Remote surveys are here to stay

I came across a Reuters article this week that was very negative about the rise in the use of remote surveys taking place via live streaming, a necessary trend thanks to movement restrictions brought about the coronavirus. Increasingly ship’s captains and other crewmembers are walking around a vessel with a phone camera switched on to show specific areas for checks, drawing on previous inspection reports that have highlighted issues.

“The effectiveness of virtual inspections only buys time, especially as many vessels in the global fleet are ageing. Remote surveys can also take longer and require weeks of work to process versus a few days for an on-site inspection,” the article suggested, a point of view I do not agree with at all.

As with so many parts of shipping, the coronavirus has sped up digital ways of doing surveys and it will, I imagine, continue to be an important way of auditing a vessel even when the pandemic recedes.

This virus episode has forced the experiment of working remotely on most of us and many shipmanagers tell me they have been testing and using remote auditing and focused inspections with the technology working. Moreover, the time saving in not having to travel is enormous and in an office more experts can look at the footage than just one, often biased, subjective and self-interested hired-hand surveyor.

Class executives are increasingly saying that the way they go about their business has now changed forever in the space of just a few months. Remote auditing, perhaps not to completely replace physical auditing/surveying/inspecting, is here to stay and it will enormously complement the monitoring presence onboard.

Contacts within shipmanagement companies confide they’re regularly tearing their hair out because of deficiencies found during inspections, audits and vettings that are totally due to the hired-in surveyor trying to show how clever and thorough he or she is to impress those who hired him or her and how difficult it is to get such records turned back – “It is in the system now, we cannot remove it anymore.”

Remote surveying with actual footage available like the bodycam footage police are using now to prove what actually happened is a fantastic opportunity for shipping.

It will, of course, dim the cosy little power play of local, independent surveyors and vetting departments who have to justify their own existence, but the advantages that this technology brings for a real-time expert assessment are just something we never would have bought into if this virus had not forced us to work from home.

Now can we please embrace new technology in our industry and not try to revert to how things were while moaning endlessly about how competent people onboard and in the shipping office used to be in the good old days?

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Realizing that not all marine surveyors are as competent as desired, same as in many other sectors, and an inspection can be a frustrating experience for the crew it is a bit of a short cut to call all marine surveyors “biased, subjective and self-interested” “trying to show how clever and thorough he or she is” and conducting “cozy little power play ….to justify their own existence”
    Marine surveyors and inspections do serve a purpose. A different pair of eyes and added experience may contribute to the safety and operation of the vessel. For example, P&I or flag state inspections do reduce the number of cargo claims or PSC detentions. Testing of fire and safety equipment during inspection does contribute to safety.
    Understand me well, I am not against innovation and technological developments, but a bit more objectivity could have served this article.
    And yes, I am a marine surveyor

  2. So does this mean or perhaps will lead to everyone with a phone and wifi/cell connection will now take photos of something that could be interpreted as wrong and send it anonymously to a regulatory body? what havok could that create? how would you stop it or would it be even encouraged?

  3. Another opportunity for non seafarers to interfere and teach us how ships should be and run. As it is this industry is heading in the wrong direction with people with little or no experience of being at sea , trying to frame regulations with very little practical aspect. A part of the blame lies with some seafarers who too are party to such ideas for money, now that they have stopped sailing.
    Please, let seafarers run ships and thank you for your concern, but we can do a better job ourselves. And yes, by making this digital , more eyes, more scrutiny, more pressure on people onboard and if one thinks that its going to make ships better… please sail for a few years at the management level and you will have your answer.
    Disclaimer : Personal opinion without prejudice.

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