An ROV to call your own


One outcome of thousands of years of human seafaring is that some of the myriad vessels involved never reached their destination. They sank or were wrecked, sometimes with valuable cargo aboard. So, voyagers sailing over all those wrecks might want to find and salvage some of them. But to be a big-time salvage operation, you need one prime piece of gear: an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV (essentially a robot submarine). Now there’s an ROV for voyagers, the Navatics MITO.

Many years ago, only research centers like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution owned ROVs. Then companies that owned oil rigs or other submerged structures got ROVs for inspecting their underwater gear. Finally, even small treasure salvage companies were using ROVs as the equipment got smaller and less expensive.

Now, with a unit like the Navatics MITO, you can go into the salvage business while you’re voyaging. Navatics describes the MITO like this: The ROV is “equipped with advanced active stabilization technology that provides new levels of underwater video steadiness in an affordable 7.6-pound underwater drone, [which] will start shipping in March 2019. Available for pre-order now for an early price of $1,499, Navatics MITO offers aquatic videography for all.”

So for $1,500 or so, instead of just enjoying the anchorage with a cocktail, you could be replenishing your cruising kitty by starting your own treasure salvage business. Just think of all those Spanish doubloons lying on the bottom at countless Caribbean islands!

Okay, you might need more gear than just a ROV to do treasure salvage. But the Navatics MITO looks like a fun tool for the voyager for doing underwater video and photos (it has no sonar capability). And it would likely be useful for other purposes. I asked a couple of experienced voyagers what they think of the unit.

Rich Ian-Frese is a former research engineer who, with his wife Cat, has lived aboard a Tayana 37 named Anna for years. They have sailed extensively all over the Caribbean and the Pacific. Rich had these thoughts via email on the MITO:

“It used to be that forward/side-scanning sonar was a desirable yet mostly not affordable piece of gear. When you look at the big picture though, if you’re negotiating uncharted rocky or coral anchorages, you might be willing to pay the up-front costs of sonar, rather than the potential costs of hull damage. The choice before sonar and good charts was to hand-sound an anchorage from your dinghy in advance of entering with your yacht. And this is still a good practice regardless of your onboard electronics. Today, forward/side-scanning sonar has evolved and become an affordable option and excellent electronic navigation tool, much in the same way as radar and GPS and computer technology.

Courtesy Navatics

“The same rational holds true for an underwater drone, in my opinion. They might be marvelous to own and operate when exploring unfamiliar waters. They certainly could provide a wonderful, fresh perspective on your immediate underwater environment, assuming the water isn’t too murky or turbulent. I could see using it to check the state of your hull while underway or in an anchorage, or for assessing the potential for a dive, or simply for a real-time image of what lurks below the waterline before you jump overboard to scrub the bottom — sharks come to mind in some places. Aside from all the practical uses, of course, there are unique opportunities for photo and video clips that would otherwise entail a dive and underwater camera.

“I’ve often wished I could check the set of the anchor or tell whether the chain is caught up on a coral head without having to dive on the anchor and chain at deeper depths and colder waters than the tropics tend to offer up.

“So, if the technology platform is truly stable, and the kinks have been worked out, and the costs are not prohibitive, and you already have all of the critical electronics and survival gear you need, and your boat is otherwise good to go, then why not?”

Another experienced sailor and voyager is Eric Sanford, who was until recently, the owner of two voyaging vessels along with his wife Debbie Lynn — a 43-foot Ocean Alexander power voyager and a 46-foot Leopard cruising catamaran (recently sold). Eric commented on the MITO in an email:

“I actually bought a flying drone a year ago and I’m embarrassed to say I still haven’t flown it. I had all sorts of plans to fly it around our boat while cruising but … just never had the time to learn to fly it properly (so that it wouldn’t crash into either the boat or the water…). So while this underwater drone looks pretty cool (their promotional video is over-the-top dramatic!), I’m not sure I would use it that much.

“It might be very handy for hull inspections (prop, bottom paint, zincs, thrusters, etc.) but, of course, that’s something you can do easily without a drone in warm water by just jumping in with a mask on. As far as underwater ‘exploration’ goes, this thing would be fun to use to check out stuff on the bottom, but you’d have to be careful not to get it tangled in something.”

Funny, neither voyager mentioned anything about finding doubloons or pieces of eight. Maybe treasure salvage is harder than it sounds!

By Ocean Navigator