Power & Motor Yacht
Power & Technology
Raymarine looks to de-stress docking with their joystick-enabled DockSense.
Kiss docking anxiety goodbye: Raymarine’s new “Virtual Bumper” DockSense can make a docking hero out of us all.
While experience remains the best teacher, even the saltiest of captains find docking to be stressinducing from time to time. Joysticks have made heroes out of a lot of us and become a must-have option: All the major engine manufacturers now offer one as part of a package to control multiple engines for close-quarters maneuvers. “Everyone has wanted to make docking easier forever,” Prestige Director of Marketing Eric Stromberg tells me, “It’s kind of the Holy Grail.”
Raymarine’s DockSense assisted docking aims to do just that. The system adds what Raymarine calls a “Virtual Bumper” (I would’ve named it a Virtual Fender), a simulated geo-fence around the boat that senses objects—pilings, boats, floating debris—within its range. It adds semi-autonomous commands that will take the reins should a collision be imminent. “It creates a safety zone and anything that enters [the area] is avoided via corrective steering and throttle commands,” says Raymarine Marketing Manager Jim Hands.
The myriad systems work in concert with existing joystick controls and fly-by-wire steering all tied to the DockSense processor, integrated with five FLIR Systems machine-vision optics placed around the vessel. FLIR’s patented marine-grade cameras are also optimized for three-dimensional motion sensing under all types of lighting conditions.
Exact position data is taken many times per second via an Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS), a nine-axis, gyroscopetype sensor, then combined with GPS to help minimize the forces of wind and current. “We had a lot of work to calm sun glare and wave noise,” Hands recalls.
The DockSense app runs on Raymarine’s Axiom display, showing the helmsmen five camera angles plus an augmented reality overhead shot giving the boat’s exact position. A dotted line illustrates the Virtual Bumper, generally set at three feet. One other helpful feature in docking mode: When the helmsman lets go of the joystick, a type of dynamic positioning system kicks in, holding the vessel in position.
Prestige was an ideal candidate to assist in developing the technology. “Raymarine has been a dedicated partner and [our model line] is one-hundred percent joystick-equipped,” Stromberg tells me, “We’ll have a 460 in a big slip in Miami. Come on down to experience it.” I immediately accepted his offer, eager to see the technology in action and how the friendly ghost in the machine would take over once the Virtual Bumper is breached.
I met Hands, Stromberg and the crew from FLIR and Raymarine on the first day of the Miami International Boat Show aboard the Prestige, its lower helm rigged with the prototype DockSense system. It looked exactly like any other Volvo Penta joystick-equipped vessel, the only sign of its testing phase being a rather large red kill switch just aft of the joystick. I inspected the five cameras, noting that two of the front-facing optics are placed on the bowrail. My first thought was that a wayward boat hook could easily knock these very expensive cameras into the drink; the team assured me the placement was just for the testing phase.
We threw off the lines and I watched an engineer demo the system, first moving the boat about 20 feet from the slip and then putting the joystick hard back toward the dock in an apparent effort to free the 460 of its swim platform. There wasn’t an abrupt halt once the boat entered the Virtual Bumper zone or a cacophony of the mains kicking in and out of gear to hold the vessel in place. It just held the boat in place.
I then took over the helm and moved the boat out of the slip. “Aim for that Seakeeper booth,” someone said from behind me.
I didn’t want to be responsible for crunching in the bow, but I did what I was told in the name of “marine science.” Again, as smoothly as the vessel had just reacted in reverse, the boat came to a standstill with my hand not letting up on the joystick. I moved back about halfway between the finger piers and released the joystick. There was a bit of wind and current but the effect of the forces was indiscernible on the boat—the dynamic positioning system held the vessel firm. Pushing the stick backward produced the same effect as before—the boat held off the dock on three sides by about three feet.
One thing I found helpful—and required some getting used to—was utilizing the five images on the MFD during close-quarters maneuvering. The quality of the imagery was excellent and did indeed provide a 360-degree view around the vessel. With some blind spots from the lower helm, I found it comforting and really useful to pick up a piling that I had to crane my neck out of the side window in order to see. It just didn’t feel natural to limit looking aft when docking stern-to at a quay. A little of both seemed to be the best combination.
Testing will continue on DockSense until the team feels it’s ready for the recreational market, which may not be far off. As the first marine electronics company to successfully and confidently demonstrate intelligent object recognition and motion sensing, Raymarine has put themselves in an enviable position among their competitors who are very likely devising similar systems. I would remind them of the advice they gave me while backing the 460 into her quay: don’t look back.