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Blog Buyer’s Guide to Maritime Autonomy

March 25, 2024

Are you in the market for an autonomous vessel?  

Whether you’re navigating the choice between a retrofit autonomous system or a pre-built autonomous vessel or seeking guidance on best practices for comparing functions and features, you’ve come to the right place. 

Dive into the following insights to make an informed decision for your autonomous vessel venture. 


Ready-Made USV or Autonomous System Retrofit? 


When it comes to acquiring an autonomous vessel, there are two main avenues: opting for a ready-made vessel or retrofitting an existing one with an autonomous system. 


An important factor to consider is, of course, cost. 

Choosing a ready-made vessel provides the advantage of an additional unit for your fleet. However, this is often accompanied by a higher upfront cost if purchasing. Leasing an autonomous vessel can cost from only $1000/day but expect autonomous capabilities to correspond with price. 

On the other hand, retrofitting an existing vessel with an autonomous system presents a more cost-effective option for purchasing, especially if you’re looking to leverage your current fleet.  


Time is also a crucial factor to consider.  

Investing in ready-made vessels may entail longer lead times for fulfilment, but they represent a long-term improvement in operations.  

On the other hand, autonomous systems like our SM300 can be retrofitted in just a week, provided there is a vessel already available for installation. 

If you decide to opt for an autonomous conversion, it’s important to note that not all retrofit autonomy options in the market may be compatible with your vessel.  

At Sea Machines, we bring a noteworthy advantage with over 70 completed installations worldwide, ranging from 3m RHIBs to 35m interceptors. This extensive experience ensures that we can seamlessly retrofit to your vessel, regardless of size or specifications. 



What to look for in an autonomous system 


Whether you opt for an autonomous system or a complete autonomous vessel, understanding the key functions of autonomy is essential. Here’s a breakdown of the most commonly found features and what to look for before you buy. 


Navigation and Control 


Here are some key factors to explore:  

  • User Interface: The user interface should be user-friendly, facilitating easy control and providing comprehensive information about your vessel, including heading, speed, and more. 
  • Setting Waypoints: How straightforward is the process of setting and following waypoints, ensuring efficient navigation? 
  • Sensor Integration: For both autonomous systems and vessels, can the technology seamlessly integrate with onboard sensors such as GPS, radar,  sonar, and cameras or computer vision? 

By addressing these questions, you ensure that the navigation and control functionalities align with your operational requirements. 


A Quick Note on Obstacle Avoidance 


Be sure to check if your autonomy system offers dynamic obstacle avoidance. Dynamic obstacle avoidance involves the system detecting an obstacle and plotting a course to safely navigate around it. 

 In contrast, some autonomous systems may only provide static obstacle avoidance, resulting in the vessel coming to a halt or performing circles when faced with an obstacle. 

 Our SM300 boasts dynamic obstacle avoidance and allows you to set a minimum distance from any encountered obstacle along your route. 


Safety and Reliability 


Ensuring the safety of your investment, especially if your vessel will have crew on board, is paramount.  

Look for quality assurance certification from globally recognised bodies, such as those from Bureau Veritas or Lloyd’s List, as indicators of the system’s tested reliability. 

Additionally, inquire with the salesperson about the system’s redundancies and failsafes. This information will provide valuable insights into the overall safety and reliability of the technology. 


COLREGS Compliance 


COLREGs, short for “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” are a set of rules developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to prevent collisions between vessels and to ensure the safe and efficient navigation of ships. 

Depending on your use, it may be recommended that your autonomy system/vessel of choice is COLREG compliant, or it may result in penalties including legal consequences, loss of insurance, and liability for damages. The SM300 is capable of navigating with behaviors that comply with COLREGS rules Section II, 13-17, with further rules behaviors in testing.  


Product Readiness in Autonomous Systems 


Is your autonomy truly productized and ready for deployment in any marine environment? Is it in production and available for sale? 

A productized autonomy system is market-ready, while a non-productized system has not yet standardized production and installation processes. 

While numerous maritime autonomy options exist, those that aren’t productized may require more involved installations, managing additional components, and may offer a limited scope of autonomous capabilities. 




Whether you’re familiar with autonomous tech or not, having robust support during and after installation is crucial for peace of mind as you acquaint yourself with your new addition.  

Autonomy doesn’t need to be complicated, but partnering with a company that offers strong support can expedite your transition from manned to unmanned. 

 Evaluate your autonomous provider’s responsiveness to information requests. Is their website regularly updated and does it provide you with pertinent information? These factors can be indicative of the level of support you can expect throughout your autonomous journey. 


Reviews and Testimonials 


Consider exploring testimonials from clients and companies in your industry currently using the potential system. These reviews offer valuable insights into the product’s functionality. 

Delve into details such as: 

  •  Whether their projects are recent or if they have longstanding customers. 
  • Identifying other entities that have collaborated with them. 
  • Seeking information on use cases similar to yours and understanding how the system performs in those scenarios. 
  • If the information you seek isn’t readily available, reaching out directly to inquire can provide you with a more comprehensive understanding of the system’s performance and reliability. 


Which is Right for Me? 


With hundreds of autonomous systems available, the choice is not just about selecting a system but also choosing a provider with expertise. Our autonomous systems are the product of 200+ combined years of maritime experience. We proudly declare that they are built for mariners, by mariners.  

The SM300 Autonomous Command and Control system is 13-17 COLREG compliant, certified by Bureau Veritas, and our team is ready to support you every step of the way.  

Let us handle the tech, allowing you to concentrate on functionality. 

Contact our sales team for a free online live demonstration from our test vessel in Boston to you at sales@sea-machines.com.