Self-Docking Technology in 2020

Self-docking technology is increasing in popularity, as are many of the tech-forward boating innovations designed for the modern boater with the aim of creating the perfect “smart boat“. To make the most of this feature, it helps if you understand exactly what’s out there and how these systems work. That way you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits of easier boating life and capitalize on the best tech for your vessel.

If you think that parallel parking a car is difficult, imagine doing it in a vehicle that’s constantly bobbing on the water—if you’ve never parked a boat, it can be quite tricky. Fortunately, innovative technology is changing the way that people enjoy boating, including the invention and continued development of self-docking systems that can be pre-installed or purchased as aftermarket additions to your boat. From DockSense, the first of its kind, to Volvo Penta’s brand-new self-docking system that is designed with enough precision to park in the tightest spaces, this boat tech is changing the way boaters enjoy their time on the water.

How It Works

Self-parking systems are not all created equal, but the general concept is the same. They will typically have a joystick or push-button operation, where you activate the system and then sit back while the boat parks itself. These systems park nearly perfect every time thanks to:

  • Cameras with built-in object recognition technology for a 360-degree view of the surroundings
  • Motion sensors that identify nearby objects and can alert the system to adjust or change course
  • GPS units to assist in navigating the boat into the appropriate parking space based on coordinates or a specific location
  • Newer systems include FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) cameras that analyze real-time images and incorporate that data into the propulsion system to guarantee seamless maneuvering, even in the tightest spaces.

DockSense by Raymarine

Raymarine is a leading manufacturer in the boating industry, and they have been working on a prototype for the DockSense system, which is an automated docking assistance tool that utilizes stereoscopic cameras to dock the boat effortlessly and perfectly, no matter how tight the slip or dock might be to get into.

According to those who have tested the system, the most difficult part is learning to trust the technology and rely on it to do the job. It can be extremely difficult the first few times that you have to stand back, completely hands-off, and let DockSense system do its thing. There’s even a camera system on deck that will allow you to see what the boat sees while the parking system is doing its magic.

As is typical of premium features like this, DockSense will first make its debut on the high-end models, including multi-engine outboards and Prestige pod-drive yachts. The system is easy to use, taking advantage of heading reference systems and a modern boating GPS to ensure the most accurate parking that factors in things like wind and waves to account for movement during the self-parking process.

According to Raymarine, this system is “the first object recognition and motion-sensing assisted docking solution,” and according to industry experts, it’s already changing the way the rest of the industry is looking at self-parking technology.

Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS)

Volvo is changing the self-docking game with its Inboard Performance System, or IPS, which is also undergoing development trials and prototype stages. This auto-docking solution is controlled by an electronic vessel control system, or EVC, that will compute drive and steering requirements based on the boat’s relative position, by using the sensors located around the boat.

The sensors are designed to react in just milliseconds, guaranteeing that it will always stay on course and park safely, no matter the changing wind or water conditions. This new system from Volvo even has a pause feature, allowing you to hold the boat in place if you need to adjust or decide that you’re not quite ready to park.

There are three phases of the system, or parking process, with the Volvo Penta IPS:

Identifying the “Catch Zone”: As the boat nears a dock or berth, it recognizes the “catch zone” and then will signal to the captain that it’s ready for docking.

Getting Dock-Ready: Once the self-docking feature is activated, the boat will use GPS to move into a “docking-ready” position.

Final Dock: The final stage will be engaged, at which point the sensors and GPS will work together to automatically dock the boat safely, smoothly, and nearly-perfectly. With matching sensors on the berth, the boat never misses its mark.

Because of the need for on-dock sensors, Volvo’s primary audience right now is the high-end private market where people will be able to install these sensors on their docks. In the long term, they’re hoping to appeal to marinas and harbors who can install the systems and then offer to dock boats with the IPS self-docking integration. In the future, Volvo is even considering integrating the feature with the Easy Connect app, which could allow users to find nearby marinas with the docking technology or possibly even reserve dock space from the water.

Of course, these things are still in development, so only time will tell what comes with the innovations of the Volvo Penta IPS system. Safety is the primary focus, of course, and as with all self-parking technology, the captain will still need to remain at the helm in case there is a need for human intervention.

The Future is Automated

Since Raymarine and Volvo are already on track with developing their self-docking systems, it’s only a matter of time before newer, better versions are available. Plus, other companies will surely get on board in their own developments, and as the demand for AI on boats continues to grow, features like self-docking technology will most certainly become standard. For now, the concepts are there and the future is bright.

Written by: Valerie Mellema

Valerie Mellema is a writer, published author and avid bass angler who lives on the shores of Lake Fork in East Texas — the top bass lake in Texas and the fifth in the nation. For the past 10 years, she and her husband have enjoyed the pontoon boat lifestyle while fishing a lake that not only has bass but beautiful wildlife as well. She holds a BS in Agribusiness/Equine Business and regularly contributes articles to boats.com, YachtWorld and Boat Trader.

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