Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Nabil Chalhoub


Autonomous operation of marine surface vessels is vital for minimizing human errors and providing efficient operations of ships under varying sea states and environmental conditions which is complicated by the highly nonlinear dynamics of marine surface vessels. To deal with modelling imprecision and unpredictable disturbances, the sliding mode methodology has been employed to devise a heading and a surge displacement controller. The implementation of such a controller necessitates the availability of all state variables of the vessel. However, the measured signals in the current study are limited to the global X and Y positioning coordinates of the boat that are generated by a GPS system. Thus, a nonlinear observer, based on the sliding mode methodology, has been implemented to yield accurate estimates of the state variables in the presence of both structured and unstructured uncertainties. Successful autonomous operation of a marine surface vessel requires a holistic approach encompassing a navigation system, robust nonlinear controllers and observers. Since the overwhelming majority of the experimental work on autonomous marine surface vessels was not conducted in truly uncontrolled real-world environments. The first goal of this work was to experimentally validate a fully-integrated LOS guidance system with a sliding mode controller and observer using a 16’ Tracker Pro Guide V-16 aluminium boat with a 60 hp. Mercury outboard motor operating in the uncontrolled open-water environment of Lake St. Clair, Michigan. The fully integrated guidance and controller-observer system was tested in a model-less configuration, whereby all information provided from the vessel’s nominal model have been ignored. The experimental data serves to demonstrate the robustness and good tracking characteristics of the fully-integrated guidance and controller/observer system by overcoming the large errors induced at the beginning of each segment and converging the boat to the desired trajectory in spite of the presence of environmental disturbances. The second focus of this work was to combine a collision avoidance method with the guidance system that accounted for “International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea” abbreviated as COLREGS. This new system then needed to be added into the existing architecture. The velocity obstacles method was selected as the base to build upon and additional restrictions were incorporated to account for these additional rules. This completed system was then validated with a software in the loop simulation.