What is a Dynamic Positioning System (DPS)?



In the vast and unpredictable realm of the seas, precise ship positioning is a cornerstone of many maritime operations.

From deep-sea drilling to intricate underwater research, the Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) has emerged as an indispensable tool, ensuring safety, accuracy, and efficiency.

Quick Summary:

  • Dynamic Positioning System (DPS): A modern marvel aiding ships to maintain their exact position against environmental forces.
  • Applications: Widely used in offshore drilling, research missions, and luxury cruises.
  • Levels of Sophistication: DPS comes in three primary levels – DP1, DP2, and DP3, each with its unique features and applications.

What is a Dynamic Positioning System (DPS)?

DPS is a computer-controlled system that automatically regulates a ship’s thrusters and propellers, allowing it to maintain its position and heading against environmental forces like wind, waves, and currents.

Historical Context: The 1960s marked the birth of DPS, initially designed to help drillships remain stationary over deep-sea oil wells. Over the decades, its applications have expanded, and its technology has become more sophisticated.

Why is DPS Used?

Imagine an offshore drilling operation in the North Sea. The waters are deep, the currents unpredictable, and anchoring is not feasible. Here, the Dynamic Positioning System becomes invaluable.

  • Anchoring Alternatives: In deep waters or sensitive marine ecosystems, traditional anchoring can be harmful or impractical. DPS offers a non-intrusive solution.
  • Key Operations: Beyond drilling, DPS is crucial for research vessels studying marine life in places like the Great Barrier Reef, ensuring they don’t drift and potentially damage delicate ecosystems.
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The Components of a Dynamic Positioning System

A Dynamic Positioning System is akin to the orchestra conductor, harmonizing various instruments to create a symphony of coordinated ship movement.

  • Sensors: These are the eyes and ears. From wind sensors to gyrocompasses, they continuously feed environmental data to the central system.
  • Computer Control System: The brain of the operation. It processes sensor data and determines the necessary propulsion adjustments.
  • Thrusters and Propellers: The hands and feet. Acting on the computer’s commands, they adjust their output to maintain the ship’s position.

How Dynamic Positioning Ships Work?

Consider a luxury cruise ship near the Maldives, offering passengers a panoramic view of a sunset. To ensure the ship remains stationary:

  • Sensors Detect: They continuously monitor the wind’s speed, the water’s current, and the ship’s drift.
  • Computer Processes: Using advanced algorithms, it calculates the required propulsion adjustments.
  • Thrusters Act: They respond in real-time, ensuring the ship remains in its desired spot, offering passengers an uninterrupted view.

Pros and Cons of Using Dynamic Positioning


  • Safety: Especially in rough seas, DPS can reduce the risk of accidents.
  • Precision: For operations like underwater cable-laying, DPS ensures pinpoint accuracy.
  • Environmental Care: By eliminating the need for anchoring, DPS can protect sensitive seabeds.


  • System Failures: Like all tech, DPS can malfunction, posing operational risks.
  • High Initial Costs: Installing a Dynamic Positioning System can be expensive, though it often pays off in operational efficiency.
  • Skill Erosion: Over-reliance might erode traditional navigation skills among crew members.

Understanding the Levels of Dynamic Positioning

DPS systems are not one-size-fits-all. They come in varying levels of sophistication:

  • DP1: Suitable for operations where a system failure isn’t critical. Often found on smaller vessels or those operating in safer waters.
  • DP2: Offers redundancy. If one system fails, another takes over. Common in offshore drilling where precision and safety are paramount.
  • DP3: The gold standard. Used in high-risk operations, it boasts multiple redundancies and the most stringent safety measures.

Differences Between DP1, DP2, and DP3 Vessels

  • Redundancy Levels: DP3 vessels have the highest redundancy, ensuring operations continue even if multiple systems fail.
  • Operational Scenarios: DP3 is for high-risk operations, DP2 is for medium-risk, and DP1 is for operations where DPS failure is less critical.
  • Safety Protocols: From backup power supplies to emergency drills, each level has its safety protocols, with DP3 vessels having the most rigorous ones.

Real-world Applications of DPS

In today’s maritime landscape, Dynamic Positioning System is not just a luxury but often a necessity. Here are some real-world scenarios where DPS plays a pivotal role:

  • Offshore Wind Farms: In the North Sea, where many offshore wind farms thrive, DPS-equipped vessels, including Anchor Handling Tug Supply (AHTS) ships, are pivotal in positioning turbines accurately, guaranteeing maximum energy harnessing and robust stability.
  • Subsea Mining: In the deep waters off Papua New Guinea, companies are exploring the seabed for precious minerals. DPS allows mining vessels to stay stationary, ensuring safe and efficient extraction.
  • Deep-sea Research: In the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, research vessels equipped with DPS can remain stationary, allowing scientists to study this mysterious environment without the vessel drifting away.
  • Luxury Cruises: For cruise ships wanting to offer passengers a stationary view of events like the Monaco Grand Prix or the Northern Lights in Norway, DPS ensures the ship remains in the perfect spot without dropping anchor.

