TRENDS Soon even your boat will be mooring itself

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Raymarine’s DockSense creates a virtual zone around the boat. If an object enters the “comfort zone,” the system introduces corrective steering and acceleration commands. Soon it will also come to sailboats.


Welcome to the rapidly evolving world of assisted mooring systems: from the “pioneers” (many solutions are Italian) to the near future,

in which your cruising boat will enter its place in the harbor by itself.

Ten years ago, if you had told a motorist that parking his or her car in the future would be so easy thanks to rearview cameras and sophisticated sensors, he or she would probably have laughed in your face. Instead, such devices have flooded the market, to the point that some automakers offer them as standard equipment even on “low-end” ranges.

Somewhat later than automotive, so-called “assisted docking” has also arrived in the world of boats. More and more companies are coming up with systems that can make mooring a boat, even a large one, simple and stress-free.

Even in small crew or solo. There will always be dockside professors who will squirm considering them “gimmicks” for inexperienced skippers, but if the car-boat comparison is apt (as it always has been) they will soon be accepted and widespread, even on production boats. Accomplice also is the great effort toward the “connected boat” that the entire in-vehicle electronics industry is making.

THE ROOTS.
Many of these devices have their roots in the integrated control systems that were first applied to sailboats nearly 10 years ago (and previously introduced to the powerboat world). According to Yachting World magazine, the record belongs to the Germans at Comfodrive, who in 2010 fitted the drive shaft of a Cyclades 43 with bow and stern thrusters, plus servo motors to drive the standard mechanical gearbox and throttle cables.

Soon after, it was the turn of Beneteau’s Dock and Go system, which started a series of similar solutions at other shipyards. In this case, total boat maneuverability is provided by the combination of a 360° rotating saildrive synchronized with a conventional bow thruster. To this day, this solution is present on the 45- to 55-foot Oceanis. When the system is active, rudder automatically locks during maneuvering. With a fixed joystick (usually near the wheelhouse) you can easily maneuver in tight spaces, with 90° translation to port or starboard, back and forth, and rotation in place.

With ECAB, the system devised by Astra Yacht, an advanced software interface makes it possible to overlay the camera display with a grid full of useful mooring data and info directly on the onboard multifunctionals.

ASTRA’S SENSE FOR THE MARKET
Among the pioneers of purpose-built assisted mooring systems is a small Italian company. The Friuli-based company Astra Yacht, in 2014 developed and patented ECAB, which stands for Easy Control Automatic Boat. A sophisticated system that allows it to interface with shipboard systems, assisting the crew in port docking maneuvers.

It is based on interpolated measurements from radar, camera, gps, compass, and accelerometers and can provide an exact measurement of the boat’s distances from obstacles. It can be used to generate ad hoc alarms related to the movement of specific objects or select areas to avoid during boat movement.

An advanced software interface makes it possible to overlay the camera view with a grid with distance indication (with automatic compensation for pitch and roll effects) and able to show the helmsman directly on the multifunction displays the object with the least impact, the calculation of the boat’s trajectory in real time with the impact time along the trajectory.

It also highlights obstacles by differentiating between those approaching and those receding, and there is the possibility of producing various types of alarms, which are useful for perimeter control even remotely. Astra’s work is credited with serving as a “beacon,” inspiring many big players in the electronics world who have directed their efforts toward the development of assisted mooring systems.

THE DOCKSENSE SYSTEM
This year at Boot Düsseldorf it was the turn of DockSense, the system designed and developed by Raymarine, which uses Virtual Bumper technology that identifies a “comfort zone” around the boat. If an object enters the “safe zone” range, DockSense automatically introduces corrective steering and acceleration commands to prevent damage and assist the owner in the most delicate phase of mooring. To continue with automotive comparisons, the operation is similar to adaptive cruise control, which corrects your driving when, on the highway, you unintentionally cross into another lane. DockSense uses the global positioning system (GPS) and the attitude heading reference system (AHRS) to compensate for the effects of wind and currents, ensuring that the vessel enters the dock without problems or costly collisions.

