Beneath the Surface Advanced Technologies in Underwater Marine Maintenance

Transporting goods via ships has, and continues to be, the most economical and sustainable mode out there, hauling over 90% of goods and services each year.

Across the world, some national economies rely almost entirely on the maritime industry for the transportation of their exports and imports. Any disruption could lead to significant financial upheaval and a lack of resources, including food, medicine and vital supplies.

Reliable and consistent supply chains are therefore essential for sustaining the smooth operation of global trade and commerce. Well-maintained vessels are also naturally safer and less likely to cause adverse environmental issues through faulty systems and hazardous chemical or fuel leaks.

To keep pace with the changing dynamics of the global market and address pressing environmental concerns, a host of new technologies are being implemented across the sector with the aim of making operations greener, cheaper and more efficient.

Within this article, we’ll be looking at the role of underwater marine services in the maritime industry and exploring how innovations in underwater marine maintenance have the potential to revolutionise the sustainability and endurance of vessel operations.

What are Underwater Marine Services?

In the maritime industry, ship maintenance is crucial to ensure the safety of crew members, prolong the longevity of vessels and preserve the smooth sailing of ships.

While certain tasks can be handled by onboard crew and on-site engineers, many maintenance and repair activities at or below the waterline require specialist training and expertise due to the potentially difficult and dangerous ocean environments.

Unlike dry-docking, where vessels must be taken out of the water for examination, services can be conducted while the vessel remains submerged to reduce downtime and minimise the disruption to regular operations.

It is quickly becoming industry standard for vessel owners to enlist a specialist underwater marine services company to undertake essential inspections, maintenance and repairs to create safe, sea-worthy vessels that are fit to travel and work on.

Underwater maintenance services include, but are not limited to:

  • Hull Cleaning & Propeller Polishing – to remove build-up of marine fouling that can interfere with vessel performance.
  • Regular Inspections – to assess the condition of vessels below the waterline to identify potential issues and areas for repair.
  • Maintenance of Navigation Equipment – to correctly install and maintain essential navigation technology (e.g. GPS units and radar systems) to ensure safe, efficient voyages.
  • Pre-Purchase Inspections and Inventories – to conduct a thorough assessment of a vessel and its equipment to provide insights and information to prospective buyers before the purchase of a vessel.

Advanced Technologies in Underwater Marine Maintenance

Regular maintenance and repairs to any ocean-going vessel are vital to increase longevity, ensure the safety of passengers and crew and, ultimately, save time and money in the long run.

While there is still more to accomplish, technology has already accelerated the pace of change and advancement in the maritime industry. As shipping technology continues to evolve, vessel owners and stakeholders must remain proactive in staying ahead of the latest advancements and integrating them into their operations.

So, what are the advanced technologies currently being used in underwater marine maintenance? How can they help to improve the industry and make sea travel and transport better, safer and more efficient?

Some of the most exciting and groundbreaking technologies in underwater marine maintenance include:

High-Resolution Imaging and Sonar Technology – Innovations in digital imaging and 3D sonar technology are positively contributing to the safety, reliability and sustainability of marine operations. Clear and detailed imaging is essential for effective underwater inspection. Through innovations in high-resolution cameras and 3D sonar, the quality of data collected during inspections has significantly improved. This enhancement enables precise mapping of underwater structures and the identification of even the smallest flaws or abnormalities. These advancements greatly benefit underwater services by allowing maintenance crews to prioritise repairs more effectively, addressing potential issues before they escalate into larger problems.

Underwater Robotics – Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) have created new opportunities for safer exploration and investigation for specialist underwater marine service practitioners. ROVs are remotely operated by human pilots on the surface with connecting cables. They are equipped with cameras, lights, sensors and robotic arms to allow operators to see and interact with the underwater environment in real-time. Their precise control and dexterity makes them suitable for delicate and complex inspection, maintenance and repair tasks.

AUVs, on the other hand, operate independently without direct human control once deployed. They are capable of covering large areas, making them ideal for long-duration missions and deep-sea exploration. AUVs are typically used for underwater mapping, surveying and data collection to assess the overall condition of underwater environments for planning maintenance activities and identifying areas of concern. 

Environmental Monitoring and Marine Conservation – Recent advancements in underwater marine services are addressing the environmental challenges associated with vessel operations by integrating monitoring and conservation efforts in marine environments. Advanced underwater drones now feature environmental sensors to measure water quality and detect pollutants, such as oil spills, chemical discharges and plastic debris. This early detection allows maintenance teams to respond promptly to potential environmental hazards, minimising the impact on marine ecosystems and reducing the need for costly cleanups.

These drones also explore and document marine biodiversity, providing researchers with accurate and real-time data to analyse biodiversity patterns and track changes over time. Maintenance activities can therefore be planned and executed in a manner that minimises disruption to critical habitats and species, ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of marine environments. These insights on water quality, biodiversity and pollution contribute to innovative solutions for protecting fragile and endangered marine ecosystems during maintenance operations.

These examples represent only a few of the recent innovations implemented in the maritime industry to enhance service for the global shipping sector and guarantee its essential continuity.

Final Thoughts

Advancements in underwater marine technology hold the potential to improve the efficiency and safety of maritime operations, leading to economic growth, environmental sustainability and increased trade. Through proper structural maintenance, vessels can become more fuel-efficient while limiting the risk of corrosion, cracks and other damaging factors that pose threats to marine life and the safety of onboard crew and passengers.

The field of marine engineering and technology is in a constant state of evolution, promising future advancements that could revolutionise the maritime industry and establish its position as a truly efficient and sustainable sector. From robotics and drones to advanced imaging techniques and ecosystem mapping, underwater marine services are already rapidly expanding and developing to meet the dynamic needs of the industry.