Beyond the Horizon: The Untapped Potential of Maritime Tech

5 min

The world's oceans serve as vital trade arteries, carrying over 80% of global commerce on a vast network of maritime highways. This statistic, a constant refrain in countless maritime reports, signifies more than just economic exchange. It represents the lifeblood of nations, the pulsing current of globalization.  With a global fleet of nearly 2 million port calls annually, staffed by 1.6 million seafarers, the maritime industry's influence is undeniable. In the United States alone, 99% of overseas trade travels by sea. Maritime is not simply a market; it's a colossal enterprise supporting over 10 million jobs in the United States alone. 

Despite its immense size and global impact, the maritime industry has remained relatively stagnant in terms of technology. The total venture capital invested in the space has been relatively small, with most backing coming from large industry incumbents. Most significant exits have largely come from private equity firms, with examples like ZeroNorth (backed by Providence Strategic Growth) and Kpler (which bootstrapped to $100m in annual recurring revenue before being funded by Insight and Five Arrows). 

While maritime technology holds immense potential, historical challenges have hindered scalability and the ability to rapidly scale a sales motion. 

  1. Localized Sales Strategies: Unlike some industries, maritime trade funnels through a limited number of key international ports. Reliance on a few key ports, like Shanghai, Singapore, Rotterdam, or Los Angeles, represents a significant opportunity but also demands a distinct sales approach. Local nuances and expectations can require dedicated salesforces in each location, adding complexity to global expansion efforts.
  1. Market Fragmentation: The industry itself is highly fragmented. Even the top 10 shipping companies control less than 20% of global capacity.  This fragmentation, combined with the disconnect and potential contracting complexity between ship owners, charterers, and the owners of the cargo being transported, creates a complex web of players.  This complexity can significantly lengthen sales cycles and complicate market penetration for new technologies.

Charting a New Course:

Despite its traditional leanings, the maritime industry finds itself at a crossroads, driven towards digital transformation by several key factors.

Availability of Data: Vast oceans of data, from Voyage Data Recorders to siloed communication channels like email, remain largely unexploited.  This data holds the key to unlocking efficiency and transparency. Companies like OrbitMI, Bearing AI, and SpotShip are leading the charge, transforming this scattered data into actionable insights. We expect that predictive models and digital twins of ships, routes, and even the entire trade ecosystem will continue to improve the industry in the coming years.

Connecting the Fleet:  Demand for maritime connectivity has skyrocketed, with Inmarsat reporting a near 70% surge in data usage on ships. This, combined with the arrival of high-speed solutions like Starlink, is revolutionizing ship operations and crew well-being. Historically, limited bandwidth necessitated specialized low-bandwidth software. Now, fleets can leverage powerful Internet of Things (IoT) and data-intensive platforms.  Increased bandwidth fuels both: sophisticated applications like computer vision and solutions that manage and optimize connectivity. Connectivity's benefits extend beyond operations. Improved internet access directly addresses the long-standing issue of crew isolation, a known contributor to seafarer mental health challenges.

Regulations as Tailwinds: The maritime industry is experiencing a rising tide of environmental regulations, exemplified by the EU's recently expanded Emissions Trading System (ETS). This system requires all large ships, not just those entering or leaving the EU, to track and pay for their greenhouse gas emissions. As these regulations tighten over time (including similar initiatives planned by the US), a focus on decarbonization becomes not just an environmental imperative but a financial one.  This shift creates a tailwind for the industry, driving demand for data management and route optimization solutions that minimize carbon emissions and maintain profitability. In essence, regulations are becoming catalysts for innovation, pushing the development of technologies that ensure a sustainable future for the maritime sector.

Uncharted Waters, Navigable Future

While challenges still exist in maritime, the regulatory and technological environment is ripe for a new generation of industry-defining maritime tech companies. Technological innovation, from data-driven decision-making, to enhanced connectivity, to maritime-focused cybersecurity, will undoubtedly be a precursor for the next decade of maritime innovation. Navigating this transformation requires more than just a technological rudder.

The future of maritime operations hinges on a rapid tech-driven transition. The future of maritime is part of a broader automated world, orchestrating ships and ports, boosting efficiency and trade. Skilled human oversight will remain vital, but AI assistants and immersive technologies will significantly amplify human capabilities. Strong industry-wide investment in technology is crucial to realizing this vision. 

The potential is undeniable: by 2025, The Economist predicts a scenario where an estimated 30.6 billion IoT units could be operational, with AI models processing a staggering 90% of vessel data. This confluence of technology and human expertise promises an exciting future for a reimagined maritime industry. At Ansa, we’re eager to meet founders building in this space. Reach out to to begin a conversation.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.