Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA)

What is Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for Maritime?

Estimated time of arrival (ETA) in the maritime industry refers to the approximate time that a vessel is expected to arrive at its destination port. It is an essential element of the shipping process, as it allows shippers, carriers, and port operators to plan and coordinate their activities, ensuring the timely delivery of goods and efficient use of resources.

The Challenge of Getting ETA Right

There are a number of factors that interfere with a ship’s ETA, many of which are beyond the control of the shipping company. There are nearly 5,000 container vessels transporting over 34 million containers every year. Transshipments, which refer to containers that are transferred from one ship to another, are often the cause of the delay. Coordinating this transfer in a crowded port can be a complex logistical challenge. 

Other types of delays include:

  • Container rollover: the container is unable to be placed on a ship and must wait until the next available ship, which may be weeks away.
  • Late departure: the vessel left the port of loading (POL) later than expected. 
  • Transshipment delay – the transshipment will occur later than scheduled.
  • Short transshipment buffer – transshipment has a high risk of not being completed as scheduled due to the transshipment window being too small.
  • No vessel allocation – no vessel has been allocated to load the container(s) at the POL or transshipment port.
  • Unfeasible journey – the expected transit times provided the carrier are too short, based on Windward data and estimations.

Top 3 Reasons ETAs in Ocean Transit are Unreliable

Due to challenges in loading and offloading containers, ETAs are often wrong. Here are some reasons that explain the difficulty in generating an accurate ETA. 

  1. No single source of truth: ETA data comes from a variety of sources. Carriers, vessel finders, tracking providers, port operators, and customs systems all provide different data points. The information is often inconsistent, and even contradictory. 
  2. Lack of standardization: the shipping industry has never been able to create standardized definitions for ETA. Some organizations define ETA as the ship’s time of arrival, but others define it as the time when it berths. These times can be days apart from one another. 
  3. Poor communication: ETA changes are rarely accompanied by explanations, forcing operators to make assumptions and guesses based on the information they receive. When these guesses are off base, the ETA may be misunderstood and incorrect. 

The Fallout from Inaccurate ETAs

When ETAs are inaccurate, it impacts delivery costs and leads to customer frustration. Operators are asked to rebook deliveries, with multiple moving parts that add to the complexity of the activity. Rebooking deliveries is an intensive, manual process, which needs to be redone repeatedly as ships miss their respective ETAs.

Delivery changes that are made on short notice may also incur an increased haulage fee. Operators and customers are frequently placed in the uncomfortable position of deciding between detention and demurrage charges, or paying a premium haulage rate.

What is the Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) 

ETD refers to the approximate time at which a ship is scheduled to depart from its origin port. It takes various operational factors into account, such as the loading and unloading of cargo, customs clearance, and other regulatory requirements.

Similar to the ETA, an accurate ETD is necessary to ensure a smooth start to the shipping process. It allows all the relevant stakeholders to coordinate their actions and finish on time, so that the ship will leave as scheduled. Some factors that can cause an inaccurate ETD include:

  • Port congestion
  • Poor weather conditions
  • Mechanical breakdowns, or equipment trouble

Any delays in the ETD can have an impact on the ETA. Communication between all parties is essential for timely delivery without disruptions in the supply chain. While ocean freight reliability has shown some improvements in the past two years, schedule reliability is still below 40% among major carriers. This has delays and significant financial losses, estimated at around $10 billion. 

Improving ETA Accuracy with Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Supply chain management, including ETAs for shipping, is increasingly being enhanced by AI solutions. The development of innovative technology is enabling shipping and port operators to do a better job of analyzing data, receive real-time updates on the status of shipments, and make more accurate decisions regarding deliveries. 

Maritime AI™ technology presents a single source of truth, increases consistency and predictability, minimizes rework, and cuts down on charges, all while improving customer satisfaction. 

The Benefits of Accurate ETAs

Having an accurate vessel ETA can maintain or improve customer satisfaction. If there are delays, the client can be alerted in advance, so they can take the necessary actions to ensure that it won’t affect their business. 

Some other benefits of an accurate ETA are:

  • Streamlines logistics planning: by knowing when the ship will arrive, shippers and carriers can plan their logistics operations, such as loading and unloading of cargo, customs clearance, and transportation to the final destination. This ensures that goods are delivered on time and reduces the risk of costly delays.
  • Optimizes port operations: port operators will be prepared with the right staff and equipment when the ship arrives. They can then allocate resources efficiently, such as berth space, cranes, and labor, to ensure smooth and timely handling of the vessel’s cargo.
  • Improves supply chain visibility: stakeholders will be updated with real-time information about the vessel’s location, speed, and direction of travel. This ensures smooth supply chain visibility, enabling shippers to track their cargo’s progress and manage inventory levels more effectively.
  • Enhances customer service: letting the client know when their goods will arrive is the key to a successful long-term relationship. It helps to build trust and loyalty, and can improve the overall customer experience.