Modern Tech for the Modern Mariner
Sea Machines is well-known as a leading developer of autonomous-command technology for commercial vessels and workboats. Its flagship SM300 autonomy product allows marine operators to create a completely new way of operating, taking command of vessels remotely, from shore or from a second vessel, and enabling autonomous vessel behaviors, such as transit autonomy and collision avoidance.
What you may not know, is that Sea Machines offers a sister product, the SM200, that delivers many advanced operational capabilities without utilizing autonomy. This sister system is a modern line-of-sight, wireless remote-helm control technology. While it is baked into the SM300 as a feature, it is also available as a stand-alone product for installation aboard existing or new-build workboats and vessels.
The primary advantages of the SM200 wireless remote-helm system include increased operational flexibility, meaning a mariner can step outside of the wheelhouse to conduct work; reduced operational risk because mariners can conduct work from whatever location offers the best vantage point and safety; and improved productivity due to the product’s ability to lengthen operational periods. The SM200 has also been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) for use aboard a US-flag fleet of articulated tug-barge (ATB) tugboats.
But why would a commercial crew need to conduct operations from a second location outside of the wheelhouse? Sea Machines developed the SM200 to solve common challenges from the field and create operational advantages, as outlined below.
1. Improved visibility
Vessels conduct a wide variety of work on the water, from commercial towing operations to marine firefighting, aquaculture and offshore support. Oftentimes, by the very nature of the cargo they manage or the shape and size of the vessel itself, visibility is inhibited from the wheelhouse. Some operators rely on fellow crewmates to step outside and serve as a second set of eyes during critical operations that the captain cannot physically see while navigating the vessel. This relay communication system leaves room for human errors and operational incidents. An installed wireless helm system, however, mitigates these risks by allowing the captain to step away from the fixed controls to conduct operations from a higher location, the bow wings or even the shoreline – any location within 1km of the vessel. This capability also extends to on board payloads. The SM200 enables remote control of steering, propulsion and all onboard payloads, including cranes, davits, winches, anchors, sensors and more. Operators maintain full control of the wheelhouse, from the location that best serves them.
Pushboats: Responsible for physically pushing a series of laden barges down often tight and winding waterways, pushboat operators are faced with considerable challenges in delivering cargo safely. With the wheelhouse being located a great distance from the front of the barge train, auxiliary thrusters are often used for greater control at the forward barge. In lieu of manning these forward thrusters, the SM200 offers a wireless solution to control thrusters at the front of the barge train from the main wheelhouse; giving the master complete control without pausing to communicate orders to the forward station.
ATB tugboats: Many ATB tugboats have limited visibility from the wheelhouse during tight vessel maneuvers, such as dockings, and precise behaviors, such as notching and pinning. Wireless helm control allows crew to execute these tasks from the nearest exterior deck or from a nearby shore location to ensure success, and within direct earshot of deck crew.
2. Increased operational productivity
There are many instances at sea, such as marine patrol, when two or more vessels conduct operations together. In these cases, having full vessel crews aboard both vessels can be a cost-prohibitive and inefficient operational configuration. A wireless-helm system installed aboard one or both boats allows for reduced-crew or unmanned configurations, whereby operators aboard the mothership can conduct the work of the daughter craft from a nearby location. Less crew on board one or more vessels translates to reduced operational costs and greater productivity, as realized by a reduction in time-consuming crew changes and other stop-work-periods.
Tenders: Superyacht tenders transit between the mother vessel and a second support yacht or a shore position, ferrying people or cargo back and forth. Traditionally, a crew conducts these operations from aboard the tender, manually navigating the vessel to and from the target location and back. With a wireless helm installed, a crewmember aboard the superyacht can control the tender from a line-of-sight position, such as an exterior deck of the mother yacht, reducing the on-board, dedicated resources required for the task.
Emergency response: Vessels responsible for responding to events like marine fires, spills or search-and-rescues benefit from wireless helm technology because reduced-crew configurations enable faster departures when every second counts. Further, unmanned vessels allow crew to complete dangerous response missions from a safer secondary location, such as a nearby vessel or shore-side position.
3. Reduced human risk
Vessel operations on the water are inherently dangerous, and especially so when marine spills or fires occur. In traditional operations, full crews board response vessels to contain and collect spilled products, extinguish flames, conduct search-and-rescue operations and execute other missions. While critical, these activities put mariners at risk via exposure to hazardous environments or toxins and/or challenging sea conditions. When operators utilize wireless helm control instead, however, they can remove crew from working daughter craft and conduct operations remotely from a safer distance, helping to reduce or eliminate human risk.
Offshore operations: When towing or positioning project cargo, offshore tug operators often face visibility challenges and challenging sea conditions. Wireless helm control allows operators to exit the wheelhouse to conduct operations from the aft deck or from the tallest point aboard the vessel, ensuring eyes on the operation.
Hydrographic surveying: Survey vessel operators often conduct work in offshore, fluctuating tidal, shallow waters or other challenging marine domains. A wireless-helm system enables crew to stay aboard a larger, more protective mothership, where they can conduct remote-controlled survey missions using an unmanned survey boat. The SM200 wireless helm is especially useful in the manual launch and retrieval (LARS) procedure for optionally manned or uncrewed survey assets.
Target Boats: Naval organizations around the world use wireless remote-control systems for target training. The SM200 offers a safe and reliable method of controlling unmanned vessels, which may tow target arrays, or vessels that are the target. A commercially available product such as the SM200 offers reliability and affordability for target applications which may or may not be expendable.
These benefits and use cases represent only a handful of the myriad at-sea applications, but it’s clear that wireless helm control offers operators significant advantages. In addition to offering operator flexibility, improving visibility, and increasing safety at sea, wireless helm control reduces the risk of incidents at sea and thereby provided preventative environmental protection.
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