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Smart Shipping (English version)

De Vlaamse Waterweg nv manages and develops its waterways as a powerful network that contributes to the economy, prosperity and liveability of Flanders. A well-functioning economy needs a well-functioning mobility network. Inland navigation can play an important role in this.

Smart Shipping

De Vlaamse Waterweg nv believes that innovations related to automation and digitization can help the sector evolve and therefore started the Smart Shipping program. The aim of this program is to ensure that as many positive aspects of automation and digitization as possible benefit the inland navigation sector. The program focusses on three pillars.

  1. Smart vessels: ships, which have automated systems on board and use external data to optimize key functions of the vessel such as navigation, fuel consumption management, real-time planning, etc.
  2. Smart traffic management: The management of the waterways takes account of current external data from ships, infrastructure and third parties.
  3. Smart communication: The interaction between ships and third (government) parties has evolved into a smart, smooth and flexible process in which all communication between the government and the users of the waterway has been digitized and follows internationally standardized procedures.

Rules and regulations

Today there is little room for innovation in legislation and regulations. In order to ensure that smart shipping - and by extension all future innovations - can be tested and developed smoothly and safely in Flanders, de Vlaamse Waterweg nv is working on a legal framework with more room for innovation.

A first result was the adaptation of the legal framework in order to enable testing all kinds of Smart Shipping technology. This result was achieved in June 2019 and this is something unique in Europe. With this achievement De Vlaamse Waterweg nv has exceeded her ambition to create a legal framework for Smart Shipping by 2020. 

The next step is creating a stable legal framework that supports the commercial use of innovations. This is an international matter. De Flemish legislation for inland waterways is based on international legislation. De Vlaamse Waterweg nv wants to share her knowledge on Smart Shipping with international organisations to support the research on the impact of Smart Shipping on the international rules and regulations. Therefore de Vlaamse Waterweg nv started a scoping exercise inside the CCNR and the UNECE.

Test area 

De Vlaamse Waterweg nv wants to support organizations as much as possible to test their new technologies in relation to Smart Shipping in the existing legislative framework. That is why on 18 May 2018 de Vlaamse Waterweg nv opened its test area for autonomous vessels. This Flemish test area covers our entire network. Tests can only be carried out with the permission of de Vlaamse Waterweg nv.  

How does it work?

An organization that wants to carry out a test contacts the single point of contact (SPOC). Contact details can be found at the end of this page. The SPOC will send you the application forms. De Vlaamse Waterweg nv  assesses the application in 6 weeks time.

If the application is approved, the applicant will be contacted for an interview in which all practical matters will be discussed and then recorded in an agreement.

The tests are carried out according to the code of conduct and the agreement.

During testing, the testing organization will complete a report on their test. This report describes

a) the test activities, including date, position and time.
b) the problems that the tester has encountered and how they have been solved.

The report is signed and delivered to the SPOC for validation within two weeks after the end of the test.


For questions and comments, the Single Point of Contact is happy to help you:
Ann-Sofie Pauwelyn
RIS Projectmanager – Smart Shipping 

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