Autonomous Boats & Unmanned Surface Vessels for Marine Monitoring, Hydrographic Survey & Rescue

How the Hamburg Port Authority Uses OceanAlpha USVs for Hydrographic Surveying

Feature Article by OceanAlpha
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OceanAlpha explains how its SL40 USV became the first unmanned vessel approved for use by the Hamburg Port Authority to perform hydrological data collection tasks in the Hamburg port area.


The Port of Hamburg is one of the largest container ports in the world. With the development of the times, it is currently actively promoting digital transformation and automation operations to manage the future port more effectively and farsightedly, and using drones and unmanned vessels to improve port management processes and efficiency. In 2020, Hamburg Port Authority chose OceanAlpha SL40 USV as the autonomous platform.

Kongsberg provided the platform with sonar and integrated mission equipment. Hamburg Port Authority held a grand launching ceremony for the ship and renamed the it Echo.1 as the first unmanned vessel approved for use by the Hamburg Port Authority to perform hydrological data collection tasks in the Hamburg port area.


The port has its own surveying team, which conducts regular seabed surveys and surveys of quay walls and structures. A challenge for the HPA (Hamburg Port Authority) is that the port area survey has areas that are inaccessible to conventional workboats, such as quaysides and shallow water areas, compromising the integrity of the port survey data. In such a case, a USV is a preferred option to support the hydrographic survey in this water area.

Port of Hamburg


The Port Authority of Hamburg selected the OceanAlpha SL40 USV platform to integrate payload equipment. The SL40 platform has the following features:

  • Small size: 1.65m in length for easy maneuvering and transportation
  • Low draught: 15cm draught makes it possible to access super shallow water (Fig. 3)
  • Flexible: Provide sufficient moon pool space and equipment compartments to adapt to various payload equipment integration
  • Power: Maximum speed 5m/s against wave and current in the port water

OceanAlpha USV

Sonar equipment chosen included Kongsberg’s Mesotech M3 sonar which uses two sets of transducers (Fig. 3), M3 sonar can acquire image data and bathymetric data at the same time. It is often used for underwater inspection of docks and berth cleaning. Motion sensor adopts SBG’s Ekinox series integrated inertial navigation system with RTK GNSS receiver, which is very suitable for use in small spaces. In addition, it also integrates AIS, vessel horn, 4G network.

SLV40 USV for Port of Hamburg

Survey work:

OceanAlpha USV base station software (Fig. 4) provides a friendly user interface for mission planning and also supports third-party software Hypack and Qinsy’s mission line import. The software provides real-time USV status and video with a PTZ camera. The SL40 USV is equipped with a millimeter-wave radar for collision avoidance to ensure safe navigation in the busy port of Hamburg. USV supports automatic return in case of communication loss and low battery.

OceanAlpha USV Base station software

Fig. 4 OceanAlpha USV Base station software

In hard-to-reach areas, the USV is able to switch to remote manual control mode (Fig. 5), and the operator can control the USV mission route instead of the regular mission line in the software. This helps the USV to collect bathymetric data as much as possible.

Remote control of OceanAlpha USV

The survey work includes multi-interface in one screen (Fig. 6), bathymetric data acquired in Qinsy software, USV base station software monitor the mission status and control the USV, sonar control interface to adjust sonar setting, real-time video in monitoring the water environment.

  1. Data acquisition in Qinsy Software
  2. OceanAlpha USV Base station Software
  3. M3 sonar interface
  4. USV camera

Survey work computer display interface

The USV performed the survey and acquired data (Fig. 7) in the port efficiently, shallow water was surveyed and maximum data coverage was reached.

Port of Hamburg survey result


The SL40 USV is equipped with high-performance and compact M3 sonar. With a draft of only 15cm, the USV can collect data in places that traditional survey vessels cannot reach. The hydrological data of the Port of Hamburg has been further improved. The USV is compact in size and with strong maneuverability, which is especially suitable for mobilization and transportation. It can be worked with an existing survey work boat which served as a mother vessel. It is environmentally friendly, providing long endurance in the Port of Hamburg with zero emissions.

Echo.1 USV in Hamburg

The Echo.1 based on the SL40 integration is the first unmanned vessel officially approved by the Shipping Police Department of the Hamburg Port Authority for basic hydrological data collection in the Hamburg port area. In addition to its operational use in bathymetry maintenance in the Port of Hamburg as an additional tool for hydrographic surveys, the platform is a pioneer in autonomous water drones in port operations. In addition to water measurements, the modular measurement platform will be upgraded for other applications in the Port of Hamburg in the future.

USV work in Hamburg

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Posted by Caroline Rees Caroline co-founded Unmanned Systems Technology and has been at the forefront of the business ever since. With a Masters Degree in marketing Caroline has her finger on the pulse of all things unmanned and is committed to showcasing the very latest in unmanned technical innovation. Connect & Contact