A New Partnership to Map the Ocean

Saildrone and Seabed 2030 will work together to leverage technological innovation to more quickly and efficiently collect ocean mapping data and make it freely available to all.

Jaime McMichael-Phillips, director of Seabed 2030, signs the MOU with Saildrone during Ocean Business 2023.

Accurate ocean depths and seafloor topography are essential for navigation, coastal management, tsunami forecasting, telecommunications, offshore energy, understanding weather and climate, managing environmental changes, and so much more. But only 23% of the global ocean has been mapped using modern, high-resolution tools, leaving substantial gaps in our knowledge about our oceans. This lack of exploration is largely due to the high cost of accessing our oceans, which has traditionally been undertaken by large ships that are expensive to build and operate.

Saildrone’s fleet of uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) are designed to make ocean data collection more cost-effective, offering exciting new capabilities for ocean exploration and mapping. Saildrone USVs have already sailed almost 1,000,000 nautical miles and spent almost 25,000 days at sea. Now, Saildrone is proud to announce it is working with Seabed 2030 to advance ocean mapping in support of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Jaime McMichael-Phillips, director of Seabed 2030, and Saildrone VP Ocean Mapping Brian Connon during Ocean Business 2023 in Southampton, UK. Courtesy Seabed 2030.

Seabed 2030 is a collaborative project between The Nippon Foundation and GEBCO (The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans) to inspire the complete mapping of the world's oceans by 2030 and to compile all bathymetric data into the freely available GEBCO Ocean Map. GEBCO is a joint program of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and is the only organization with a mandate to map the entire ocean floor.

“We can only realize our goal of a complete map of the ocean floor if we mobilize the international community and work together. We are therefore delighted to partner with Saildrone and leverage their expertise in unmanned surface vehicles for ocean mapping,” said Jamie McMichael-Phillips, director of Seabed 2030. “The capabilities of Saildrone’s fleet will greatly enhance our ability to obtain essential data and increase our understanding of the ocean. Allowing us, in turn, to make informed and impactful decisions with regard to the future of the planet.”

Saildrone platforms are the only USVs capable of long-endurance ocean mapping operations using renewable energy as the primary source of power.

Saildrone’s 65-foot (20 m) Surveyor-class vehicles are equipped with the Kongsberg EM 304 MkII and Kongsberg EM 2040 multibeam sonars and the AML-6 sound velocity profiler to deliver International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)-compliant bathymetry data to a depth of 33,000 feet (11,000 m). The 33-foot (10 m) Voyager-class vehicle carries the Norbit Winghead i80s for near-short ocean mapping to depths of 900 feet (300 m). 

A 1,000 m seamount discovered by Surveyor SD 1200 using its Kongsberg EM 304 echo sounder off the coast of California.

“Saildrone’s vision is of a healthy ocean and a sustainable planet. A complete map of the ocean floor is fundamental to achieving that vision. We are proud to collaborate with Seabed 2030, to enable the mapping of our entire seabed, for the benefit of the global community,” said Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins.

Most recently, Saildrone Surveyor SD 1200 completed a months-long survey to map more than 17,375 square miles (45,000 square kilometers) around Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and off the coast of California as part of a multi-agency public-private partnership funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to address ocean exploration gaps in remote areas with uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs).

Experiencing 35-knot winds and wave swells over 5 meters (16 feet) in the North Pacific—conditions that would have proved too challenging for most crewed survey vessels—the Surveyor collected high-quality data without risk to human life and with a reduced carbon footprint. The mission revealed previously unknown features on the ocean floor, including potential hydrothermal vents in Amukta Canyon in the Bering Sea, and a previously unknown seamount standing approximately 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) high off the coast of California.

Rigorous sea trials have shown that the data quality the Surveyor can collect rivals that of the most advanced ocean survey ships in use today—meeting or exceeding International Hydrographic Organization standards.

The first Saildrone Surveyor SD 1200 was launched in January 2021 and underwent extensive sea trials near San Francisco before its first mission to Hawaii that summer. Some of the mapping performed during that mission was supported by Seabed 2030. “Autonomous technologies lower the carbon footprint of this effort, using less fuel and fewer resources. We’re hugely excited about what the Saildrone Surveyor is going to deliver for Seabed 2030,” said McMichael-Phillips at the time.

Earlier this month, Saildrone announced a Teaming Agreement to with Austal Australia to build Surveyor-class vehicles for the Indo-Pacific region. The announcement follows an August 2022 announcement that Austal USA would build Surveyor USVs at its shipyard in Mobile, AL. With its industry-leading expertise in aluminum shipbuilding, Austal is uniquely equipped to fabricate the Surveyor’s aluminum hulls, ensuring rapid expansion of the fleet to meet increasing demand for uncrewed ocean mapping capabilities.


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