Assisted Docking System: Volvo Penta’s Innovative New Electronic Guidance

Volvo Penta’s ADS Breaks Down Barriers In Boating

Driving a boat is easy. Parking one is hard. In fact, docking is probably the most intimidating aspect of boating and the primary obstacle to getting into the sport and sticking with it. If only there were a way to get a helping hand with close quarters maneuvering, especially when it’s blowing stink and there’s an audience watching from the yacht club bar. Well, now there is.

Introducing Volvo Penta’s fully integrated Assisted Docking System (ADS), which debuted at this year’s Computer Electronics Show (CES) but has been a long time in the making. In 2018, I was on a 60-footer in Gothenberg, Sweden where Volvo Penta was demonstrating its fledgling system for journalists. The conditions were sporty – or maybe by Swedish standards, they were ho hum. Nevertheless, we saw a large boat with plenty of windage maneuver against a brisk wind toward a dock, stopping close enough for someone to hop off. The experience was impressive given the size of the boat combined with the wind and current. The system wasn’t quite ready for prime time although it had the makings of something spectacular that was to come. This January, it arrived.

Volvo Penta Assisted Docking

Volvo Penta Assisted Docking. Image credit: Volva Penta

How Can Assisted Docking System (ADS) Help Boaters?

To be clear, ADS won’t dock the boat for you. You can’t just pull up, press a button and grab a Mai Tai. However, ADS does act like dad standing behind you, guiding your parking efforts. As Volvo puts it, “The system gives the captain better control when docking a boat by automating his or her intentions, compensating for some dynamic variables such as wind and current, and helping the vessel stay on its intended course.”

Cars can stand still but boats move all the time with wind, current, tide, your neighbor’s wake, etc. It can be surprisingly hard to move a boat in a straight line or wiggle it into a tight spot at the fuel dock and the consequences of a bad landing can be expensive as well as embarrassing. To take the guesswork as well as the nerves out of the process, Volvo combined its IPS joystick with its Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) which uses thrust and GPS coordinates to maintain a boat’s heading and position, thereby making the boat stay put. They then integrated a software layer over their proprietary Inboard Performance Systems package (IPS drives) and combined it with a human-machine interface (HMI) at the helm. Phew, that’s a lot of acronyms.

What this all means is that the system connects the engines and pod drives with GPS-based navigation, then it mixes in a few sensors and cooks it with a lot of software processing power. The result is served up via the joystick so the captain still retains control, but all maneuvers are more integrated and smoother, even in rough conditions.

Calculating The Boats Drive Angles And Thrust

n many ways ADS is on a continuum. Volvo Penta introduced their joystick in 2006 and every incremental improvement since has moved the needle toward more autonomous vessel control. ADS consists of the joystick that controls the steering input and the DPS antenna that provides the exact position and heading. Move the joystick forward and the system follows a path straight ahead while ADS compensates for certain external forces (wind and current). The system does this by calculating drive angles and thrust, then acting on the set and drift forces pushing the boat and it continually corrects the vessel back to its intended course. It’s like having a math genius friend who provides continuous feedback based on the surrounding conditions.

Assisted Docking: A Hybrid Between Automated Docking And Manual Docking

ADS can make the boat do a number of things: move in a straight line without manual compensation, stand still, rotate around a fixed point, re-position and align, and even push directly sideways for extra fancy docking. It constantly compensates for engine input and drive output so the captain’s intentions are followed precisely. “Assisted Docking is a hybrid between automated docking and manual docking,” says Ida Sparrefors, Director of Autonomous Solutions and New Business Models at Volvo Penta. “Even though in some ways, it would have been easier to implement full automation, the beauty of this system is that it gives the captain enhanced control.”

ADS will be available in spring 2021 for installation on new boats as an upgrade option for IPS-equipped powerboats 35-120 feet and as a retrofit, which will require a software upgrade and the new DPS antenna for existing IPS-powered boats. Volvo says the upgrade will be simple and can be done via your local dealer.

ADS fine-tunes RPM and steering and that’s great news when it’s blowing a gale outs. New boaters as well as seasoned captains will benefit because although managing on the water is easy, the hard bits around the edges get tricky. With Volvo Penta’s ADS, the reasons to stay in the slip or to not consider boating at all are dwindling – and that’s a good thing.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to and, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site,