Smart Technology Advances in Gear Systems, Sonar and Vessel Systems

The Vslice-View mode in Furuno’s 3D Sonar Visualizer F3D-S shows the echoes in a vertical plane and in a specific orientation. Image courtesy of Furuno.

Advancements in technology for maritime vessels and commercial fishing boats are being applied to autonomous control, smart sonar and systems utilizing artificial intelligence.

Some of the top companies in the industry have recently announced innovative products or systems that improve situational awareness, enhance safety, and allow for better assessment of fisheries.


Furuno Electric Co., Ltd., a company headquartered in Japan with bases in the U.S., has continued to focus on advancing technology for marine electronics, including radar systems, fish finders and navigational instruments.

A few new products (MARK-2 models of the FSV-25 and FSV-85, and the 3D Sonar Visualizer F3D-S) that have been introduced globally will roll out gradually in the U.S. market this year as the last of the older inventory sells out. 

Both MARK-2 models of the FSV-25 and FSV-85 sonars function very similarly, but at different frequencies, so they paint fish targets differently and at different ranges, explained Furuno USA Inc. National Sales Manager Matt Wood.

“Generally speaking, the FSV-25 MARK-2 will be used in deep-water applications fishing for large schools of fish and in the long-range tuna market as well,” he said.

The FSV-85 MARK-2 has crossover appeal for both deep-water and midwater applications, as well as high-end yacht and recreational fishing, Wood said.

“We often see a low-frequency sonar like the FSV-25 and a mid-range frequency like the FSV-85 fit on the same boat to be able to differentiate between target species, as most commercial vessels fish for multiple species at different times of year,” he said.

Furuno’s latest sonar,
the FSV-25 Mark-2. Image courtesy of Furuno.

A long-standing benefit of long-range sonar is that long-range sounding allows tuna seiners to be less dependent on helicopter spotting, Wood pointed out.

“Helicopters are a very expensive tool for spotting fish given that they have to have a pilot, mechanic, expensive aviation fuel and spare parts, and are limited in flight time and by weather,” he said. “As long-range fishing vessels look to become more efficient and less dependent on helicopters, sonars are a crucial arrow in their quiver.”

Furuno also recently secured a sale of an FSV-25S (the “S” offers additional range capability) with the F-3DS visualizer in the long-range tuna seining market, Wood pointed out. The retrofit is set for the fall.

There are some significant changes and new features for the MARK-2 versions of the FSV-25 and the FSV-85.

FSV Scanning Sonars have long been favorites among commercial fishermen, Furuno officials note on the company’s website. They provide reliable and consistent detection of fish and seabed conditions with revolutionary, enhanced signal processing technology.

As technology improves in low-frequency transducer elements, signal processing and increased transmission power, the detection range for the FSV-25 MARK-2 series has been improved by about 30%, Wood noted. 

“You can instantly spot and follow schools of fish from several kilometers away,” the website reads.

Both models also offer better and multiple options for remote control or multiple control stations, Wood said.

The processors have been refreshed for both faster and better signal processing for target separation and discrimination, he added. Hoist retraction speed has been increased in both models to clear the transducer out of the water during active fishing operations.

Beam stabilization also has been improved in both models, Wood noted. This ensures that echoes are stable when received, even in rough water.

Video distribution is now using HDMI vs. DVI. HDMI video distribution is much easier to run than DVI, he explained.

Target lock function has been dramatically improved to keep the center of the sonar beams locked on to target fish. The FSV-25 MARK-2 target display is also now available on Furuno’s ECS product “Time Zero Professional, Wood added.

“The F3D-S really is a completely new way to see fish target images in a three-dimensional view all around the boat, in real time,” Wood said. “Until now, all omni-scanning sonars offered a ‘flat,’ 2D view of a 3D world, and it took a lot of scope time looking at that view to interpret 3D images. The advanced visual representation of the 3D world, all around the boat, in real time, underwater is something no one else offers.”

The 3D Sonar Visualizer F3D-S is a new product that works in conjunction with the FSV-25/FSV-25S MARK-2 to show fish and sonar information in three dimensions.

