Proceedings of the

The 33rd European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2023)
3 – 8 September 2023, Southampton, UK

Adopt or Adapt? Seafaring Communities of Practices Faced with Increased Automation

Asbjørn L. Aalberg1,a, Aud M. Wahl1,b and Gunnar M. Lamvik2

1Industrial Economics and Technology Management, NTNU, Norway.

2Industrial Management, SINTEF Digital, Norway.


This study explores how we can understand seafarers' continuous development of local work practice in the face of new technology and discusses potential safety implications. Maritime transportation is undergoing rapid developments within maritime autonomous surface vessels (MASS), remote-control, and resulting in increasingly "smart ships". Maritime professionals and communities will remain crucial in the safe operation of these systems; however, the seafarers must learn new roles and work practices simultaneously with major changes in the sociotechnical systems. It is necessary to consider the impact of new technology from a social perspective, as emerging safe work practice is a collective accomplishment rooted in the context of interaction, situated in a system of ongoing practices, and adapted or adopted through participation in a community. The paper is based on a qualitative study that includes interviews with crew and participant observation on six car ferries using state-of-the-art automated systems and battery-electric propulsion. The findings show that seafarers adapt their work and learning practices through their physical and virtual community of practices. The automated technology was applied in ways that were discrepant to "imagined" and can be seen as practical drift. We discuss how these adaptations were developed and the potential safety effects, as well how we can understand seafarers' social system considering the increasing technological development in maritime transportation.

Keywords: Maritime autonomous surface vessels, Automation, Safety, Maritime, Work as imagined, Work as done, Practical drift, Community of practice.

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