Sailing from Rotterdam to Maxau: safer and with less fuel

Published: 8 January 2019

Thanks to the CoVadem technology and pioneering inland shippers, sailing the river route from Rotterdam to Maxau will soon be more efficient. A new box on board will it possible to plan routes using water depths instead of water levels. The skipper can also look six days ahead and select the route that uses least fuel.

Until recently, inland shippers had to select the best route by using information about water levels. But to decide about the maximum cargo, the amount of fuel needed and the route to take, information about water depths on the river, now and in the future, is needed. Vessels now have a box on board that they can use to share water depths and to make fast calculations with the Delft FEWS software from Deltares to produce a map with the current water depths. Depths on the river are predicted six days ahead and they can also be displayed on a mobile app.

CoVadem is an initiative from MARIN, Deltares, Autena Marine and Bureau Telematica Binnenvaart. The initiative led in the establishment of a company, CoVadem BV, to exploit the technology further. The data remain the property of the shipowner at all times and they can only be viewed by him. The anonymised data are used by the research institutes MARIN and Deltares to understand processes better and to improve the service.

From Rotterdam to Maxau: the first route

Accompanied by the entire development team, Rolien van der Mark, an expert in the field of rivers and inland shipping, presented the results for this first route from Rotterdam to Maxau to the original participants on 20 December: ‘Large amounts of data have already been collected that are important not only for shippers but, ultimately, for river management as well. The economic and environmental benefits of more economical routing with more optimal cargoes are obvious but we can now provide a better picture of the river system, which is always difficult to predict. Instead of taking occasional measurements at specific locations, we now have information about the river bed over longer distances on a day-to-day basis. That allows us to learn more and more about how the bed develops. About the effect of the river dunes below the surface that, in turn, affect currents and water levels. That provides us with the knowledge and data that we can use to improve our models in the future. And to predict both high water and low water levels. Given the drought last year, and the associated low water levels, forecasts based on current data are very valuable indeed.’

Environmentally-friendly maintenance

The CoVadem data from inland shipping vessels allow us to see whether, and where, the river needs deepening. That allows us to deploy dredgers more effectively and in more environmentally-friendly ways. In addition, we can probably also use data more effectively for sediment management in harbour basins, although this will involve upgrading the data with additional information. Rolien van der Mark: ‘That is because tides and salt levels play a role closer to the coast. These factors need to be taken into account more when we work up the data into reliable information. We will be investigating this area further with the Port of Rotterdam Authority.’

Future developments

When Rolien van der Mark looks to the future, she sees more applications than a smart route planner for inland shipping. ‘CoVadem can improve our river models and, in turn, dynamic and integrated river management. In any case, there are plenty of reasons for us, as a research institute, to maintain our involvement with CoVadem.’ Rijkswaterstaat has now decided to fit out 22 patrol vessels with the CoVadem box. And the same will be done with five vessels of the Port of Rotterdam Authority. The CoVadem BV company is looking for more shippers who would like to participate. More details can be found on their website.