The European Commission has recently made more policies for logistical improvement in international inland navigation. Under the umbrella of NOVIMAR (NOVel Iwt and MARitime transport concepts) project partners aim to improve economic feasibility of waterborne transportation by introducing the concept of the vessel train.

This article was originally published in SWZ|Maritime’s April 2022 inland navigation special and written by SWZ editor Martin van Dijk.

Project NOVIMAR has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 723009. The project started with 22 partners from nine countries that together want to further develop the concept of vessel platooning. The project ran from the 1st June 2017 to the 1st June 2021.

The stakeholders together possess the necessary expertise to achieve innovation and the expected breakthrough in inland waterborne transport (IWT) performance.

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Unlocking congestion

IWT is a major key-holder for unlocking congestion in seaports, at terminals, on road networks and access to urban areas, besides being a main factor in reducing CO2 emissions in transport. These advantages, however, are not fully exploited due to inefficiencies in the seaport-inland logistics chain. Think of containers and vessels that are not loaded to their full capacities resulting in a sub-optimal use of IWT capacity.

Intercontinental and intra-continental cargo (containers) designated for IWT are not yet delivered in large packages, which results in inland ships having to call at many (six to eight) terminals to collect a few containers with waiting time at and sailing time between terminals adding-up to sixty per cent of the total time spent in port.

And of course there are varying water levels limiting ship payloads due to insufficient air draught under bridges, possibly forbidden navigation during extreme high water periods and raised transport costs during low water periods. Another example can be found with volatile water levels and ever-changing river bed conditions impeding optimal river navigation and which causes time losses. And let’s not forget waiting time at bridges/locks causing additional inefficiencies in IWT operations.

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Therefore, the core NOVIMAR challenge was: where, how and with whom to intervene in the logistics system to obtain the largest possible impact at the lowest possible cost?

There were three main problems:

  • A density problem: The entire logistics system needs to be compressed, meaning higher load factors, less time in port, shorter waiting times at bridges and locks, optimal navigation on rivers.
  • A data fusion problem: Data collection, access to data sources, data perception and data analysis must be significantly improved to support a denser logistics system.
  • A plan and control problem: Effective management of cargo flows, vessels, port terminals and waterway infrastructure for a compressed logistics system depends on data and information qualities that are not sufficiently available yet.

Six main ideas

The project partners in NOVIMAR came up with six main ideas to solve the three problems mentioned above:

  • Improved load factor of containers by means of cargo reconstruction.
  • Improved port logistics by reducing waiting times at terminals and sailing time between terminals.
  • Improved river navigation by satellite, sensor and data fusion.
  • Reduced waiting time at bridges and locks by a dynamic scheduling system.
  • Innovative vessel solutions to cope with variable water levels.
  • New business models in current stakeholders’ networks.
Novimar vessel train
Comparison between a container RoRo vessel and a conventional container vessel.

Concept simulations

Delft University of Technology is moving from paper to practice by taking NOVIMAR vessel concepts that add buoyancy to inland vessels to the next level. Several concepts are currently being researched with the aim to develop solutions for the inland waterway transportation sector to deal with reoccurring low water levels.

Two designs ready for cargo handling. For a comparison of the two designs, see for several animations.

Performing these simulated runs in the laboratory, the computer simulation software, developed at MARIN within this very same H2020 innovation project, can be adequately validated.

The vessel train concept and design objectives and approach are:

  1. To reduce cost, time and risk related to the cargo unit shift between different modes.
  2. To fully utilise the NOVIMAR RoRo cargo handling concept.
  3. To design vessels able to operate as both lead vessels and follower vessels.
  4. To design vessels efficiently as stand-alone cargo ships when no vessel train is formed.

The vessel train may be used in inland navigation (CEMT class Va and III), sea-river and short-sea shipping and can also use the RoRo technology in container handling.

Design results

The research has resulted in the following ship design: a NOVIMAR Class Va inland container RoRo vessel with a regular draught. This vessel could look as portrayed below.

Vessel train Novimar
Novimar vessel train

Vessel train

One of the research routes within NOVIMAR is the “Vessel train”. In this concept, inland navigation is further developed using the technology of autonomous sailing. The first ship is the “leader” of the convoy. This ship is fully manned and transmits the necessary nautical digital signals to the following ships in the convoy. The following ships have a strongly reduced crew on board.

Novimar vessel train

NOVIMAR’s key results are:

  • A new waterborne transport system.
  • A simulation model for transport systems.
  • Transport system performance indicators for full social costbenefit analysis.
  • Input to regulatory developments for joint operations of conventional and unmanned vessels.
  • Recommendations for optimised working conditions and human reliability, and training needs.
  • Command and control technology for vessel trains.
  • Navigation aid for IWT vessels and vessel trains advising speed and track on the river.
  • New and revised concepts for RoRo cargo systems and vessels.
  • A vessel train handbook.


This article is based on information of the EU and the EICB (Expertise- en InnovatieCentrum Binnenvaart) Rotterdam.

Picture (top): In a vessel train, only the leader is fully manned.

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