Pontoon Remote Survey Vehicle (RSV)

Hi All,

I have started a little aquatic vehicle project that will be used to do depth mapping of the various ponds, lakes, and canals where I live in southern Florida. The mapping will allow the owners to determine their silt levels and silting rates.

My RSV is based on a similar RSV, only smaller, that appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Robot Magazine and can be seen here:  eTrac RSV 

I chose to use fiberglass pontoons for a .60 size R/C plane and can be seen here:

3691142028?profile=originalThe pontoons are manufactured by Great Planes and can be found at Tower Hobbies.

For propulsion I was originally going to build a couple of small outboard electric motors using Johnson-Mayfair 750GPM bait pump cartridges and 50mm Robbe three bladed propellers.

The housing for the bait pump cartridges was going to take a little bit of machining and the jaws in my Tag lathe still needed to be machined to allow me to chuck up plastic pipe couplers that are bigger than 1" in diameter.

Since I like Traxxas products, I found that the geared propulsion system for the discontinued Villain R/C racing boat might fill the bill as there are quite a few of the legacy Villain parts to be had on eBay for cheap:-).

So I downloaded the Villain exploded hull and drive train views and the parts list and proceeded to buy what I needed to put together two of the Villain geared propulsion drive trains.

At this time, while searching for Villain parts on Amazon, I found one last Villain built hull for sale and proceeded to order it so that I can build up a competition autonomous boat for competitions like the Sparkfun AVC only on the reservoir.

I began the installation of the Villain drive trains by cutting two sections out of the right pontoon just aft of the wire connecting bridge mounting points. I reinforced the sides and ribs of the pontoon, where I removed the fiberglass glass sections, with thin strips of poplar wood.

The toughest part of mounting the drive train was spotting the hole for the stuffing tube in the pontoon stern plate and getting clearance for the motor under one of the pontoon ribs. Pictures of the installation are below:

3691141993?profile=original550 motor_reduction gears_and stuffing tube

3691142051?profile=originalStuffing tube exit on stern plate

The propeller drive shaft is attached to a universal joint that is coupled to a short propeller shaft that is supported by an outdrive housing that is attached to a hinged trim support that allows the pitch of the propeller to be varied up and down vertically. I plan to epoxy the motor mount to the bottom of the hull once I have installed the rest of the propulsion hardware beyond the stern plate.

3691142078?profile=originalRight and Left Pontoons with Bridge

More build details and pictures to come.


TCIII ArduBoat Developer

You need to be a member of diydrones to add comments!

Join diydrones

Email me when people reply –


  • Hello Thomas,

    By any chance the project is finished ? 

    If the status is shared somewhere else please give me the link.

    Thank you.

    • Admin


      The project was completed with the testing of the depth finder in my Association's swimming pool.

      The intention was to do a survey of the Association's mini lake, but extremely hot weather here in southern FL this last year and the mini lake's bank restoration project has kept me from surveying the lake at this time.



    • Can you please share how the survey mission result look like? I am asking because I want to start a similar project as yours-aquatic vehicle for depth mapping.
      Thank you.
    • Admin


      The depth finder firmware on the Arduino Uno reads the GPS coordinates, then the depth in either feet or meters and saves the data on the Arduino GPS Shield micro SD card while also transmitting the data pair to a Ground Control Station for display and storage.

      I have attached a data log file below to show you how the data is captured and stored.

      You might want to review these blog posts that involve GPS coordinated depth measurements:




      Unfortunately the Dr. Depth application is no longer available for generating a depth survey plot however there are other programs that can be used, but they are not free.




  • Hello Thomas,

    Do you know what is the minimum depth that Intelliducer can read?
    I was trying your program using an Arduino Uno and Adafruit GPS data logger
    and is not working, I have tried it in a small barrel of around 40 cm depth.
    Also do you know if Intelliducer is producing an inverted signal? I found
    somebody else that claim to have it working, you can find details in this
    Arduino thread:

    Thanks in advance,
    • Admin


      I tested my Intelliducer in a portion of a pool that was 4 ft deep.



    • As I said I tried to test in a barrel, I can see sometimes
      the depth of the barrel (0,4 metres) in the output of sonar,
      but the big problem is that softwareserial is giving me a lot
      of strange characters. I cannot see a valid NMEA0183 output
      starting with $SDDBT.
      The only different thing compare to you is that I am using an
      Arduino Uno instead of Duemilanove.
    • Dragos from the manual the minimum water depth is 1m ! But it should work on shallower waters, but you should no trust those values.

      I am connecting my intelliducer to an Arduino Mega, I used the TX/B from the sonar to the RX1 on the arduino board. Despite the manual saying to use TX/A, it didn't worked for me (should be the inverted signal from the differential pair). It worked when I used the TX/B.

      I see you sorted your problems out... Anyway good luck!

    • I didn't found in the manual minimum depth, in any case
      it is showing me the real depth of the barrel, 0,4 meters.
      On the Arduino Mega you are using a software serial or a
      hardware serial? Did you used RX wire from Intelliducer?
      In my case I used TXA and RXA from Intelliducer and inverted
      software serial, SoftwareSerial(6, 5, true). And is working
      perfect. Good luck to u2 :)
    • Are you sure there is an RXA on the intelliducer? A least on the NMEA 0183 the only data transfer wires are the TXA and TXB (which are a differential pair)...

      I am using a harware serial.

      Thanks man!

      This is the bare minimum that I am using to see the NMEA sentences:

      void setup() {
          // initialize both serial ports:
          Serial.begin(4800);   // terminal
          Serial1.begin(4800); // sonar

      void loop() {
          // read from port 1, send to port 0:
          if (Serial1.available()) {
              int inByte =;


This reply was deleted.