Aiming to tackle one of boating’s trickiest manoeuvres – docking – Volvo Penta has unveiled an advanced self-docking solution, launching in 2020. Watch the video demonstration here

Volvo Penta have unveiled their brand new self docking system in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In a live demonstration, a 68 ft yacht fitted with the technology, manoeuvred itself into a very tight space between two of the Volvo Ocean Race 65 racing yachts.

The unveiling of the pioneering self-docking yacht technology is the latest in what Volvo Penta calls their ‘Easy Boating’ philosophy – aimed at making boating simple and accessible to more people, including those who might not have finessed certain skills.

Key to this new self-docking system is the joystick-controlled Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System (IPS), described as ‘a complete and integrated propulsion system – from the helm station, via the engine, all the way to the propellers.’

The self docking system has been created to tackle narrow berths, changing wind and sea conditions and congested marinas. This will be possible thanks to the responsiveness of the Volvo Penta IPS system, coupled with sensors and advanced navigation processing power. The system doesn’t just work by docking easily and safely, but also by securely launching the yacht from the dock in an automated fashion.

Prototypes of Volvo Penta’s self-docking technology are currently undergoing development trials. The automated docking capability comes due to the onboard electronic vessel control system (EVC), which computes steering and drive calculations in relation to the boat’s actual position and four sensors sited on the intended berth.

Bjorn Ingemanson, President of Volvo Penta comments: “Docking is one of the most challenging boat handling manoeuvres – getting it wrong can be embarrassing, expensive and precarious. Our IPS system has already taken great strides in making docking easier, and this new self-docking feature takes that process one important stage further. Its sensors and onboard computers react in milliseconds to changing wind and sea conditions, constantly making micro adjustments in power and steering angle of the IPS drive to keep the boat on its intended course into a safe berth. If necessary, the docking process can be paused, and the system will hold the boat stationary in the water. Even in changing sea conditions it can make the sea appear to stand still.”


How it works

Automating the docking process involves three distinct phases. Firstly, as the boat nears its berth, the system recognises that it has entered a ‘catch zone’ and sends out a signal to the captain that it is ready to dock. Once the captain has activated the self-docking function, the boat is then (aided by GPS), automatically moved into a ‘docking ready’ position. Once the captain has initiated the final stage, the system uses a combination of GPS and sensors, both those fitted onboard and additional sensors fitted to the destination dock to automatically move the boat into a safe berth.

Sensors on the berth help guide the yacht safely into its docking position.

“We have long had the ambition to make docking as easy as possible,” comments Johan Inden, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Penta. “The first step towards this was in 2006, with the launch of our joystick docking technology. This was followed by the introduction of the Dynamic Positioning System, which automatically maintains a boat’s heading and position, even during strong currents or windy conditions – ideal when preparing for docking. Now, we are taking the next important step by enabling the boat to dock itself. With our easy docking concept, we aim to attract more people to enjoy the boating experience.”

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Another feature of the forthcoming system is that it will be available not only for the latest IPS equipped boats, but a retrofit version of the function is also planned.

The initial focus for Volvo Penta’s self-docking system will be on individuals who can install the system on their own private docks. Longer term, Volvo Penta hopes that the self-docking system will be attractive to marinas and harbours, allowing IPS-equipped boats fitted with the system to dock in complete safety and accuracy.

An additional future scenario for the self-docking system is that it could be integrated with Volvo Penta’s Easy Connect application (app). The app could allow users to check if the nearest marina is equipped with the appropriate self-docking technology – or even perhaps use it to secure a parking space.

Volvo Penta’s docking system however is not designed to be fully autonomous. While the system will also feature surround sensors that provide anti-collision alert and avoidance, the company stresses that the captain needs to remain at the helm during the docking process, ready to intervene if necessary.