Coast Guard tests unmanned surface vessels off Hawaii

Saildrone vessel

A Saildrone vessel underway in the Pacific, one of the two types of unmanned vessels tested by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Someday soon, the USCG surface vessel that responds to your distress call might be an unmanned one. In November of 2020, the USCG completed a 30-day test of unmanned surface vessels off of Hawaii. These small vessels from Saildrone and Spatial Integrated Systems included both sail- and engine-powered vessels.

Testing was performed to explore how current and emerging technologies might be used to provide USCG presence in remote regions. The test also showed ways the unmanned craft with assorted sensor capabilities might support the Coast Guard’s many missions around the globe, ranging from search and rescue to law enforcement.

“It’s clear that autonomous technology is a growing industry and has great potential to enhance Coast Guard operations,” said Cmdr. Blair Sweigart, the demonstration’s director from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center. “Combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, unmanned systems could be a game-changer.”

During the test, the Coast Guard examined unmanned units from Saildrone and Spatial Integrated Systems to understand their capabilities and effectiveness. The unmanned vessels participated in a variety of operational simulations to detect and alert the Coast Guard to both legitimate and nefarious behavior.

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