Would You Let Your Boat Drive Itself?

In a previous blog post, “Will Tesla’s cars change the boating industry too?”, we explored the possibility of boats becoming powered by electricity. But what else is in store for the evolution of the boat?


If the car industry is pioneering innovation in transportation, the next step for boats is being driven without a human.

Computers are becoming so advanced that they’re now capable of driving cars safely through city streets. This could offer increased driving safety, more efficient traffic, and reduced energy consumption. No ones loves driving in traffic. So why not read a book, get some work done, or even catch up on some rest while travelling?

Industrial leaders like Google, Uber, Tesla, and many other car manufacturers are currently in the process of bringing autonomously driven vehicles to the market. There’s nothing stopping this kind of technology from being adapted for the boating industry. Yachts, cargo ships, fishing boats, etc. could all be driven by computers.

But is this something we want? Could self-driving systems take away from the experience of having a wooden boat wheel in your hands and open waters to explore?

The vast majority of boat usage is not spent exploring the seven seas. Boaters typically use their vehicle for short excursions meant for relaxation and solitude. A self diving boat would allow you to set a course, put your feet up, and not have anything to worry about.

And who’s to say you couldn’t turn the autonomous driving off and get back behind the wheel at anytime?

Here are some possible uses for an autonomous boat

If laying on the boat turns into a snooze, the boat can guide itself on a safe course. Your boat would never steer itself into danger.

  • Preparing a dinner at the cottage but need to pick a friend up? Send your boat over to retrieve your guest while you keep on cooking.
  • If you fall overboard, your boat could navigate over to pick you up instead of drifting away.
  • In an emergency, like a health related issue, your boat could drive back to safety and potentially contact help.
  • Go wakeboarding alone! We can certainly picture a number of ways this could go wrong but… it’s possible.

Some early prototypes for self-driving boats are already in development.

The Roboat, created by MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, is an autonomousy operated water transportation vehicle that can coordinate with a fleet of other Roboats. These machines could transport people or packages and assemble into bridges.

An early partially autonomous boat is the Morris M52. This yacht has automated many of the tasks necessary for a team of sailors to go for a cruise. It only takes one person to sail. However, the yacht is ideal for retirees with a spare $1.3 million lying around.

In Boston, several startups are beginning to tinker with fully autonomous boats. Sea Machines Robotics Inc has developed autonomous control systems that can attach to existing vessels to allow boaters to drive them remotely.

These innovations in the boating industry could be an indication that we’re getting very close to seeing fully autonomous boats gain some market share. Autonomous boats aren’t quite ready to hit the market yet, but we’re excited about the possibility of having a new way to enjoy the waters.

Andrew Trudel