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RC Club Saved by a Robot


20 May 2021

Early this year the Wynnum Manly club became unable to sail at the harbour venue they have been at for decades.  Dropping buoys with strings attached was deemed not a good idea anymore by the authorities, apparently there was a risk that the anchor rope might foul a boat propeller.  Fair enough, but they had nowhere to sail!

To the rescue came local sailor Andrew Wilson (the one with the wooden Corby IOM) and he had a Radio Controlled/GPS buoy prototype operating before most of us had even heard of it.  No anchor rope required.  The result is that the Manly club has just this last week started sailing again after getting the final blessing from Transport and Main Roads (TMR).  

But this working prototype has a future worth exploring beyond Manly, after all RC/GPS buoys are in use in various parts of the globe for big boat fleet racing, particularly in deep water areas.

I recall the first time I was at a regatta where racing was held up significantly while the course was changed, must have been 2016 or so.  Two men with varying degrees of physical capability carefully boarded a very small plastic dinghy from a rocky foreshore.  Not a lot of urgency, they motored slowly out to shift a couple of windward marks.  It took ages.  The Race Officer shouted and waved directions frantically, blew his whistle but to no avail, the buoys ended up in a worse position than before.  In their frustration the skippers started to try to impress each other by mimicking the RO's arm waving and mocked the boat crew accusing them of being both deaf and blind.  Bit harsh, it was not their fault, it was the fault of the equipment they had to work with.  Fifteen minutes later, just as it was set to the RO's requests, the wind changed 50 degrees.  "Ahhhrrrr NOooooo!"

Across the sport of yachting, the fairness of the start of the race is vitally important. Radio Yachting is most often conducted in enclosed waters where wind direction changes are even more frequent than in open waters.

From QRYA post regatta surveys, the most common complaint received is an unfair, overly-biased start line.  Adjusting the line frequently can delay racing and create further issues, and not adjusting them can mar a regatta. Further, Race Officers and boat crew can be overloaded by rapidly changing conditions. Sailing boats can be controlled remotely but instead, usually elderly men are sent out in very small boats to shift a buoy a few metres.  Responding to that, the association developed a White Paper on RC Buoys in 2018.  Nothing happened after that as the Nationals and administration on general took focus. 

For clubs engaged in weekly social sailing, a reliable radio controlled buoy would allow them to set a course without launching a dinghy. Not only is this convenient but it is safer.  RC buoys are available commercially for big boat fleets but the size, shape and particularly cost are not suitable for our purposes.

So how could this work for the sport?

  • National Regatta: The first few races went ok, then just as the A-fleet finished the breeze clocked 20 degrees to the right.  While the B-fleeters are launching, the RO grabs the iPad and with two fingers shifts all the Buoybots at once, rotating the course until the wind indicator on the screen from the Buoybot pointed to the top marks. 


  • Club Day: Only four people showed up on Mother's Day.  Not worth putting the boat in so a Buoybot is launched to be the windward mark.  All good, great day.


  • Voluteer options: Volunteers avoid boat duty, usually two are needed for safety and effectiveness.  It's a tough job getting yelled at by the RO and the boat is tricky to handle.  No more.  Instead of two capable people, one person in a campchair can control a Buoybot or two, otherwise the RO can drive them.


So what is Buoybot ?


Buoybot is a collaboration between Andrew R Wilson and Trevor Jack, whom are long friends, sailors, kiters, foilers, innovators and adventurous souls. All development thus far has been self funded.

Buoybot is a collection of components;

  • foam hull(s), foam top works – these can be made at home garage with simple materials, duct tape and epoxy glue.
  • Skeg – bent to shape aluminium flat bar from you local sheet metal workshop (or home garage)
  • Control box / motors– off the shelf or on line from an electrical supplier.
  • Buoybot is designed to be simple, low cost, robust, ability to be home built.

Buoybot is NOT designed to be glamorous or bullet proof or maintenance free – but could be developed with that in mind.


Andrew & Trevor Jack will;

  • continue to develop the solution – Andrew will travel most weekends to SE QLD clubs to demonstrate the solution – warts and all for the next few weeks. The priority for him is that Wynnum Manly's Buoybot performs.
  • once Buoybots are out, Andrew will assist owners to maintain their units (within reason) – this is open source after all
  • consider commercialising opportunities

They look forward gauging interest from the Australia RC community to adopt this solution, and whether a 'solution-in-a-box' is favoured or that clubs want to assemble them themselves.  Clubs in QLD often make use of grants from different government levels, these need quotes from local suppliers so that the grant money will benefit the community.  In this case it could be easier if clubs had a quote from a supplier to put on the application rather than a parts list from China.

If you want more information contact Andrew R Wilson  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +61 (0)407 019 933

Buoybot is a prototype, this is not an ad as it it not yet ready to produce either by Andrew or at your home, unless you have a go yourself.  RC sailors will be kept up to date as this one progresses.  unless you wish to have a go your self … “ in which case, please log on to “Ardupilot” (an open source software community website) without whom ( and in particular, Mr Randy Mackay) this development would not be possible.

Buoybot V2 will be launched this coming weekend in multihull form.  Experience from these trials will be of course used to develop it further.

There is no doubt that this has the potential to revolutionise radio sailing while making it easier and safer for all concerned.  It already has done more than that for the Wynnum Manly Club.


The Editor

Video and stil by Nick Lindslay


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