Underwater drone inspecting the ship.

Underwater Drones: The Guide 2023

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Did you know that there are submersible drones that are usable underwater? They’re known as underwater drones or unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and can stay underwater for several hours to months. 

Underwater drones may be classified into two:

  • Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)
  • Remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs)

AUVs don’t need a human to operate them; they’re automated, while humans remotely control ROVs. 

Underwater drones have many applications, including:

  • Ecosystem rehabilitation
  • Film industries
  • Military institutions
  • Deep-sea exploration and research

This article will tell you all you need to know about underwater drones. 

Read on. 

Underwater Drones – All You Need to Know

As mentioned, underwater drones are classified into two categories: Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs). 

I’ll discuss each of these comprehensively before we discuss their applications.


Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROVs):

This class of underwater drones was made to replace humans due to extreme underwater conditions. Hence, pilots manually control them during patrolling, industrial and educational missions, and surveillance.

Some features on the ROVs include a camera, sensors, ‘grippers,’ and actuators.

Grippers are used for gripping objects and often add to the drone’s weight. Consequently, pilots must manually assist these drones to navigate to ensure the task is successful. 

Take, for example, the submarine Rescue Diving Recompression System ((SRDRS) developed by the United States Navy. It requires human intervention when it’s in operation due to the complexity of the task involved, for instance, saving lives after a shipwreck. 

This system, for example, can help save at least 16 people at a time who may be stuck about 2000 feet (ca. 610 meters) underwater. 

Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle underwater.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs):

In 1957, the first Autonomous Underwater Vehicle was made and used in the Arctic Waters. It was used to do research at the University of Washington in the Applied Physical Research Laboratory. By the early 2000s, there were 10 varying Autonomous Underwater Vehicles developed, for example, the bionic AUV, screw-driven AUVs, and underwater gliders AUVs.

Currently, AUVs come in varying sizes and are operated autonomously, not by humans. Based on their work, these drones could weigh a few to thousands of kilograms. 

The most recent Autonomous Underwater Vehicle models use automatic buoyancy control, while the previous models used screw propeller thrusters. Also, the recent AUV model performs better than the former model and is lighter. 

The Deepglider, for example, is a recent model that goes up to 6000 meters underwater and weighs only 62 kg. This model travels up to 8500 km. The SPURV, an earlier model, went up to 3650 meters underwater and weighed 484 kg. 

It traveled underwater for 5.5 hours. 

Infographic of Deepglider AUV.

The Deepglider: A Full Ocean Depth Glider for Oceanographic Research

What Can You Do With an Underwater Drone?

Underwater drones have many applications, including: 

  • Ecosystem rehabilitation
  • Military works such as defense and security
  • Public works
  • Ship inspections
  • Deep-sea exploration and research
  • Film industries

Let’s closely discuss these applications below. 

Ecosystem Rehabilitation:

Underwater drones can be used to check water quality. The Duro AUS, for example, sells underwater drones that collect and transmit water data, which the government uses to monitor its quality. 

Based on the data received, the local and state governments decide the best course of action to, for example, save marine wildlife from toxic environments. 

The New York City government uses the Duro to monitor water quality around the Randall’s Island Park Alliance. Duro is also used in the Harlem and East Rivers to check the condition of the wetland’s health. 

In addition, Duro, together with the Bronx River Alliance, aids in restoring the wildlife found in the rivers. 

Military Works such as Defense and Security:

The military has been using underwater drones to detect weapons found underwater. For instance, the Chinese military uses underwater drones for data collection and reconnaissance. 

On the other hand, the United States Navy started using underwater drones to detect and disable underwater mines in the 1990s. 

Also, in the 2010s, the United States Navy started using unmanned underwater vehicles in one of the ports in Southern Iraq called Umm Qasr to remove mines.

Public Works:

UUVs are used for routine maintenance of water-related public works. So, various organizations and agencies use the UUVs to conduct safety and structural inspections of underwater ports and waterways. 

Other public works requiring drones include monitoring submerged structures, dams, bridge piers, and other subsea structures.

Ship Inspections:

For reliability, efficiency, and safety, underwater drones are used to inspect the condition of the ships. Besides, underwater drone inspections are way cheaper than hiring dive teams. 

Hence, this technology is used to conduct essential inspections and remedy defects in breakwaters and berths. Some of these essential areas need constant monitoring, but it would be hazardous for humans to access them.  

Ship inspection by underwaterd drones

Deep-Sea Exploration and Research:

Underwater drones can be used for deep-sea exploration and research. For instance, they can collect samples for exploring deep sea structures and fauna. 

These drones may also measure the sea floor’s microplastic content. Still, underwater drones may be used to identify new underwater species. 

Unmanned underwater vehicles use digital cameras, ultrasonic imaging, bathymetry, magnetic sensors, and seafloor mapping when doing oceanic research. During oceanic research, underwater drones such as the Glider-type unmanned vehicles measure temperature and current in the water. 

They may also be used for Hydrothermal vent detection and ocean floor mapping. These unmanned underwater vehicles’ accuracy, low cost, and simplicity have increased their use in ocean weather reporting. 


Telecommunication, power companies, and other utility providers may use underwater drones to remotely assess and monitor submerged and subsea structures. 

These drones may also assess power cables, underwater pipelines, and fiber optic cables.

Undersea Exploration:

If you fear swimming but love doing underwater exploration, UUVs should be your next great thing to buy this year. An underwater drone will help you see all the lovely water creatures, including dolphins, crocodiles, and whales. 

