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Blog Combining Small Unmanned Surface Vehicles (sUSV) and Tethered Drones

June 24, 2024

With the advent of unmanned technologies, maritime operations are poised to upgrade beyond the limitations of human capabilities.

sUSVs and aerial vehicles each offer unique advantages, but together, they unlock a range of possibilities greater than the sum of their parts.

In this blog, Hoverfly joins Sea Machines Robotics, Inc. to explore the applications and benefits of combining these unmanned platforms.


Key Requirements for Integrating sUSVs with Tethered Drones


To effectively utilize a sUSV with a tethered drone (also called Tethered Unmanned Aircraft System or TeUAS), consider the following requirements:


  • Cargo/transportation storage space for the UAS: Ample space for connection

and operation of Tethered UAS:

    •  Tether Kit: 17.5″ x 17.5″ x 15″ (LxWxH)
    • Craft: 30-50″ x 30-50″ x 10-14″ H
  •  Power Connection: Power converter from vessel or generator power.
  • Connectivity: Ensure robust communication links for remote command of both the vessel and the TeUAS platform. This may be in direct Line of Sight (LOS) or Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) over wireless IP radio, 4G cellular or SATCOMgfg.


Depending on your specific use case, the requirements for your autonomous system may vary, so it is best to consult your provider.


If you are looking to outfit an existing vessel with autonomy, we recommend our guide here: Buyer’s Guide to Maritime Autonomy. 


Why Choose Tethered Drones?


Increased Endurance


Unlike free-flying drones, tethered drones are not limited by power constraints and can therefore remain airborne for hours, providing continuous surveillance and

reconnaissance without the need for frequent battery changes.


Extended Communication


At heights of up to 200 feet, tethered UAS exponentially increases communication range beyond line-of-sight. The secure tether ensures encrypted, reliable data transmission between the drone and ground station, safeguarding critical information from interception or tampering.


Rapid Deployment


Tethered UAS can be launched and operational within minutes – stationary or on-the-move – providing immediate situational awareness and actionable intelligence to support mission success.


Adaptable Payloads


Tethered drones are a versatile platform that can accommodate a wide range of payloads, allowing customization to fit your requirements ranging from high-resolution reconnaissance, thermal imaging, electronic warfare capabilities, and more.


Applications of Combined Technology


Combining the extended range of visibility from drones with the flexibility of unmanned vessels enables a wide array of use cases.


ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)


Utilizing sUSVs and TeUAS for wide-area surveillance enhances the line of sight from both the water’s surface and aerial perspectives.


These systems provide persistent surveillance capabilities, which are crucial for a variety of MDA applications to include detection of illicit drug and migrant trafficking, monitor/report on illegal fishing, as well as monitoring and reporting on suspicious vessel activity.. The combination of these technologies allows for comprehensive monitoring and increased situational awareness in maritime security operations.


Infrastructure Inspection


The integration of sUSVs and TeUAS is highly effective for inspecting offshore installations, bridges, and harbors.


These systems can perform detailed examinations of structural integrity and safety, ensuring that infrastructure remains secure and operational. By leveraging the capabilities of both platforms, inspections can be conducted more efficiently,with greater accuracy, and reduces risk to human operators.

For a more detailed read of the role of USVs in offshore operations, read our blog here: (LINK TO OFFSHORE BLOG).


Environmental Monitoring


Unmanned systems are invaluable for environmental monitoring, enabling data collection from both air and water.

These technologies can monitor water bodies, identify pollution sources, track changes in water conditions and measure pollutant levels.


Additionally, they are useful for marine wildlife monitoring, protecting against poaching, covering larger areas, and providing precise GPS tracking of marine animal movements. This technology can also be utilized as tool protect marine mammals from wind farm construction by providing detection and notification of marine mammals, such as right whales to commercial and recreational vessels.


Search and Rescue Operations


In search and rescue operations, the combination of sUSVs and TeUAS allows for efficient search patterns and improved coordination.


These systems enable immediate response capabilities, enhancing the effectiveness of rescue missions and reducing response times.


Utilization of autonomy and TeUAS allows operators-on-the-loop to determine ideal search plans into the vessels’ operating and execute it with 100% accuracy, removing the human error factor from search and rescue operations. When used in tandem with humans aboard the vessel, it would allow the entire crew to be focused on looking for the search object, rather than on navigating the craft.


The ability to deploy both aerial and water-based assets ensures comprehensive coverage and increased chances of success in locating and assisting individuals in distress.


Operational Benefits


Cost Efficiency


Reduced operational expenses and savings on manpower and fuel costs make unmanned systems a cost-effective solution for maritime operations.


Enhanced Safety


Utilizing sUSV with TeUAS instead of manned vessels decreases the likelihood of human error that could stem long duration underway periods or operating in dangerous/hazardous areas. This not only decreases the risk to operator and vessel but increases the operational effectiveness of the mission. Minimizing human presence in hazardous areas and reducing risks and accidents enhances the safety of maritime operations.


Operational Efficiency


Unmanned systems offer 24/7 operation capability, leading to quicker response times and shorter delivery of information as well as an increase in overall efficiency.


sUSVs can operate continuously for longer durations compared to traditional human shifts. Similarly, the tethered drone can remain airborne for extended periods without concerns about battery life, thanks to the continuous power supply from the vessel.


Unlocking the Potential: Embracing Combined Unmanned Technologies


The combination of unmanned vessels and drones offers numerous benefits across various applications.


For instance, Sea Machines’ SELKIE sUSV and Hoverfly tethered drones provide a versatile and powerful solution for modern maritime operations.


With SELKIE’s integrated cargo space and remote command hatch, and Hoverfly’s advanced UAS technology, we offer a powerful combination that enhances operational efficiency, safety, and data collection capabilities for your maritime missions


Reach out to us at sales@sea-machines.com or at info@hoverflytech.com for more information.