It provides a 3D “real world” view by processing the information in a unique way to show fish, peaks and seafloor data.

Captains can clearly see the size and shape of midwater marks to assess the best way to fish them and, with careful adjustment of simple depth line control, delete the seabed echoes to visualize fish schools close to the seabed.

Saildrone Surveyor sails under the Golden Gate Bridge during sea trials in the San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Saildrone.


Saildrone, an Alameda, Calif.-based company that designs, manufactures and operates uncrewed surface vehicles (USV), has been continuing work on ocean mapping and fisheries assessment.

The newest addition to the Saildrone fleet is the 33-foot Voyager, optimized to provide persistent maritime domain awareness from any ocean. The Voyager fuses optical data from a specially designed 360° camera system and Saildrone’s ML model to detect targets that are otherwise not transmitting their position in real time. These detection events are then fused with other data sources—AIS and acoustics—to deliver a fully informed picture of the surrounding maritime domain.

With an average speed of up to five knots, the Saildrone Voyager can operate continuously in the open ocean for up to 180 days while producing a minimal carbon footprint.

Saildrone has performed several fish stock assessments with its fleet of Explorers (the “original” 23-foot USV), Matt Womble, the firm’s director of ocean data programs, said, notably the 2020 Alaska pollock survey, performed when ship-based surveys were canceled due to COVID-19.

Another noteworthy mission assessing fish stock was Saildrone’s first venture into freshwater last year.

The Great Lakes mission is focused on gathering 24/7 fish distribution and density information, as well as better understanding the effects of large vessel engine noise on fish sampling and catchability, Womble noted.

“The data will help inform sustainable management of the
$7 billion-per-year Great Lakes fishing industry,” he said.

A pair of Saildrone Explorers were deployed on July 28, 2021, from Macatawa, Mich., for a 45-day fisheries mission to collect data in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center.

The Saildrones also gathered meteorological data, which was used by the National Weather Service to inform weather forecasting.

The standard Saildrone sensor suite includes science-grade instruments to collect air, sea and skin temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, barometric pressure, photosynthetically active radiation, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll and wave height and period. Saildrones can also measure ocean current speed and direction and air-sea carbon exchange.

The second year of the USGS mission assessing fish stocks in Lake Superior will kick off in August.

Launched in January 2021, Saildrone’s Surveyor hit the ground running. The new model first went through rigorous sea trials in the spring before mapping 1,094 square miles of previously unmapped ocean floor about 140 nautical miles off the coast of San Francisco in May 2021.

During the mission, it discovered a completely unknown 2,600-foot (800 m) “hill,” Womble said.

Over the course of the three-day mission, the Surveyor used its high-efficiency engine only two hours per day and consumed a mere five gallons (about 19 liters) of fuel per day.

“By leveraging the power of the wind, and with no crew to support, the Surveyor can remain at sea for a staggering 160-plus days,” Womble said.

The Saildrone Surveyor carries a similar sophisticated array of acoustic instruments to that of manned survey ships, and it is the only autonomous vehicle capable of long-endurance ocean mapping operations using renewable energy as its primary source of power, he added.

Saildrone’s flagship USV then made a groundbreaking trans-Pacific crossing. The Surveyor made the 2,250-nautical mile voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu in 28 days, arriving in Hawaii on June 8, 2021.

During the journey, the Surveyor’s sensors mapped the seafloor in high resolution to a depth of 23,000 feet (7,000 m), providing critical information about the water column and the seafloor ecosystem.

“The Surveyor sailed to Hawaii along a never-before-mapped route, revealing previously unknown details about the Pacific Ocean seafloor, which will make the area safer for maritime activity and give insight into the performance of the Surveyor and its mapping system,” Womble said.

NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) called on Saildrone to perform the 2020 acoustic survey of Alaska pollock. Saildrone deployed three USVs for the 2,000 nautical mile transit from San Francisco to the Eastern Bering Sea. The USVs were deployed in May, completed the survey in late July, and arrived back in San Francisco in early October to deliver the raw data after nearly five months at sea.

