
8Ship Internal Systems
Functional requirements integration of shipping systems
9Communication & Security
Functional Requirements communication systems
Developing industry data exchange standards
Ship position information systems
Ship route communication platform
10Remote & Shore Control
Determine functional requirements
Setting up Shore Control Centers