Industry » Yacht Technology » FarSounder: The Technology Driving Safe Navigation

FarSounder: The Technology Driving Safe Navigation

Headquartered in Rhode Island in the US, a technology company is revolutionising the safe navigation and exploration of the world’s oceans and waterways.

Since 2001, FarSounder has been innovating 3D forward-looking sonar systems to give vessels clear sight of what lies ahead and below to avoid collisions with the seabed, underwater structures, and ocean wildlife – the latter being the driving passion of Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Zimmerman.

More than twenty years on, FarSounder’s patented 3D sonar systems are globally recognised, providing a suite of sophisticated navigation capabilities to customers spanning the leisure, commercial, scientific and defence sectors. “Wherever you decide to go, FarSounder will help get you there safely,” said Matthew, as we sat down to discuss the origins of the company and his broader vision to expand the application of its technology. 

Born of a passion to protect whales 

Growing up in New England, Matthew developed a love for the ocean and its wildlife, in particular, the North Atlantic right whale which frequents the local waters. Listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its population had dwindled to a few hundred, and when Matthew discovered that the main cause of death was vessel strikes, he was adamant that a solution must be found: “We believed that there must be a way to help vessels avoid hitting these whales, and that was our original motivation for developing our technology,” he revealed. 

The FarSounder team moved quickly and by 2005, they had developed a 3D sonar solution providing a three-dimensional view of everything ahead and below the vessel by scanning the entire water column between the seabed and the surface. 

FarSounder 3a

Looking forward: The secret to FarSounder’s success 

It’s precisely this ability to see ahead of the vessel that makes FarSounder’s technology so unique and exciting. FarSounder’s patented range of Argos 3D sonars provide a three-dimensional view of everything ahead and below the vessel, in real-time, as the vessel is moving. 

By any standards, this is a significant upgrade when you consider the traditional echo sounders fitted to most vessels can only see directly below the vessel, providing information about the depth below the keel. Typically they provide no information about what lies ahead, leaving captains to rely on navigation charts and aids, and sometimes just plain old eyesight. 

Safe navigation in remote cruising grounds 

For captains, FarSounder’s technology couldn’t have come at a better time, coinciding with a growing appetite among owners to explore remote locations, requiring them to navigate often unfamiliar or uncharted waters. 

“Only about 25% of the world’s oceans have ever been mapped, and from a navigation safety point of view that’s not enough,” said Matthew. “Our range of Argos 3D sonars makes it possible for superyachts to explore further afield and to do this safely. It’s a game-changer that, in the yachting industry at least, is enabling captains to safely visit increasingly exclusive and hidden anchorages, while also contributing to our overall knowledge of the world’s seabed. 

“During normal operation, the Argos sonar units store the scanned data on an onboard hard drive, effectively developing a map of everywhere the vessel goes. When the vessel returns to that location, the Argos system automatically recalls that data, giving the captain access to accurate information to make safe navigational decisions.” 

FarSounder 2a

More recently, FarSounder decided to go further and facilitate the sharing of this data among its network of clients. “Our latest feature update allows anonymous automatic sharing of the      mapped data with other users across the fleet on an opt-in basis,” Matthew explained. “If a given vessel hasn’t been to a particular location before but others have, it can now benefit from access to that data giving the vessel a clearer picture of what to expect.” 

Data sharing to map the seabed 

As more and more vessels adopt Argos 3D sonars, from explorer yachts and cruise liners to naval ships and research vessels, FarSounder is also working with several international organisations to assist in the mapping of the seabed. “We’ve been an active participant of the IHO’s Crowdsourced Bathymetry Working Group for about six years now,” said Matthew. “FarSounder is also an official partner of Seabed 2030 - a program that aims to produce a definitive map of our oceans by 2030 and make it available to everyone.” 

As part of this effort, FarSounder is also collaborating with key organisations within the yachting community, including The International SeaKeepers Society and Shadowcat, 

A commitment to protecting marine life 

Under Matthew’s leadership, FarSounder continues to strengthen its core commitment to protecting the marine environment. “Being able to participate in good stewardship of our oceans is an important value for the company, and while we can’t influence where vessels go or what they do, we can make it safer for them to do those things – safer for the vessels and for sea life. 

“Argos 3D sonars have repeatedly demonstrated the capability to accurately identify the presence of whales in the vessel’s path, not only saving whales but also protecting vessels and their crews from the damage and safety risks caused by whale collisions.”

FarSounder 5a

Commenting on the safety of the technology itself he said: “Our Argos range is very low energy and high frequency compared to the more dangerous systems found on military vessels and those used in oil and gas exploration. All of our government contracts have evaluated us on that specific criterion and we can confirm that none of our frequencies and transmit durations are harmful, or potentially harmful, to whales. 

“Right from the beginning of FarSounder, we wanted to create a technology that’s benign to the environment, that won’t introduce new problems while trying to solve others.” 

Working in collaboration with marine professionals around the world, FarSounder’s team of highly skilled and passionate staff continues to develop and innovate 3D sonar applications for safe navigation anywhere in the world. Designed, developed and manufactured in the US, all components are assembled and tested in-house and rigorously tested on board.

For further information about FarSounder’s unique range of 3D forward looking sonar systems and access to shared data, please visit the website here.

Farsounder logo


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