NOAA Fisheries biologists said the timing was critical in order to process and present the information quickly.

The Alaska pollock fishery in the Eastern Bering Sea is the largest commercial fishery in the U.S. by volume. Sustainable management of the fishery requires scientific, fisheries-independent surveys to set appropriate fishing quotas.

Research vessels and chartered fishing vessels are traditionally used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to perform fisheries surveys, but the 2020 ship-based surveys in the region were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more than five years, Saildrone has collaborated with NOAA and Kongsberg Maritime to develop and refine the acoustic instrumentation carried by Saildrone’s USVs.

The Saildrone Explorer, the original 23-foot Saildrone USV, carries the industry-standard Simrad EK80 Wide-Band Transceiver (WBT)—a less power-hungry version of the EK60, long used by NOAA on their research vessels—along with a 70 kHz transducer. This system was designed for moorings and adapted for use on Saildrone USVs. Like all wind-powered vehicles, Saildrone USVs heel as they go to weather, so to keep the transducer pointed downward as the USV tacks back and forth, it is mounted on a one-way gravity gimbal mount.

Sea Machines test vessels trying out the latest technology. Photo courtesy of Sea Machines.

Sea Machines Robotics

Sea Machines Robotics, a Boston-based company, builds autonomous command and control technology and long-range computer-vision perception systems. The company is leading the way in marine navigation and its newest product proves just that.

In June, Sea Machines unveiled AI-ris, a new marine computer-vision navigation sensor. The Artificial Intelligence Recognition and Identification System is designed to improve safety and performance while vessels are underway.

Sea Machines Robotics Marketing Director Vanya Banjac noted in an email that the firm just installed AI-ris on a local ferry line in Boston. Although they haven’t yet installed the new technology on commercial fishing vessels, Banjac expects that to change in the coming months as the company already has customers in the industry.

“Seeing the significant improvement in situational awareness AI-ris provides and the need for attentive operations within the waters that vertical operates in, commercial fisheries would see not only safety, but productivity improvements as well,” Banjac said. “With current customers we have received positive impact from captains and have established working relationships that are fruitful both ways.”

The company revealed this new technology during Seawork 2022, the largest European commercial marine exhibition.

AI-ris uses digital cameras and AI-processing to detect, track, classify and geolocate objects, vessel traffic and other potential obstacles in the majority of operational conditions, day or night, to equip crew with best-in-class situational awareness. Computer vision helps improve safety for vessels and is also a critical technology for the advancement of autonomous command and control systems.

Boats and ships operate in the planet’s most dynamic environment and the limitations of conventional navigation sensors leave the bulk of perception work to the human eye for continuous scanning of the waterway, Sea Machines officials noted in a statement announcing the new technology. Operators can be fatigued and get distracted.

Sea Machines designed AI-ris to be ever alert, with the ability to deliver predictable operational results that can improve vessel reliability and reduce human error. The company envisions a future with fewer accidents at sea, said Sea Machines CEO Michael Johnson.

“We are revolutionizing marine navigation with data-driven intelligence, autonomy and connectivity,” Johnson said. “AI-ris enables a tremendous performance and safety increase. The superior capabilities of computer vision and AI will ensure a safer, more productive voyage.”

AI-ris is always scanning for obstacles and can alert the operator of potentially dangerous situations, added Sea Machines’ chief technology officer Trevor Vieweg.

“It also labels objects very small in size, like swimmers, kayakers or animals, to those very large, like another ship,” he noted. “With the ability to detect, classify and geolocate such targets via optical sensors, AI-ris augments and surpasses the capabilities of existing marine sensor technologies, like radar and automatic identification systems (AIS), enabling greater performance and achieving the highest levels of safety. In the future, this technology may also help responders detect marine oil spills.”

AI-ris is commercially available and can be installed aboard existing vessels and ships, as well as new-builds. 

Sara Hall has 15 years of experience at several regional and national magazines, online news outlets, and daily and weekly newspapers, where coverage has  included reporting on local harbor activities, marine-based news, and regional and state coastal agencies. Her work has included photography, writing, design and layout.