Drone Flight Services for Maritime Asset Management

May 11, 2021

Hard to Reach Places that Receive the Most Value from Drone Solutions – Rese Cleaver

Maritime organizations using drones as part of the operations arsenal will gain: 

  • Reduced hazard exposure 
  • Increased capacity to perform 
  • Improved quality and output
  • Cost savings in maintenance and operations

Recently, I was on a Navy replenishment vessel, and the procedures to conduct the inspection were complex and labor-intensive. Many of the tasks were explained as dull, to be honest. As an operational innovator, you can imagine my desire to scratch the itch of transformation. I can also testify it was dirty, dangerous, and quite a bit of it was dark.

Areas positioned to receive the most value from drones in operations include:

  • Exterior non-destructive inspections 
  • Cargo and ballast tank close-up surveys 
  • Asset acquisitions 
  • Repair and development 
  • Inventory tracking across large geographical areas


Monitoring, inventorying, surveying-these activities do not engage the human spirit. Moreover, they account for the highest accounts of human error. While tedious, these data collection tasks are critical to organizational success in the current and future economy. The excellent news is tasked in this group and is ripe for automation and technology infusion.

Expanding on that thought, some opportunities to transform the dull in maritime operations via drone operations include:

  • Acquisitions: Rich, high-resolution imagery goes a long way in fueling a successful investment.  This is the case for a potential buyer and the hierarchy of load officers reviewing the loan for approval.  These purchases are high-dollar, and loan officers and banking leadership need assurances.  The ability to view, zoom in, and access the asset’s portfolio of high-resolution, data-enriched photos and models assist in these assurances.
  • Monitoring: In the case of business-as-usual operations, the recent McKinsey publication identified “using satellite or drone pictures to monitor moves along the value chain” as a performance enhancement mechanism to position those in the bulk and tanker shipping sectors for success soon.  An operating model that enables rapid, accurate data capture —such as the brilliant use case McKinsey presented using drones to keep an inventory of maintenance machines entering or operating at a given site — enables agility and improved tactical decision-making outcomes. 
  • Development and Repair: Capturing build or repair progress incrementally at a regular cadence is another powerful stakeholder tool and project management in general. It can be cumbersome to stop and take pictures to communicate and explain progress.  However, the tangible, visual tool goes a long way to demonstrate transformation.

On land or sea, capturing footage of a vessel or offshore structure can be challenging through traditional means, for sure. Access challenges are overcome through drones with their 3-D ability to operate; however, it should not be understated that their ability to capture a holistic snapshot of the structure’s condition exceeds any traditional means of capture.


The CDC reports that the maritime industry touts a fatality rate 4.7 times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. Most dangers to this workforce are present on the water and at shipyards or marine terminals. But, fear not!

Opportunities exist to reduce hazards in these environments. At the forefront are inspection and surveying. These operations involve many challenges, including confined spaces, operating at heights, chemicals, and poor ventilation. By and large, access and navigation of surface area are the frontrunner procedures that introduce these numerous hazards.

Traditional methods of interior and exterior survey and inspection can involve scaffolding or controversial rope-based approaches. However, interior surveys have a third approach — rafting. The process uses a manned raft to navigate the tanks. The surveyor is equipped with a flashlight in one hand and a cell phone or camera device. Industry standards require the surveyor to be within arm’s reach of the surface during the close-up visual surveys.

Other industries have increased the use of remote inspection technology (RIT) with demonstrative outcomes. Moreover, assessment quality and volume have grown as a result.  With the ability to safely survey from a secure and (dare I say comfortable) workstation, surveyors can cover more in less time – increasing output. Additional perks using drones and visual inspection software are the high-resolution visuals available to review repeatedly, at will.  Over time, these surveys create snapshots of the asset’s condition through time. Considering that survey quality traditionally is improved when the surveyor has historical knowledge of the maritime structure, the ability to access this history as a seasoned or new professional is undoubtedly a game-changer. Also — did I mention a drone can fly a tank much faster than humans can? 

UAVs Fulfilling Their Destiny

From the early discussions of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — or drones— as integrated components in operations, the “dull, dirty, and dangerous” were deemed the focal opportunity points. As far back as 1997, an article published by Flight Global projected, “[sic] Dull, dirty and dangerous roles are likely to be the forté of UAVs…” 1997! This has started to come to fruition in some sectors, but there is still work to be done.  

Today, the maritime industry is positioned for the most transformative gains from unmanned technologies due to the addressable areas described above regarding the dull and dangerous. 

We know players like the forward-thinking NavSea are already working towards developing reliable and scalable solutions to use drones in these operations. They’ve entered into Phase II of the SBIR working towards this, moving forward in the next contractual phase with Simple Technology Solutions (STS), partnered with DroneUp® in the solution. The team is refining and scaling an intelligent non-destructive inspection (NDI) technology, which uses drones with high-end resolution cameras to detect anomalies that may need repair or be tracked as a point of interest in future visual surveys.  

How can a maritime organization get started on unmanned operations? 

The best approach is to partner with an industry leader in drone solutions to implement multi-domain knowledge and the experience to execute. It is crucial to understand that compliance, safety, and execution of drones in maintenance and inspections can vary immensely from operation to operation. Some require specialized drones and training.  A drone services provider typically has a portfolio of expertise and talent available to deploy, with minimal risk. Most providers do not require long-term contracts and manage on a job-to-job basis. 

Learn more about DroneUp’s Projects here, or for more information about our flight services and products contact us here.