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Saildrone Launches Its Largest Ever Autonomous Sailboat

Who’s the largest sailboat builder in California? We don’t know the exact production numbers, but we suspect it’s Saildrone in Alameda. They continue to build autonomous research vessels from 23-ft up to their most recent launching of a 65-ft version (built in Alabama). Their huge manufacturing facility building the 23-ft and 33-ft versions is adjacent to Alameda’s Seaplane Lagoon, and it employs many from the marine trades. It’s a modern version of boatbuilding, and it’s good to see it happening in Northern California.

A Saildrone destined for the Navy was recently test-sailed on Mobile Bay, AL.
© 2024 Saildrone

Saildrone and Austal USA recently announced the launch of a new generation of Surveyor-class unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), purpose-built for long-range, long-endurance autonomous deep-water ocean mapping missions and maritime-domain awareness (MDA). Of course, Saildrone tracks all their missions, and reports that their vessels have collectively sailed 1,144,104 miles and spent 36,234 days at sea. That’s more than enough for a six-pack license.

According to Saildrone, the 65-ft Surveyor is the world’s largest unmanned, autonomous vehicle class in operation. The Surveyor will be providing the US Navy and other government customers with a cutting-edge solution for persistent presence at sea, open-ocean hydrographic surveys, and other missions requiring continual wide-area coverage.

Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins, ACMC Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, CNO Adm. Lisa Franchetti, and Austal USA Acting President Michelle Kruger stand in front of SD-3000, the first production Saildrone Surveyor USV to come off the Austal USA manufacturing line. Photo: Courtesy Austal USA.
© 2024 Saildrone

“It is tremendous to see the first vehicle launched of many that will be produced here in Alabama,” said Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins. “We are honored to have Adm. Franchetti here in person to witness the start of the creation of a new fleet of USVs alongside traditional manned ships. Everyone at Saildrone is very proud to be supporting the US Navy and contributing to our defense and national security.”

A lineup of 33-ft Saildrones destined for service with the US Navy.
© 2024 Saildrone

This is an obvious part of the trend toward autonomous vehicles of all types as Saildrone joins Bay Area pioneers Tesla and Waymo in putting driverless vehicles on the market. Amazon is developing autonomous delivery drones, and autonomous ships and planes aren’t far behind. Soon we’ll all have more time for sailing.

Driverless Waymo
This driverless Waymo is picking up the skipper from the driverless Saildrone at the St. Francis Yacht Club.
© 2024 Leslie Arndt

Saildrones of all sizes are now deployed across all the oceans of the world, with remote pilots following their tracks and directing their courses to monitor ocean health, illegal fishing, human trafficking or whatever their clients wish to monitor. If you happen to see one out in the ocean, don’t forget to smile: You may be on “candid camera!”

Given the huge number of armchair sailors who would love to race around the world, we are waiting for the recreational version to be made available for an Autonomous Armchair Sailor Circumnavigation race where participants can own or charter their own Saildrone to race around the world from home! In the meantime, check out these sail-from home options that are already available: Virtual Regatta, and e-Sail — a “learn to sail” simulator.

They’re not the real thing, but when it’s all you have … “It’ll do, Pig.”

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