Safety and Training in DPS Operations

Given the critical nature of DPS in many operations, ensuring the system’s proper functioning and the crew’s expertise is paramount.

  • Regular Maintenance: DPS components, especially sensors, require routine checks and maintenance. For instance, a vessel operating in the silt-laden waters of the Amazon might need more frequent sensor cleanings.
  • Crew Training: While DPS automates positioning, human oversight is crucial. Crew members undergo rigorous training, both in simulators and on-board, to understand the system’s nuances and handle potential emergencies.
  • Emergency Protocols: On DP2 and DP3 vessels, especially, there are strict protocols for handling system failures. This might involve switching to backup systems, manual overrides, or, in extreme cases, evacuating the vessel.

The Future of Dynamic Positioning

As maritime operations grow in complexity and the push for environmental sustainability intensifies, DPS’s role is set to expand.

  • Integration with AI: Future DPS systems might leverage Artificial Intelligence for predictive adjustments, anticipating environmental changes before they occur.
  • Eco-friendly Operations: As the maritime world moves towards greener operations, DPS can reduce its carbon footprint by optimizing propulsion and eliminating the need for anchoring in sensitive areas.
  • Expanded Applications: As DPS technology becomes more affordable and accessible, we might see its adoption in smaller vessels, including fishing boats and private yachts.

Leading Manufacturers in the Dynamic Positioning System Market

The maritime industry’s reliance on the Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) has led to the emergence of several key players who specialize in manufacturing and innovating these systems. These companies not only provide the hardware and software but also offer training, maintenance, and upgrades, ensuring vessels are equipped with the latest in DPS technology.

Kongsberg Maritime

A Norwegian company with a rich history in maritime technology, Kongsberg Maritime is a global leader in DPS solutions. Their systems are known for reliability and are used in various vessels, from luxury yachts to advanced offshore drilling rigs.

General Electric (GE)

With its vast industrial reach, GE has a dedicated marine solutions division. Their DPS systems, known for integrating advanced algorithms and robust hardware, are widely adopted in both commercial and research vessels.


Beyond luxury cars, Rolls-Royce is a significant player in the maritime sector. Their DPS solutions, often integrated with other on-board systems, offer a seamless navigation experience, especially in challenging marine environments.


A Finnish corporation with a global footprint, Wärtsilä specializes in various marine and energy solutions. Their DPS systems are recognized for their user-friendly interfaces and the ability to integrate with other on-board technologies.

Navis Engineering

Originating from Finland, Navis Engineering has carved a niche for itself in the DPS market. Their systems are known for precision and are especially popular among research vessels and ships operating in extreme conditions.


The Dynamic Positioning System, from its humble beginnings in the 1960s, has become an integral part of the maritime world. Its ability to ensure safety, precision, and eco-friendly operations makes it indispensable in today’s complex and ever-evolving maritime landscape. As we sail into the future, DPS stands as a beacon, guiding vessels through challenges and ensuring the maritime world remains on course.

What is the Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) used for in maritime operations?

DPS is a computer-controlled system that allows ships to maintain their precise position and heading against environmental forces, eliminating the need for anchoring. It’s essential for operations like offshore drilling, deep-sea research, and luxury cruises.

How does the DPS counteract environmental forces like wind and currents?

DPS uses a combination of sensors to detect environmental forces and a computer system to process this data. Based on the information, the system adjusts the ship’s thrusters and propellers in real-time to maintain its desired position.

What are the different levels of Dynamic Positioning, and how do they differ?

There are three primary levels: DP1, DP2, and DP3. DP1 is a basic system without redundancy, suitable for less critical operations. DP2 offers redundancy, ensuring operations continue even if one system fails. DP3 is the most advanced, with multiple redundancies, ideal for high-risk operations.

Are there any drawbacks or limitations to using DPS?

While DPS offers numerous advantages, there are potential drawbacks, including system failures, high initial costs, and the possibility of crew members becoming over-reliant on the technology, leading to a decline in traditional navigation skills.

How does the future of DPS look with advancements in technology?

The future of DPS is promising, with potential integrations with Artificial Intelligence for predictive adjustments and a broader application range, including smaller vessels and eco-friendly maritime operations.

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