David with Goliath – Remote-controlled harbor tugs

rcVSP – Remote-controlled Voith Schneider Propeller

rcVSP – Remote-controlled Voith Schneider Propeller

Remote-controlled tugboats can safely carry out ship assistance and maneuvers. An important basis was the successful full-scale test carried out in Holland with the Carousel Rave Tug from Novatug.


Remote-controlled tugs reduce significantly the costs for shipping companies. A tugboat is in paid operation for an average of 2,500 hours a year. To ensure its operational readiness, however, the crew needs to be on board for an average of 8,760 hours. Further, the crews are no longer on 24-hour standby. These costs can be reduced through the use of rcVSP. In the global shipping environment, every minute spared represents a considerable cost reduction.

Moreover, in a remotely operated tugboat fleet, it is no longer necessary to have common rooms or sanitary facilities for the crew. Noise insulation and even the bridge can also be omitted. This reduces the weight of these floating powerhouses, which makes them even more maneuverable and reduces energy consumption. And this also opens up new options for the design of the remote-controlled vessels. For example, there is no longer a need to make provision for a deck house when it comes to accommodating the towing gear.

The rcVSP project addresses the challenges arising from increasing cost pressure on shipping companies, higher transport volumes and ever-increasing vessel sizes, while the dimensions of the waterways and port facilities stay the same.
Dr. Dirk Jürgens, Vice President Design Technical Sales at Voith
Discover why this topic drives us


  • More efficient vessel mooring and casting-off maneuvers thanks to remote-controlled tug assistants
  • Greater safety for crews
  • Voith’s comprehensive expertise in eco-friendly drive concepts and tugboat technology

The rcVSP concept also improves crew safety. Until now, for example, tow lines have been generally handed over manually. The tug operating at the front of the ship has to navigate directly in front of the bow of the moving freighter. Harbor pilots on the bridge of the vessels, which are often well in excess of 300 meters long and 45 meters wide, coordinate these maneuvers with the tugboat captains. Even the slightest technical problem or maneuvering error can lead to a line breaking or a collision between the huge ocean-going vessel and a tug, which can be a deadly risk for the crews. Remote control enables the captain to conduct all critical maneuvers and operations from a safe distance.

Contact our experts Tugtechnology 2021 paper Developments for remote controlled ship assistance operations of harbour tugs

Collaborative project partners

rcVSP was developed through the funded research project FernSAMS, which aims to make tugboat operations more efficient and safer. The abbreviation FernSAMS translates to Remotely controlled tugs in large vessel berthing and unmooring maneuvers.

Fraunhofer employee looks at screen with 3D glasses

The Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services CML develops innovative solutions for the maritime sector and maritime supply chain, with long experience in autonomous ship developments. Within FernSAMS, Fraunhofer CML developed and integrated a remote control center prototype based on augmented reality technologies. This prototype allows a smooth transfer of situational awareness including the critical visual oversight from the unmanned tug to shore, while respecting latency and bandwidth restrictions.

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McGregor and rcVSP, FernSAMS

MacGregor accomplished the challenge of developing a safe and reliable towing system that will be able to quickly establish a towing connection with a seagoing vessel, with no man onboard the tug and no matter the conditions in which the tug is working. The system allows the tug to be used with any vessel at any position, making it truly versatile. Being nearly autonomous, it relieves the operator from additional burdens, letting him focus fully on the tug control.

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MTC Hamburg, rcVSP, FernSAMS
MTC Hamburg

A modern and independent maritime training center based in Hamburg since 2009, MTC Marine Training Center Hamburg uses state-of-the-art simulation technology to offer training for pilots as well as captains, officers and engineers of all types of vessels. It also uses the know-how of its experts and the performance of its simulators to carry out projects with and for the maritime industry and authorities.

MediaMobil, rcVSP, FernSAMS

MediaMobil develops, integrates and operates telecommunication systems for maritime applications within ports and at sea. In the framework of the FernSAMS project, a secure system comprising high-speed radio and satellite components was implemented and successfully demonstrated. The system enables the reliable and secure exchange of control and sensor data between the remote control and sensor systems developed by the project partners.

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Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) rcVSP, FernSAMS
Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH)

The TUHH focuses on high-level performance, high quality standards and also on its local environment and strong international orientation. The Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Ship Theory conducts world-class research on fluid dynamics in engineering and their environmental applications as well as naval architecture and theory. As part of the FernSAMS collaborative project, the TUHH designed the numerical maneuver model of the remote-controlled tug boat and furthermore developed mathematical models that describe the various interaction effects between the vessels during mooring maneuver.

BAW and rcVSP, FernSAMS
Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute (BAW)

The Federal Waterways Engineering and Research Institute (BAW) is the technical and scientific higher federal authority of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). The BAW is the central provider of consultancy and expert opinion services to the BMVI and the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV). In general, the tasks of the BAW relate to its waterways engineering tasks, and in particular it concerns its construction supervision responsibility with ensuring the compliance of all federal waterway structures and facilities with safety and other regulations.

The Voith Water Tractor is valued in many large harbors as an agile maritime worker bee.
The Voith Water Tractor is valued in many large harbors as an agile maritime worker bee.
Standardized, automated ship assistance would significantly reduce the costs for the shipping companies and port operators and would also increase the speed of individual shipping maneuvers.
Dr. Dirk Jürgens, Vice President Design Technical Sales at Voith

Man and machine

When people hear about efficiency improvement, they quickly think of redundancies. FernSAMS has no intention of eliminating tug boat crews. "On the contrary, there are other important jobs for them," emphasizes Dr. Jürgens. 

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