Autonomy doubles productivity of Galveston Bay survey boat

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Sea Machines-enabled autonomous vessel Sigsbee conducts Galveston Bay survey missions seven days per week, effectively doubling the conventional productivity. [Photo : DEA]

DEA Marine Services, a division of Vancouver, Wash., based David Evans and Associates Inc. (DEA) is using a Sea Machines Robotics SM300 autonomous-command and remote-helm control system as it carries out a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contract under which it is now surveying more than 3,500 nautical miles of the Western Galveston Bay, near the Houston Ship Channel.

View from the bridge of the mothership: An on-board operator sets the flanking offset distance of the daughter craft using the Sea Machines SM300 as it autonomously surveys Western Galveston Bay. [Photo credit: DEA]

The SM300 has been installed aboard the DEA survey boat Sigsbee, which is serving as an autonomous daughter craft for the project. Sigsbee is effectively doubling coverage by operating without an onboard crew, while collaboratively following another DEA-staffed hydrographic survey vessel, which serves as the mothership. The goal is to cover the bay’s large and shallow survey areas more efficiently than with traditional, crewed survey vessel operations. DEA operators located aboard the mothership are commanding the autonomous Sigsbee as it conducts survey missions seven days per week, effectively doubling the conventional productivity of this type of survey.

Sea Machines’ technology and DEA’s technical advances enhance the value of vessel operations by:

  • Increasing productivity with collaborative autonomy for force-multiplication;
  • Shifting recurring and repetitive operations from manual to autonomous, which enables personnel to focus on higher-level tasks;
  • Interfacing autonomous navigation systems with survey software, including Hypack, enabling direct communication and optimizing the combined capabilities of both platforms; and
  • Improving vessel-tracking precision over planned lines to reduce cross-track error and excessive data overlap.


“DEA is committed to the advancement of technology and being on the leading edge,” said DEA Marine Services’ Senior Vice President and Director Jon Dasler. “We see autonomy as the future of hydrography and have enjoyed working with Sea Machines and additional software vendors for continued improvements in autonomous operations and the use of artificial intelligence in data processing.”

“Deploying the SM300 system for this mission is allowing DEA to conduct marine surveys with improved predictability, speed of data collection and at-sea safety,” said Sea Machines’ Phil Bourque, director, sales. “The integration with systems like Hypack are streamlining operations for surveyors and demonstrating our commitment to being a best-in-class technology provider. Sea Machines is pleased to to support DEA and NOAA during this critical mission and others like it in the future.”


In May 2020, Sea Machines reported that Deep BV of the Netherlands would upgrade operations with the SM300 to conduct unmanned hydrographic surveys. Deep’s vessel, operating in multiple areas of the Wadden Sea, has been regularly commanded and controlled by personnel situated in the Amsterdam office.

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