Suppose I built a small unmanned robotic ship (1.5 m long), and I intend to make it circumnavigate the Earth without stopping in any port along the way. Under international law, do I have to get permission from any authority in order for my ship to legally sail around the world?

As far as I can tell, this shouldn't be a problem if my ship is launched in international waters, and if the ship only sails in international waters (am I correct?). However, I am concerned about sailing in (or accidentally straying into) territorial waters, especially when transiting through narrow straits such as the Strait of Malacca or the Luzon Strait. What are the relevant laws that I should look into?

1 Answer 1


There are no permits required to sail the oceans.

You would be strictly liable for a collision at sea because SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) agreements include watchstanding requirements, which your vessel will not meet. You also may not be able to enter ports which require pilots for entry. That said, a 1.5M vessel is hardly a boat, much less a ship.

  • "watchstanding requirements, which your vessel will not meet" What if it had cameras hooked up to a satellite communication system to let it send a video feed back to a remote operator?
    – nick012000
    Jun 5, 2022 at 13:09
  • @nick012000 I guess that would work. There have been reports about large companies trying to build unmanned cargo vessels. None of this appears to have been done really, though.
    – PMF
    Jun 5, 2022 at 14:04
  • Of course, that remote workplace would require to be used 7/24.
    – PMF
    Jun 5, 2022 at 14:05
  • @PMF "that remote workplace would require to be used 7/24" Would it really? You'd only really need to take the wheel when you're in constricted waters like harbours or channels where there'd be a real risk of collision, right? There have already been drones like the Mayflower that have sailed autonomously across the Atlantic Ocean.
    – nick012000
    Jun 7, 2022 at 11:00
  • 1
    @nick012000 it's even disputed whether sailing single-handed over the ocean is legal. These people use automatic radar alarms, short sleep times and other measures, but it's not technically a manual watch. And things go wrong, see Boris Hermanns misshap during the last Vendee Globe.
    – PMF
    Jun 7, 2022 at 17:30

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