ORLANDO, Fla. — At Mercury Marine’s Lake X test facility, I was at the helm of a Boston Whaler 330 Outrage powered by twin Mercury 300-hp V-8 outboards. I held the joystick straight aft and pointed the engines at the concrete pier.
The boat slowed on its own as Raymarine’s DockSense assisted docking system kicked in. As we continued to move aft, it was as if there was a force field behind the boat. It wouldn’t let me get closer than 3 feet to the pier.
DockSense is not an automatic docking system — at least not yet. It is a collision avoidance system that recognizes objects and senses motion.
“Raymarine is the eyes of the system,” said Zach Savage, program manager, controls, rigging and innovation projects for Mercury. “They’re translating that into something we can understand, and then we function as the arms and legs. Together, we tell the vessel where to go.”
The system uses FLIR vision cameras, a Mercury central processing module and the DockSense app running on Raymarine’s Axiom navigation display. It creates bumper zones 3 feet around the boat, basically preventing it from hitting anything within that range. The system sees docks, piers, shoreline and floating objects as small as pieces of debris in the water.
As I backed toward the pier, it felt like the first time I experienced ABS in an car. After years of being told I had to pump the brakes to keep the vehicle under control, I just held the brakes with my foot and the system took over. With DockSense, I held the joystick in the aft position and let the collision avoidance system do its job. What was impressive was that the system took into account conditions such as current and wind.
“It’s doing all the work for you to fight the current, fight the wind and push the boat straight in,” said Matt Derginer, engine/vessel embedded controls software engineer from Boston Whaler, who was running the demo boat.
DockSense is run by a touch pad that was placed next to the joystick on our boat. It is circular, with the on-off button in the center with lights that circle it. The lights indicate which bumper is active, fore, aft and each side. If the light is off it means the boat is up against the dock.
When the time comes to depart, the system will move the boat away from the dock and into a position where the driver has a clear path to pull away.
“The whole time, the system is looking at what you’re trying to do with the joystick,” said Derginer. “When I’m on the joystick, it’s going to do what’s necessary to make the boat go where you want if that can be done safely.”
The Boston Whaler 330 Outrage and a Prestige 460 equipped with DockSense will be on display at the Miami International Boat Show in later this month. It’s not available to the public yet, but Mercury Marine president John Pfeifer doesn’t think it will be long before it is.
“This is a product that’s not far from being a product, but we thought it’s so new it doesn’t freeze the market for anything,” he said. “It’s not like a new engine platform where you can’t tell people about it because it will cause your dealers all sorts of angst because you’re releasing something before they can plan their inventory properly. With this docking system, you can tell people ahead of time this is what they’ll see in the future.”