Hybrid-Powered Cargo Boat Receives Autonomous Navigation System

sea machines
Image courtesy Harbor Harvest

Published Oct 26, 2020 5:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

An unusual hybrid-powered cargo catamaran will soon become one of the very few commercial vessels fitted with a fully-functioning autonomous navigation system. 

The 2019-built Captain Ben Moore is a 63-foot, battery-hybrid catamaran built for carrying local produce across Long Island Sound. The $2.8 million, six-deadweight-tonne boat delivers high-value goods from farmers and producers on Long Island to Fairfield County, Connecticut. Every voyage across Long Island Sound eliminates several nine-hour truck trips along the length of Long Island and the Connecticut shore. The vessel can recharge at either end of the voyage to minimize the use of her diesel engines.

In addition to its hybrid-powered design, the Ben Moore will soon be fitted with a Sea Machines SM300 autonomous navigation suite. According to Sea Machines, its capabilities will offer "redundancy and flexibility for crew shifts, with the capability to autonomously command Captain Ben Moore from the company’s land-based control station." In everyday manned operation, it gives the operator advanced tools for remote monitoring, obstacle detection and collision avoidance.

“Part of our transportation goals are to develop autonomous, hybrid catamarans to move farm products across Long Island Sound. The Sea Machines SM300 autonomous navigation system will help us achieve many of our goals because it enables shipping movements to be completed very reliably and efficiently,” said Bob Kunkel, the president of First Harvest Navigation. “Shifting cargo from streets and highways also alleviates the growing congestion, lower emissions and reestablishes our waterways as a viable and cost-efficient alternative to land-based transport.”

The regulatory status of commercial unmanned vessels is currently in flux, and the U.S. Coast Guard has launched a review process to determine how best to permit the deployment of unmanned technology in American waters. The agency recently acquired its own Sea Machines-equipped autonomous boat in order to gain familiarity with the technology for use in its own mission set.