Regulations to catch up with Unmanned Surface Vessels

January 31, 2018

Whilst Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV’s) for surveying are nothing new, they are certainly gaining interest and momentum to be the next ‘thing’ for hydrographic surveying with many industry leaders looking in this direction.  These newer generation USV’s are in excess of 4m in length, can operate at speeds of 6-knots or more in a variety of sea states, can be fitted with multibeam echo sounders and are essentially vessels.  The complexity of being a vessel with no people onboard requires different safety systems, monitoring and compliance with regulations.

The technology and systems to build and operate a large USV have evolved and many products are already on the market.  What has not evolved at such pace is the regulations to accommodate these new types of vessels, however, early engagement with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) have shown that there is significant support behind the technology.  Whilst both organisations can make current regulations accommodate the use of USV’s through exemptions on a case by case basis, they are both actively engaging with industry and developing regulations to accommodate this technology.  Maritime New Zealand will hold an Autonomous Shipping Industry Forum in February 2018 and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will make it a topic of discussion at their Navigation Systems Symposium (NAV18) in May 2018. 

Whilst the USV’s will set the pace, it is encouraging to see the regulators working with industry to allow this technology to become a true operational reality.  If you feel you have something to contribute please attend one of the forums/symposium or contact Dave Field ( who can put you in contact with the right people.

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