A History of Marine Vessel Docking Systems

Over the last 50 years, the marine industry has searched for easier and safer ways to dock marine vessels. For many years only manual docking systems consisting of visual and audio aids had been invented for large ships due to vessels of such size presenting the greatest challenge for an operator.

The Marine Industry has constantly searched for the solution to the most challenging aspect of marine vessel operation. Docking marine vessels is very difficult and most accidents occur during docking procedures which cause injuries, damage to the marine vessel, docks and sometimes other marine vessels.

But more recently, systems for recreational vessels have been steadily invented since even vessels of 40 feet and above can present challenges when docking. Whether you are docking a 40 foot recreational marine vessel or docking a ship, the difficulty and skill required increases exponentially when variables such as wind, strong currents and poor visibility are involved.


It is interesting to follow a timeline of the advancements of various docking systems which were invented for the marine industry in order to assist operators in overcoming the ever present problem of docking marine vessels.

As each new docking system was invented, more assistance was provided to the operator in an attempt to make docking procedures safer, easier and more efficient. The following is chronological order of docking systems invented by the marine industry over the last half century.

  • December, 1972

    A patented boat berthing monitor incorporating sonar and providing a visual lighting system on the dock.

    System to assist the operator which calculates approach speed with a velocity indicator as the ship approaches the dock. Visual lights indicate to the operator if the approach speed was too slow, too fast or the correct speed as the ship was docking. Purely a visual aid in order to assist the operator while manually docking the ship. The inventor suggested, one day in the future, an autonomous system would be desired.

  • August, 1980

    A patented ship docking system incorporating sonar to assist the operator by providing a series of visual lights on the dock and in addition provides an onboard stick figure display monitor showing the position of ship in relation to the dock. Additional sonar equipment was mounted on the dock.

    Very similar to above invention (1972), but with a visual aid indicating the ships position relative to the dock. This enabled the operator to keep the vessel in a parallel position to the dock when docking with the display monitor showing the distances from the side of the ship to the dock. This invention was very limited given it only functioned on docks fitted with this specific system.

  • April, 1985

    A patented docking system for positioning a vehicle relative to a selected location. Signals are transmitted between the two. Time delays between the return signals provide relative positioning information to the operator.

    Sensors are installed on the boat and in the slip. Information was provided to assist the operator when manually docking, but the invention was limited to the individual slip where the docking system was installed.

  • December, 1993

    A patented system with sensors on the ship determining the velocity between the ship and the dock as well as providing the captain with a portable receiver which can be viewed by the captain as a portable visual aid.

    Operates in a very similar manner to the (1980) invention except with the advantage of the visual monitor being handheld and can be kept with the captain during the manual docking process.

  • March, 2004

    A patented system to assist an operator using radar and a visual display to provide range and velocity information between a ship and a dock or object.

    The system controls the vessel when docking to approach at a preset speed in the general direction of the dock or object. The operator relies on visual display to complete the docking process. An improvement on previous systems although still limited by the requirement for the operator to monitor visual aids whilst manually docking the marine vessel.

  • 2006, Pod drive systems

    Volvo patented an efficient pod drive propulsion system (IPS) followed by CMD’s (Zeus) pod drive system which have grown rapidly in popularity. Both are joystick manual control systems.

    Pod drive systems with joystick manual control which also assist the operator in docking and maneuvering the vessel. The primary reason boat owners are purchasing pod drive systems are to reduce the difficulty of docking their boats. ZF’s marine marketing manager, Martin Meissner is quoted as saying …..”people want to be able to control their boat. That is at the forefront of everything. They want a positive and enjoyable experience. What winds people up is having to get their boat into a tight slip in beam wind or in a current”. The manual joystick control provides assistance to the operator but still relies on operator judgment, experience and skill.

  • February, 2008

    A patented system designed to bring a motor vehicle into a targeted position having sensor systems on both vehicle and target area. Relative defined position information is provided between the vehicle and object or target area.

    The system guides the motor vehicle toward and into the carport. Limited by failing to be fully autonomous and only operating within a designated carport. Similar to (1985) invention and may be used to dock a boat into a slip.

  • April, 2011

    Twin Disc “Express Joy Stick System” uses a conventional drive system and joystick control.

    Joystick control incorporating thrusters and drive system to assist operator when docking the vessel. Provides improved control of the marine vessel but is still dependent on operator skill and experience.

  • June, 2011

    Dock and Go is a patented hand held, manually controlled yacht controller, initially installed on sailing yachts with a small pod drive.

    Thruster is lowered into water and will manoeuver the yacht in any direction while still being manually controlled by the operator. Limited to operator judgment, experience and skill. The manufacturer says “they envisage a day when systems will detect docks and other objects and autonomously dock themselves without human assistance”.

  • November, 2013

    MAID (Marine Autonomous Intelligent Docking) System is a patented fully autonomous docking system for marine vessels 30 feet and above. It is the world’s first and only fully autonomous docking system for marine vessels and provides the solution for a long felt need of fully autonomous docking for recreational vessels and commercial vessels.

    The MAID System uses a network of hidden onboard sensors and a powerful core processor that constantly calculates distances and velocity between your vessel and the selected docking location using the vessel’s propulsion systems to gently guide the vessel into a preselected docking position.

    The innovative, intelligent design integrates seamlessly with the vessels propulsion systems to take care of all complex maneuvering in all docking situations fully autonomously, regardless of wind and water currents.


Over the last 50 years, the marine industry has been determined to invent new and improved systems to overcome the challenges of docking a marine vessel. As technology improved, so did the design of docking systems through technology and innovation. This is evidenced by the number of docking systems to have been invented and the rapidly increasing popularity of pod drive systems to assist operators when manually docking marine vessels. For decades, engineers have been trying to solve the problem of overcoming the most difficult aspect of marine vessel operation, docking the vessel. Engineers believed the solution was to accurately record all the adverse elements that affect the movement and attitude of a marine vessel. They have engineered a multitude of devices to provide visual and audible information to an operator, aiding his judgment to manually control a marine vessel through the docking process.  At MAID, we believe their efforts to address the problem have been misguided and have approached the solution with the wrong technical philosophy.

Finally, Autonomous Marine Innovation Pty Ltd provides the solution the marine industry has long searched for.

Prior to the MAID System, all previous docking systems relied on manual operation and were not fully autonomous. Unfortunately skill, experience, vigilance and judgment were still required by the vessel operator with the various docking systems only offering certain levels of assistance. Variables such as wind and water currents made the process even more difficult.

Marine Autonomous Intelligent Docking System (MAID) achieves what the marine industry has required for the last 50 years. MAID is a completely fully autonomous marine vessel docking system which docks any marine vessel precisely, safely and quickly without being affected by variables such as wind and water currents.