In recent years, international shipping has received considerable attention with regard to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While efficient ships are key, benchmarking the energy efficiency of ships is not straightforward. Technical indicators, such as the EEDI (Energy Efficiency Design Index), reflect a ship's efficiency in ideal conditions (calm sea, no wind, fully laden, design speed). In contrast, operational indicators, such as the EEOI (Energy Efficiency Operational Index), are affected by factors either completely out of the operator's control (weather conditions, etc.) or partially controllable due to market conditions (volume of cargo, speed, etc.). In its way towards decarbonization, the maritime industry needs a realistic benchmarking tool for ship energy efficiency that considers both technical and operational aspects. The automotive industry has been using driving cycles for decades to test and assess the efficiency of vehicles in terms of air pollutants, and more recently, GHG emissions. This concept does not exist in maritime transport, at least not in formal policy-making. This work investigates the possibility of applying the concept of operational cycles in the maritime industry based on experiences acquired from the automotive driving cycles. More specifically, we will: (i) present the motivations for developing operational cycles for ships, (ii) provide an overview of the methods and uses of the driving cycles in road transport, and (iii) suggest an initial procedure for developing these cycles in maritime transport, including the data needed. A literature review identifies the development and use of the driving cycles, the methodologies applied worldwide, and the benefits and limitations of the different types of driving cycles. We also identify the few applications of operational cycles in the maritime industry. The lessons learned from the automotive industry form the foundation for discussing the possibility of applying this concept in the maritime sector, considering the differences between the two industries. We identify the necessary data, and we discuss further development work along with the potential use of these cycles as a tool for enhancing policy-making and ultimately improving the design of efficient ships.