The system relies on five FLIR thermal imaging cameras that provide a 360-degree view and detect everything around the boat (including buoys and buoy markers), a central processing module, and the DockSense App that runs on Raymarine’s Axiom navigation display. Easily integrated with joysticks for control, DockSense processes the “comfort zone” around the boat as needed: you can, for example, sector the virtual contour 5 meters away from the boat’s perimeter when entering port, then reduce it to half a meter in the more delicate mooring phase, and so on. Initially designed for motor boats, DockSense is programmed to integrate best on sailboats as well.

DOCKMATE AND YACHT CONTROLLER
The Dockmate system, developed by the Belgian company PPA and recently unveiled, consists of a remote control and a receiver (black box type) that transfers commands to the engines on board. In its “Single” version, the remote control allows you to operate the inboard (forward and reverse), any bow and stern propellers, and even the windlass. The advantage is precisely the absence of a fixed joystick, which allows you to move around the boat in search of the best view: the same principle that determined the great success of the first – Italian – remote engine control system, Yacht Controller, launched back in 2002 and continually updated (the latest Dual Band Plus model, in addition to having dual band transmission and handling up to two anchors and as many maneuvering propellers, includes the ability to throttle on certain types of electronic handcuffs).

Returning to Dockmate, it is not an easily “retrofitted” system for now (for now it has been set up on the Surfari 50, singer Jimmy Buffett’s sailboat designed for solo sailing): one of the requirements for Dockmate is the presence of an electronically controlled motor. It should also be mentioned that inboard manufacturers, see Yanmar, are making such thrusters even under 40 horsepower, so this kind of assisted mooring will also be able to be applied on smaller hulls.

In Gothenburg last year, a 20-meter Azimut motorboat moored itself in the space between two VOR 65 racing boats, taking advantage of Volvo Penta’s “self-docking” system.

THE FUTURE.
What about the future of self-mooring boats? We experienced this firsthand last year in Gothenburg, Sweden, when during the Volvo Ocean Race leg a 20-meter Azimut motorboat moored itself in the space between two VOR 65 race boats, despite a strong wind.

This was made possible by Volvo Penta’s “self-docking yacht technology.” How does this solution that will debut on the market in 2020 work? The system is based on IPS (Integrate Propulsion System) propulsion characterized by a dual rotating pod for maneuvering in the harbor, a control unit, and four sensors that will be placed at the dock to locate the precise mooring area.

As the boat approaches the berth, the system alerts the boat owner that it has entered the signal capture area: once this has activated the “self-docking” function, the boat, taking advantage of the GPS (with Dynamic Positioning System technology, which automatically keeps the boat stationary at a point), positions itself in “ready to moor” mode. The owner is left with only the task of initiating the final stage at the push of a button, and the system, interpolating maneuvering propellers, on-board GPS, and dockside sensors, will automatically move the boat into the berth with pinpoint accuracy. Trust me, it is only a matter of time: soon we will see boats that moor themselves in the sailing world as well!

Ghego Saggini

FOUR SOLUTIONS FOR EASY MOORING

YACHT CONTROLLER – DUAL BAND PLUS
Yacht Controller is the famous radio remote control for maneuvering in port with a small crew, designed to be able to remotely control the electronic handcuffs of major companies in complete safety. The Dual Band Plus, in addition to having dual-band transmission to avoid interference and management of up to two anchors, includes the ability to throttle and control bow and stern propellers. www.yachtcontroller.it/official

DOCKMATE
Dockmate consists of a remote control and a receiver (black box type) that transfers commands to the engines on board. In its “Single” version, the remote control allows you to operate the inboard (forward and reverse), any bow and stern propellers, and even the windlass. www.dockmate.eu

ASTRA YACHT – ECAB
Easy Control Automatic Boat is a sophisticated system that interfaces with onboard systems, assisting the owner in mooring. It is based on interpolated measurements from radar, camera, gps, compass and accelerometers and can provide an exact measurement of the boat’s distances from obstacles. It can be used to generate ad hoc alarms related to the movement of specific objects or select areas to avoid during boat movement. www.astrayacht.com

RAYMARINE – DOCKSENSE
The system is based on GPS and FLIR thermal imaging cameras that locate a “frame” around the boat, which can be adjusted according to one’s needs. If an object enters the “safe zone” range, DockSense automatically introduces corrective steering and acceleration commands to prevent damage and assist the owner in the most delicate phase of mooring. It works with Axiom multifunction displays. www.raymarine.it

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