Survey Drones – Response

Spot the small, mobile powered vessel!

In September we raised our concerns about the unmanned survey vessels working along the coast north of Dublin with the Marine Survey Office and with the vessels’ operator XOcean (article). We said they are hard to see, and proposed three changes:

  1. Paint all surfaces bright yellow, not just the framework
  2. Attach reflective tape to the sides
  3. Fly a brightly coloured flag on a 2m pole

Both organisations acknowledged our concerns and said they would keep them in mind. Recently we received this more detailed response from Mike Lewis, Regulatory and Engineering Manager for XOcean.


Many thanks for getting in contact with us through JP to raise your concerns regarding the visibility of our Uncrewed Surface Vessels to your members. To re-iterate JP’s sentiments, safety in our marine operations is our absolute priority, and we are very proud of our safety record. We take feedback like this extremely seriously.


I have also spoken with the MSO about this, again they are focussed on supporting safe marine operations around our coasts, and we regularly engage with them for guidance and direction about this new technology and operational model.


Regarding your specific requests, as I say we are keen to address these matters but we have just a couple of considerations that must be taken into account before we make any modifications to our fleet of vessels. I have attempted to address each request below.


  • The painting of all surfaces bright yellow raises a number of risks, which we must assess prior to rolling out such a dramatic change. These include the potential for camera glare, which couldimpact on the ability of our operators to keep an effective watch. There is the additional risk that the reflection of our navigation lights on brightly coloured surfaces could cause confusion during hours of darkness. Both of these need to be assessed prior to implementation of a change. We are planning some trials to be completed in the coming weeks, and we expect to be able to roll out some changes following those trials.
  • We have similar concerns about the reflective tape, although clearly we can place this in limited locations where the impact would be minimised. We feel, and have been advised the same by third parties, that the benefit of such a measure is highly limited. The impact in daylight would be minimal, and at night the navigation lights would be far more visible – in addition to which, a light would need to be shone on the tape to make it visible.
  • Regarding the flag, again third party advice is that this would not be a desirable solution. There is concern that the flying of a flag may cause confusion for other vessels; generally the flying of flags on commercial vessels at sea is discouraged. Therefore we have been advised not to pursue this solution.


We are confident that we will be able to put in place some measures that will appropriately and safely address the concerns of your members. We ask for your patience while we ensure that we do so in a proper and diligent manner. In the meantime, we encourage you to monitor Marine Notices for further information on our planned operations, and I am at your disposal to discuss in further detail if that would be useful.