Six Ways Remote Helm Control Technology Improves Marine Vessel Operations

Sea Machines Blog

Sea Machines remote helm control marine technology is a core feature for both its flagship SM200 and SM300 products. Equipped with an intuitive joystick that allows an operator to remote-command manned or unmanned workboats within a 1-KM range from a nearshore location or a collaborative vessel, the use of remote helm control reduces human risk in hazardous situations. Because a remote-operated workboat in some cases requires no onboard crew, Sea Machines products can double productivity via elimination of time-consuming shift changes and stop-work periods.

Read on to learn more about primary ways Sea Machines’ remote helm control vessel technology can be used to help mariners to do their jobs more safely, faster and more productively.


Sea Machines’ Frank Marino remotely controls a Marine Spill Response skimmer from the shore in Portland, Maine. Speed increased 3x.

Remote Helm Control

This feature is particularly useful during the operations of fleeting, shifting and moving barges via tugboat. Oftentimes, visibility from a wheelhouse can be impaired during these tasks, due to high cargo loads and distance between operator and contact point. But with remote-helm operability, a mariner on board the tugboat can step outside of the wheelhouse to whatever location gives him the best visibility. From there, he can safely and confidently control the vessel and load, as well as any connected payloads or auxiliary equipment, without relying on a remote spotter. Improving the visibility of on-board crews during a variety of vessel operations is paramount to mariner safety and can help to avoid costly incidents that result from visibility challenges.

Remote Payload Control

Common aboard workboats are various types of payloads, including fire monitors, environmental sampling equipment, skimmers and more. The Sea Machines beltpack enables operators to activate such equipment from an on-shore location or from a secondary vessel, eliminating the need for a human to be in the wheelhouse for the job. For ATB operators, this safety feature is especially helpful during the precision task of mating of an ATB’s tug and barge. Using the Sea Machines beltpack, ATB operators now have the ability to engage the pins connecting the two vessels from any nearby location that offers the best visibility, reducing the risk of damage to the pins from misalignment.

Sea Machines’ Chris Spagna remotely controls a TUCO fireboat from the shore in Denmark.

Reducing the Exposure of Crews to Hazards

For workboats that operate in hazardous and dangerous environments – such as fireboats, spill-response vessels and patrol boats – adding Sea Machines remote helm control functionality enables operators to reduce or remove crew from vessels. Always operated with a human in the loop, Sea Machines remote-control vessels can be commanded safely from a mothership or on-shore location, with or without crews on board. This means oil spills can be surveyed, sampled and cleaned up with significantly reduced or eliminated risk to the health and well-being of mariners.

Faster Vessel Deployment for Responses

When an emergency call comes in, workboat operators often have to wait for crews to arrive before a response can begin. This delay often leads to deteriorating conditions on the scene, adding to the damages and cost of an incident. With remote helm controlled vessels at the ready, however, responders can deploy response vessels – such as fireboats – the moment a call comes in, without waiting on crews to arrive. Once on the scene, remote payload control allows remote operators to activate water monitors and other equipment from a safe distance to extinguish flames while they are still manageable. Every second counts in emergency situations on the water, and remote helm control vessel technologies enable vessel operators to activate response boats faster.

Force-Multiplier Effect

Those in the marine survey, dredging or nuclear detection business know how time-consuming it is to manually execute grid patterns across large bodies of water via traditionally methods. With remote-control technology added to a vessel, mariners aboard a mothership can now remotely command unmanned daughtercraft – a capability that generates a force-multiplier effect. This means fleets of smaller workboats can operate during day and nighttime hours, in conditions unsafe for human crews, and without stopping for shift-changes, all factors that ensure areas are mapped, dredged or searched more efficiently than ever.

Reducing Human Error and Fatigue

Human error and fatigue are commonly cited as common reasons for commercial vessel incidents. Remote helm control technologies give operators the chance to allow a secondary operator located on-shore or aboard a second vessel to take over navigation or tasks while on-board mariners rest. Remotely controlled cameras and other sensors ensure offsite operators have full situational awareness. These safety features are critical for time-sensitive or demanding marine missions, such as search-and-rescue operations or spill-responses.

Deploying remote operations is ideal for applications such as mothership/daughter ship arrangements, marine-spill response, firefighting, patrol and security, aquaculture and more. The SM300 or SM200 can be added to all types of workboats as a retrofit or as part of new-build specifications, typically requiring only 10 components to install. Most vessels can be outfitted with a Sea Machines system in just a couple days. Even for small fleets, the system is surprisingly accessible, thanks to an affordable price point or flexible leasing options.

Contact Sea Machines

Contact Sea Machines to learn more about how our remote helm control technology can aid your marine vessel operations.