To make it even more interesting, undersea explorers can use UUVs for dive photography and attract tourists their way, hence making money.  



Students and educators in the maritime fields, such as naval engineering and marine biology, can easily uncover the wonders of the vast oceans without going into the water to do subaquatic explorations. 

What’s more? Underwater drones are cheaper than cost-prohibitive submarines. 


Do you love yacht fishing? Here’s an opportunity for you to have a great catch. You can use an underwater drone to get live videos, which can help you see the best catch effortlessly and quickly.

Film Industries:

UUVs have been used in underwater film activities. An excellent example of a film is “The Dark Secrets,” a National Geographic documentary proving that the Germans sank during World War 1.

The devices used to capture the footage of the wreckage include remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), submarines, and underwater suits. 

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) developed Argo, a UUV that was highly used in finding the wreck of the Titanic. This Unnamed Underwater Vehicle featured a set of television cameras that were used to capture the wreckage effectively.

It wasn’t until 1986 when the filming done by the Argo UUV was included in the Secrets of the Titanic, a National Geographic documentary. Dr. Robber Ballard led the expedition.  

The Argo UUV could zoom in to allow closer views of the wreckage. Besides, it also had the potential to capture films at a wide angle, which made it easy to see the ship. 

Argo UUV and Titanic

What Are the Problems With Underwater Drones?

While underwater drones are good, and their vast applications prove it, they also have some flaws. Below are some major problems with underwater drones.

Poor Communication:

UUVs do not use conventional electromagnetic waves; instead, they use acoustic waves, which move slowly and are delayed by about 1 to 2 seconds. 

Communication between the drone and its controller is less effective than with other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). 


Due to distortion of transmissions. Water distorts transmissions, causing delays, which can be a major risk when doing time-sensitive tasks such as searching and rescuing people after a ship gets wrecked.  

Environmental conditions such as refraction, signal absorption, and reflection may also hinder effective communication. These environmental conditions could also degrade and scatter the signals, thereby delaying their transmission. 

Though the future is promising, and there may be better and more advanced underwater drones with excellent communication, the current drone’s navigation system is another underwater disadvantage as it uses acoustic waves.

This acoustic positioning navigation system also has the same challenges as acoustic communication. 

Therefore, although the number of underwater drones is on the rise, their communication system needs to be upgraded to avoid delays of signals during communication with the pilot.

Limited Range:

Unlike Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, underwater drones have a limited range because they use tethered connections. This shortens not only their range but also their maneuverability. 

Consequently, underwater drones may become slow, which could be a major concern if the current task is time-sensitive. Still, the signal range could shorten due to obstacles in the water, including thick coral. 

Such obstacles block the signals, hence affecting the drone range. As a result, some underwater missions may be impossible if the drone cannot reach the intended water depths. 

Sadly, in such cases, hiring a human diver could be the only solution, and it could cost more than using underwater drones.

Cause Disturbance to Marine Wildlife:

Unmanned underwater vehicles may cause disturbance to marine wildlife, including marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, and porpoises. Another major threat to marine wildlife is the hazardous material found in UUV batteries. 

It’s toxic to marine wildlife, and in the long run, it could lead to their death. 


Underwater drones can cause communication interference with other marine devices. This could be life-threatening, mainly if the vessels depend on this communication to navigate in the sea. 

Besides, if the drone pilots are not careful, the drones could collide with other marine vessels, risking lives. 

Security Issues:

The security of underwater drones could be compromised as they are detectable, trackable, and hackable. Once hacked, information could leak, which is a high-security threat. Besides, enemies could also capture them. 


Some of the underwater drones are heavyweight. While this is an advantage in that it allows them to carry heavy payloads, heavyweight can also affect their maneuverability. It’s easier for a lightweight drone to maneuver more easily underwater than a heavyweight drone. 

Besides, heavy drones also have heavy batteries, affecting their overall weight and making them slower.  

What Are the Capabilities of Underwater Drones?

Underwater drones have high capabilities that surpass human divers. 

Here are the major underwater drone capabilities. 

Works at varying depths of water: Underwater drones can go into depths human divers would be risking going into. Hence, they’re often used in high-risk activities like inspections and surveys.

Carries high payloads: Underwater infrastructure building and other offshore drilling activities require many tools that human divers find challenging to carry. In addition, these drones can be equipped with several tools simultaneously. Some underwater drones can carry higher payloads than any human diver.

Lowers Risk: Some of the underwater activities are highly risky for humans to engage in. Using drones underwater saves humans from such risky situations. Not to mention, these drones lower environmental damage and are said to be better at hazard control. 


Underwater drones are on the increase, and they’re also advancing swiftly. Their applications are vast; for example, they’re used in public works, film industries, ecosystem rehabilitation, ship inspections, military works such as security and defense, and deep-sea exploration and research.

We also cannot ignore the fact that these drones can reach deeper depths than any human divers, making it possible to do life-threatening tasks. In addition, these drones can carry more payloads than human divers, making it possible to do offshore drilling quickly and cheaply. 

However, this highly advanced technology faces challenges, including poor communication, limited range, and security issues. Not to mention, they can also cause communication or navigation interference, which could threaten the lives of other people underwater. 

Thankfully, the rate at which technology advances is promising, and we could have better underwater drones with improved security and communication systems.


Article Name
Underwater Drones: The Guide 2023
This article will tell you all you need to know about underwater drones. 
Publisher Name
Remoteflyer Private Limited.
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