I'm an engineer working on an autonomous boat project. I want to make sure I'm not breaking any laws, but I've been unable to find any laws specifically regulating drone boats (unmanned/autonomous). Is this simply a relatively unregulated area, or am I missing a bunch of regulations that do exist?

I'm specifically interested in regulations that govern when and where autonomous boats can travel, and any limitations on their use. For example, aerial drones can only be operated within line of sight. It seems like there are no such restrictions on drone boats.

I'm operating out of the US, but I'm interested in any relevant laws in the US or internationally.


1 Answer 1


Assuming we're talking about U.S. jurisdiction due to your location, some aspects of your question are addressed in this Professional Marine article from June-July 2018, which generally notes that your autonomous boat will still have to comply with any regulations for vessels of its size and speed in terms of things such as operational control, visibility, collision avoidance, etc.:

Lt. Chris Rabalais of the U.S. Coast Guard shared some opinions about these small ASVs. If you’re operating them in the 100 percent remotely controlled mode, you’re basically the responsible skipper even though you may be standing on the shore.

Rabalais had something to say about the larger ASVs as well. If you intend to operate a larger ASV in U.S. waters in the 100 percent autonomous or semi-autonomous mode, he recommends an early and open communications relationship between the builder or operator and Coast Guard personnel.

In short, check with your local Coast Guard station and/or whatever local agency oversees putting boats in whatever body of water you want to operate.

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