Tugboat company to fly drones to improve speed, safety of sea towing

drones tug boats ships

A Dutch company specializing in maritime vessel services has taken to the air in its effort to work faster and more safely at sea. In doing so, it has patented a system in which drones establish the physical connection between tugboats and the ships they’ll tow, reducing the dangers to humans when that is done manually at close proximity.

Patented technique will fly drones to connect tugboats to towed ships

Netherlands-based Kotug is a global leader in the maritime services sector. The company boasts many years of experience in operating tugboat fleets that tow large ships in and out of ports. Through that, it has gained insights into the potential perils posed by navigating its craft close enough to larger vessels they’ll be hauling so that messenger lines can be thrown by hand between them. In order to establish that link, tugboats must creep to within a few feet of towering ships, whose wake – not to mention surrounding sea conditions – can send their smaller assistants heaving. 

To avert the potential dangers to sailors in those exchanges, Kotug has begun innovating with drones to maintain safe distances between tugboats and ships they service. That testing has produced a patented system Kotug will soon begin using that relies on drones to take on the risky parts of the towing process.

Rather than approaching very close under the bow and behind the stern of bigger vessels so that towing ropes can be dropped down, Kotug will use drones to fly messenger lines to the craft tugs will tow. Once they near their target, the drones will use onboard object recognition software to identify pre-established delivery positions. The entire exchange can be carried out in a matter of minutes.

Kotug, which calls itself the first maritime services company to use drones in that way, says the technique will greatly speed the process of establishing the messenger line link. And with tugs able to remain in distant positions to the fore and aft sides of larger ships, they’ll entirely avoid the potentially dangerous minutes of bobbing at the bow of larger craft, or in the chop of their propeller wake.

Though deployment of drones to make the connection between tugboats and client ships will focus largely on transport assistance in and out of ports, Kotug says it will also use the technique to carry out relocation and dragging missions for sea platforms, rigs, and pontoons. And if drone tech development continues at its current pace, meanwhile, it may not be long before the company can start using muscled-up drones to drop hauling lines and perform the towing work themselves.

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