Mayflower Autonomous Ship


Introducing the Mayflower

In 2014, the council members of Plymouth, UK were debating how best to celebrate in 2020, the 400th Centenary of the crossing of the Pilgrim Fathers in the original Mayflower.  After much discussion, it was decided to build a modern Mayflower that embodies the pioneering spirit of the Pilgrims by embracing a raft ground breaking technologies encompassing design, propulsion and control.

As the idea matured, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) Ltd was formed, comprising of MSubs, ProMare, and Plymouth University.  The company formulated the following mission:

To build an autonomous vessel capable of conducting scientific research with the endurance and reliability to operate remotely in all corners of the globe. The vessel is to be powered by renewable energy and where necessary compliant with maritime regulations. The vessel is to have undergone an extensive sea trial period and be ready to participate in the Mayflower 400 Commemorations in 2020.

MSubs provides the managerial expertise to keep such a challenging project on track and the university has committed to providing intellectual horsepower.  The internationally acclaimed Shuttleworth Design Ltd are designing the vessel and Qinetiq are providing technical expertise associated with the challenges of controlling an autonomous vessel.

After her Atlantic crossing, MAS will circumnavigate the globe.  Thereafter she will be available for charter for scientific research.  Her sleek lines house a number of cargo holds capable of remotely deploying Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs) and other scientific instrumentation.  Whether operating remotely or, autonomously, MAS is well suited to persistent scientific data collection untethered by the need to replenish a crew.  AUVs, gliders and other scientific instrumentation will be deployed autonomously, data will be gathered and transmitted ashore for analysis.

Phase Two of the design is almost complete and construction of a scale model for wave tank testing will start soon.   Once this is complete and any adjustments made, construction of the advanced composite carbon-fiber structure will begin.  MAS will be 32 metres in length and displace 26 tonnes.  A trimaran design gives the most efficient hull form for low speed motoring.  The overall hull configuration was designed to reduce windage, while also keeping the solar array sufficiently high above the waterline to reduce the effects of wave impact.  Without the need for accommodation, the centre hull has been kept low to the water and the wings and deck are separated and raised above on struts. This will allow waves to break through the vessel and significantly reduces motion induced by wave impact.

The two masted wind surfer style sail rig will enable a top speed of around 15 knots and is designed to work with both or, either sails hoisted, giving three sail combinations.  Each sail is controlled by a single sheet and the sails are stowed in a boom mounted cradle when not in use.  This reduces windage and shadow over the deck mounted photovoltaic (PV) cells that supply the hybrid propulsion system.

It is expected that construction of the hull will begin in mid-2017 and take two years. Providing the project maintains the success and trajectory it has enjoyed to date, the MAS will begin trials in 2019.