Application of an Autonomous Sailboat for Fish Population Monitoring

Project number: 2023-R/RRFA-008

Lead PI: Michael Benjamin, MIT


  1. To develop autonomy software in support of fish tracking by sailboat and release this software to the world
  2. To demonstrate the application of an autonomous sailboat in tracking of acoustically tagged fish
  3. To do this in areas too shallow for alternative platforms (eg – WaveGliders) and with accurate GPS positioning, unlike some other alternative platforms (eg – Slocum gliders)


  1. The autonomy software required is well-underway, but requires refinement, and verification. We have formed a collaboration with Marine Robotics LLC, to provide the sailing platform for the study.
  2. We will construct a mount for an acoustic receiver on the vessel, construct a test course in the Charles River, and perform field trials to determine the sensitivity of the platform to acoustic tags.
  3. We will select a suitable trial location with an experienced fish biologist. We will program the autonomous sailboat to survey the trial location(s) over several days and compare results to other available tracking data.

The public-domain MOOS software is currently in use in a wide variety of terrestrial, surface, and underwater vehicles. Only now is sailing capability being incorporated into the software suite. This will facilitate the development of sail platforms wellsuited to long-duration missions such as fish tracking, environmental monitoring, and conservation enforcement in sensitive
areas. In regards to fish tracking, a small autonomous sailboat can precisely survey shallow areas inaccessible to other platforms. WaveGliders require > 15m depth and active waves. Slocum gliders require >~40m depth and open waters, and cannot precisely locate acoustic receptions due to their GPS-denied operation.