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Autonomous Docking Demo Shines At Lake X

Mercury Marine brought a group of media members to Lake X near Orlando, Fla., today to check out several new products coming to the Miami International Boat Show Feb. 14-18. Most of them are embargoed from public release until the show opens. But the most compelling product demonstrated won’t be consumer ready immediately after the 2019 Miami show. In fact, it’s a few years off.

But it could change the way you think about boating. And without question, it could eliminate what most powerboat owners consistently cite as the most stressful aspect of boat handling—docking.


Showcased on a Boston Whaler 330 Rage center console, a collaboration effort between Mercury Marine and Raymarine eventually could take all the stress out of docking.

Using a 33-foot Boston Whaler powered by a pair of Mercury Marine Verado 300 outboard engines as a test bed for a new proof-of-concept autonomous docking system, Mercury Marine and Raymarine collaborated on the project by combining Mercury’s Joystick Piloting for Outboard (JPO) technology and Raymarine’s FLIR-based DockSense assisted-docking system.

According to a Mercury Marine press release, the Raymarine DockSense system uses “advanced machine vision technology to sense and identify potential obstacles in the vessel’s path, providing feedback to the Mercury Autonomous system to allow the boat’s JPO system to autonomously respond and ensure a smooth docking process.” Short version? It can dock a boat with minimal driver input.

The coolest thing about the current iteration of the system has to be its “virtual fender” feature meaning it will keep the boat three feet—port, starboard, bow or stern—from an adjacent docking structure. To close that final three-foot gap so operators and their crews can tie up, the system is equipped with overrides for all of the aforementioned zones.


Raymarine’s FLIR-based DockSense system combines with Mercury Marine JPO system for future innovation.

“This demonstration extends Mercury’s role as the leader in marine propulsion,” said John Pfeifer, Mercury Marine president. “Our future is focused on innovation and inspiration on the water. We are positioned on the cutting edge of autonomous piloting and other new technologies and will continue to deliver better boating experiences to our customers.”

Said Charles Plueddeman, a well-known journalist who writes for Boating magazine. “This is really going to piss off the old salts. It’s amazing.”

Plueddeman’s point was well-taken. There will always be veteran powerboat operators who scoff at technology that makes boating easier and more accessible. And for those who feel compelled to handle docking chores themselves, the system can be turned off.

But for powerboat operators who just want things to be easier, the collaborative effort between Mercury Marine and Raymarine holds great potential for improving the overall boat-driving experience.

The 33-foot Whaler equipped with the system will be on display at the upcoming Miami event.

Related story: Countdown to Miami: Inside the 2019 Miami Boat Show