Remotely Operated Vehicles: 7 Things You Need to Know

By George Slaughter

1. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) come in a number of classifications.

A Remotely Operated Vehicle is an underwater robot, usually tethered, that works while its operating crew is stationed aboard a ship, on a platform, or on shore. The tethers provide power to the ROV, which has TV cameras and lights installed so that the crew sees what the ROV sees.

The following table lists the various classifications of ROVs.

Class Type Power (hp)
Micro Observation (< 100 meters) Low Cost Small Electric < 5
Mini Observation (< 300 meters) Mini (Small & #9 (Electric)) < 10
Light/Medium Work Class (< 2,000 meters) Medium (Electro/Hyd) < 100
Observation/Light Work Class (< 3,000 meters) High Capacity Electric < 20
Heavy Work Class/Large Payload (< 3,000 meters) High Capacity (Electro/Hyd) < 300
Observation/Data Collection (> 3,000 meters) Ultra Deep (Electric) < 25
Heavy Work Class/Large Payload (> 3,000 meters) Ultra Deep (Electro/Hyd) < 120
Trenching and Burial Bottom Crawlers and Plows
Towed Systems Towed Systems
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Untethered AUVs

Source: Marine Technology Society website at

In addition to surveys, ROVs provide construction support, debris removal, drilling support, object location and recovery, pipeline inspection and cleaning, and subsea installation.

To perform these tasks, most ROVs have special equipment installed in addition to the TV cameras and lights already mentioned. These items may include a manipulator or cutting arm, magnetometers, sonar, a still camera, water samplers, and instruments that measure water clarity, light penetration, and temperature.

3. Despite performing all this work, ROVs have limited dexterity.

ROVs have limited dexterity because they have no stable platform from which to perform the work. In the book Deepwater Petroleum Exploration and Production (PennWell, 2011), authors William L. Leffler, Richard Pattarozzi, and Gordon Sterling write that, “…connections between an ROV and a subsea fixture are designed as crudely as possible to accommodate the underdeveloped gross motor skills of the ROV.”

4. ROVs play an important role in more than the oil and gas industry.

While companies use ROVs as described above, non-industry organizations also use ROVs, perhaps most notably for shipwreck surveys and exploration. In 2004, to cite one example, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used ROVs to survey the deteriorating condition of the RMS Titanic shipwreck.

5. Not everyone can operate an ROV.

A typical ROV crew comprises a supervisor, mechanical technician, and an electrician. Crew members typically have a math, electrical, electronic, hydraulics, or mechanical aptitudes and background. This expertise can come either from previous experience or through academic training.

An ability to stay focused over long periods of time helps, too, as a typical ROV crew works in 12-hour shifts.

6. The demand for qualified ROV operators continues to grow.

The demand for qualified ROV operators has grown as companies become more active in deepwater exploration.

To meet this demand, more schools and organizations are offering ROV training programs. Such programs require that students have a background, or at least an aptitude in mathematics, physics, or something similar as described earlier. The ability to use joysticks, which is often developed by playing video games, is another sought-after skill.

Programs generally take two years to complete and include training in an ROV simulator, where students can get a feel for using the joysticks and controls that manipulate an ROV.

7. ROV technology continues to evolve.

Technological advancements are eliminating the need for tethers with some newer-model ROVs. These new ROVs, called autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are battery powered. AUVs perform underwater surveys and research.

About the Author

George Slaughter is a writer, editor, and content strategist. His web site is