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Executive strategies for change management in maritime optimisation

Type the words “psychology of behaviour change voyage optimisation shipping” into Google Scholar and 19,200 results come up. At first glance this seems pretty impressive, but scroll through the first few pages of results, and it soon becomes evident there is little research into this important topic. This is surprising, given that the human element is a key aspect of ensuring a vessel takes the optimal route from A to B.

As discussed in our recent white paper on voyage optimisation, the term "human element" can mean a variety of different things and is often used as a synonym for ‘human factors’, ‘human resources’ or even "human error" (Barnett and Claire H. Pekcan, 2017). The most commonly used definition of human element in shipping is probably the one used by IMO (2003) which states:

“The human element is a complex multi-dimensional issue that affects maritime safety, security and marine environmental protection. It involves the entire spectrum of human activities performed by ships’ crews, shore-based management, regulatory bodies, recognised organisations, shipyards, legislators and other relevant parties, all of whom need to co-operate to address human element issues effectively.”

This collaboration represents one of the greatest barriers to adopting new methodologies and technologies in voyage optimisation. It’s not collaboration between stakeholders that needs addressing, there also needs to be a good working relationship between the shipping industry and software providers. The technical language and jargon used by software providers may not always translate well into the operational language of the shipping industry. Bridging this gap is essential for successful collaboration and implementation.

However, the maritime industry can be resistant to change, due to deep-rooted traditions and operational methods where the mindset of "we know it all" or "I can use my experience" often prevails. Therefore, the introduction of new technologies requires not just the understanding and adoption of new tools, but a significant change in behaviour and attitudes. This is where the psychology of behaviour change comes to the fore.


What is the psychology of behaviour change?

The psychology of behaviour change is a complex field that seeks to understand why people act in certain ways - or are resistant to certain behaviours. At the core of this field is the concept of motivation, which is the driving force behind behaviour change. In order for someone to change their behaviour, they must be motivated to do so.

Motivation can come from a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic sources, including personal values, social pressure and incentives. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, while extrinsic motivation arises from external factors. When you are intrinsically motivated, you engage in an activity because you enjoy it and get personal satisfaction from doing it. When you are extrinsically motivated, you do something in order to gain an external reward - or avoid certain consequences.

One popular model for intrinsic motivation is the self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985). Self-determination theory (SDT) centres on the ‘why’ of behaviour,  and states that we are driven by innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. This psychological framework can significantly influence behaviour change in the shipping industry, particularly in the realm of voyage optimisation.

Autonomy: Technology such as AI and machine learning should always be used as a supplement and not a substitute to the human mind. Incorporating voyage optimisation methods that empower operators and masters with additional, vital information when route planning - rather than making choices for them - fosters a sense of autonomy, which will enhance motivation. Many studies have found that when people are more autonomously motivated, they are more likely to achieve goals set for them.

Competence: People need to feel a sense of effectiveness and mastery in their work in order to feel motivated. Therefore, when introducing advanced tools it’s important to offer the right training to ensure shipping professionals feel they have the necessary skills for success. Furthermore, voyage optimisation software needs to offer an easy-to-use interface that makes it simple for crew and onshore teams to incorporate data into their operations.

Relatedness: Effective collaboration among all stakeholders is paramount for the success of voyage optimisation. Creating a sense of shared purpose will enhance motivation, improve communication and boost operational efficiency.


As discussed above, collaboration is one of the biggest challenges in shipping, with legacy systems and traditional mindsets creating resistance to modern voyage optimisation methods. However, it's not just stakeholders failing to recognise the benefits of new technologies, it’s also about balancing the perspectives of all parties involved. Different entities within the maritime ecosystem may have conflicting priorities, making it challenging to align goals. Additionally, concerns about data privacy and a reluctance to share sensitive information hinder open collaboration.

To overcome these barriers, software providers need to build trust, establish common standards, and foster a culture of transparency.


How ZeroNorth can help

ZeroNorth's Voyage Optimisation solution uses advanced algorithms and machine learning to generate data-driven, highly personalised recommendations on the optimal route, based on weather, regulations, High Risk Areas, speed, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and more. Operators can then compare these routes and decide on the most suitable, depending on their specific goals for voyage, vessel, bunker and emissions optimisation.

Customers have a full view of their entire fleet in their current locations, as well as a linked dashboard with information such as destination, optimisation status and alerts, giving them full transparency and actionable insights. This transparency ensures​​ trust between all parties, while lowering manual work both onboard and ashore.

Key features

✓ Comprehensive real-time weather route optimisation

✓ Ability to compare multiple route suggestions, including import of master’s route

✓ Customised vessel safety parameters & validation

✓ Sophisticated fuel models

✓ Easy-to-use interface

✓ Weather service open 24/7/365

✓ Support from master mariners and meteorologist professionals


By recognising different customer and vessel needs, improving transparency and data gathering, and enabling collaboration, ZeroNorth aligns with the principles of SDT and offers a comprehensive framework for understanding and promoting motivation across all stakeholders.