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The University of Southampton

Cleaner, safer, smarter maritime

The maritime sector has benefited from University of Southampton research into:

  • Cleaner ship design and operation methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combustion products;
  • Safer ships through better understanding of hydroelasticity in large vessels; through-life reliability of composites in rescue lifeboats; fishing vessel stability; and
  • Smarter seabed mapping through increased extent and intelligent processing of autonomous visual surveys.

Cleaner: Reducing ships’ emissions and subsequent costs

Gemmata Ship

Since 2002, our research has identified and modelled the effects of loading, wind, wave and currents on ship energy consumption. This research has benefited Shell Shipping and Maritime, one of the largest liquefied natural gas carrier operators in the world, who since 2014 has deployed the team’s optimisation measures to more than 70 in-service vessels to achieved significant fuel savings and reduction of CO2 emissions.

Our research has also benefited local industry, where CJR propulsion Ltd, a Southampton-based propeller manufacturer, adopted computational fluid dynamics design methods developed by the University of Southampton as part of a £4m investment in manufacturing facilities. This led to the launch of a rapid design and production service to deliver bespoke ISO-certified propellers in just two weeks – more than six weeks faster than the industry standard. Delivering this unique service has secured hundreds of thousands of pounds in charter revenue for CJR customers.

Safer: Guidance, regulations and operating practices

A method for modelling of wave-induced 3D bending loads developed by the University of Southampton was adopted by Lloyd’s Register, a classification society regulating more than 21 per cent of global ship construction by tonnage, to update classification rules to account for wave-induced 3D bending or ‘whipping’. This directly affected around 160 ships, and went on to the adoption of these methods by international classification societies whose rules have been applied to more than 900 new container ship builds globally.

Modelling methods for aged composite have led to a life extension programme for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) all-weather rescue lifeboat fleet. The RNLI operates more than 80 composite rescue lifeboats that were originally developed in partnership with the University of Southampton and were introduced to the RNLI fleet in 1996. The exceptional safety track record of these lifeboats and development of principled methods for their structural assessment led to a key decision by the RNLI in 2014 to inspect, and extend where needed, the life of their composite fleet by 25 years, saving around £80m.

In 2018 the Maritime and Coastguard Agency adopted a method of stability assessment developed in Southampton’s Wolfson Enterprise unit. The resultant capsize assessment policy applied to all UK vessels under 15m in length – more than 6,000 overall. From 2000 to 2018 there were an average of 3.7 fishing vessel capsize incidents per year, but as of 2020 only 1 UK-registered fishing vessel capsize was reported since the method’s introduction.

Smarter: Autonomous seabed mapping in extreme environments

Automated interpretation

Autonomous robotic mapping methods developed by the University of Southampton were applied during the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Adaptive Robotics ocean survey expedition off the coast of Oregon USA in 2018. During the expedition, multiple Autonomous Underwater Vehicles were deployed to generate the largest ever continuous 3d visual maps of the seafloor, covering more than 17.8 hectares at sub-centimetre resolution.


The technology was also used in an entry to the 2018 International Shell Ocean Discovery Xprize competition. Team Kuroshio from Japan placed second and received a $1.1m prize and an award from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The ‘BioCam’ mapping instrument developed by University of Southampton together with Sonardyne International Ltd was used to survey the Darwin Mounds UK Marine Protected Area (MPA), in partnership with the UK government’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. This led to the discovery of a whale carcass, plastic litter, and mapping of multi-hectare-scale distribution of live cold-water coral, a UNESCO-approved ‘essential ocean variable’. The BioCam survey revealed its influence on the distribution of Xenophayaphorea, a large single-cell organism recognised as a ‘vulnerable marine ecosystem’ indicator species. Understanding the distribution of these protected species over large spatial scales is critical to monitoring the MPA’s ecosystem health. In 2019, BioCam was integrated in the UK National Marine Technology Roadmap as a unique capability for UK marine science.

Key Publications

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