IMG 1522 clean 111898079347
Use Case



The Dutch ferries service sector is considered an important mode of passenger transport, mainly on inland waterways and at sea. Ferries are therefore an important link between the shore and the water for commuters, schoolchildren and recreational users. Most of these ferries are built at Dutch shipyards and are operated by public operators as well as private companies. The goal is to have an inland ferry fleet by 2030 for which autonomous sailing is no longer an unknown factor; a sector for which autonomous sailing is normalised and consequently safer and more efficient in its operations.

Vision for 2030

By 2030, far-reaching autonomous sailing will have become accepted in the ferry industry, at least when applied to the smaller, inland ferry operation. This is fortunate, because the current generation of skippers (2021) will largely be retired by 2030, while the influx of new crew personnel and captains will lag behind. The Dutch labour market for skippers, sailors and other sailing personnel will be 25% smaller in 2030 than in 2021. However, automation in the ferry industry has ensured that by 2030 more and more passengers can be transported, despite employing fewer people. The investment in new software and sensors for ferries is economically viable as operational staff costs are reduced. 


Automated inland ferries without onboard crew (but with a human in the loop) use artificial intelligence and various onboard sensors for large parts of the journey, supplemented by data from waterway authorities and data from other vessels. Onboard software is capable of reading the waterway, warning or anticipating changes and resolving traffic situations. Most ships are equipped with intelligent warning systems that support shore control centres in their monitoring activities. Part of the ferry industry is able to sail at a high automation level, with supervision from a shore control centre. Fully autonomous ferries without a human in the loop are not expected in 2030. 


Requirements have been defined for shore control centres from which remote control is possible; public bodies monitor safety.  

Key Challenges

The market for inland ferries is relatively small, mainly from a financial perspective. Therefore, technical developments depend upon the market implementation of autonomous sailing systems (both ship systems and onshore) in other sectors to make technical developments worthwhile for innovative companies to pursue. 


Furthermore, the regulatory framework is more complicated than for other inland shipping applications for the transportation of goods, as the carriage of passengers brings various additional regulatory challenges, and uncrewed operation raises more questions regarding responsibility and liability for mishaps. 


As the only significant improvement in exploitation costs can be achieved by having no crew at all on these small ferries, the technical challenges of crewless operation may be the most difficult of all the analysed use cases, especially since the unattended carriage of passengers calls for additional safety measures to be in place. Safe and flawless operation is essential in building up and maintaining public acceptance and trust, and passenger trust is key to the success of highly automated ferry operation. 

Knowledge Base

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

2021 2024 2030
1Skills & Industry Acceptance
Autonomy and jobs
Skill requirements for shore control centres
Availability of IT integrators in the maritime sector
Skilled crew for shore control centre
2Liability & Insurance
Risk and liability distribution
Risk and liability contract models
Liability and passengers
3Implementation & Market Uptake
Lack of funding
Passenger confidence
Trust and accidents
Home market
Public tenders
Asset renewal in public transport
Small ferry owners
Dedicated shore control
4Waterways, Locks & Bridges
Functional requirements for infrastructure
Create support for public investments
Connectivity requirements
Digitalisation infrastructure
Unmanned mooring
Objective safety requirements
Safety requirements
Additional legislation for passenger ships
7Navigation & Guidance
Functional requirements - navigation and guidance
Journey and route planning
Situational awareness 
Collision detection and avoidance systems
8Ship Internal Systems
Functional requirements for integration of shipping systems
Limited market potential
9Communication & Security
Functional requirements for communication systems
4G/5G network reliability and safety
Safe/cyber-secure connectivity
10Remote & Shore Control
Functional requirements SCC