What Are Underwater ROVs & What Are They Used For?

Aquaculture, Commercial / Salvage, For Everyone, Infrastructure, Marine Survey / Shipping, Military / First Responder, Oil and Energy, Uncategorised, Underwater Discovery and Research

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Underwater ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) are submersible, robotic systems, used to observe the depths of large bodies of water by operators from shore or by divers in the water. 

Everything You Need to Know About Underwater ROVs

Ranging in size, ROVs can be as small as a basketball to as big as a large SUV and can range in price starting at a few thousand dollars up to millions of dollars. Underwater ROVs can be found in industries ranging from search and rescue, military, recreation and discovery, aquaculture, marine biology, oil, gas, offshore energy, shipping, submerged infrastructure and more. They allow operators to capture photo and video footage to investigate and monitor ports, harbours and vessels, bring innovation to pipe inspections and explore the depths of our oceans, lakes and rivers.

Four Classes of ROVs

Work Class ROV

Used for ocean floor exploration and inspections at depths that divers are often unable to reach. A work class ROV acts as a safe alternative to divers. They are often used in offshore energy projects and deep archaeological investigations.

Light Work Class ROV

Built for moderate to deep depths, the light work class ROV is deployed from ships in lieu of divers to explore. Can be used during inspections to make repairs or hold large add-ons such as laser scanners or specialized inspection devices and sensors.  

Observation Class ROV

An ROV small in size, used to explore lakes, rivers and coastal waters. Often used to test water safety prior to a diver during mission and conduct inspections, equipped with sonar and custom sensors.

Micro or Mini ROV

The smallest ROV, often used to inspect hard to reach areas at shallow depths, such as pipe systems and submerged infrastructure.

Origin and History

underwater ROV history

Remotely operated vehicles were first put to test in the 1960s by the U.S. Navy to retrieve sunken data. In 1966, the Navy’s Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) successfully recovered an atomic bomb that went missing off the coast of Spain.

In 1973, the crew from Pisces – a notable deep-sea submarine that sunk off the coast of Ireland – was saved by a remotely operated vehicle. Over the course of the following decade, underwater ROVs became a crucial system used in various industries.

Work class ROVs marked the beginning and are still being widely used today. Observation ROVs are newer to the market but have filled the gap in recent years, specializing in shallow water observation and inspections.

Benefits of the Modern Underwater ROV

Quick Deployment

Due to its compact design and easy to use technology, underwater ROVs can be deployed in a moment’s notice. This is highly beneficial in emergency situations where time is limited and in areas that are too narrow or difficult to reach by divers.

Minimal Maintenance

Robust and rugged in design, and built to withstand harsh water environments, underwater ROVs require minimal maintenance. Typically, ROVs can last years without the need for major repairs.  

Extended Dive Times

Depending on the conditions and type of operation, divers can only remain submerged underwater up to 30 minutes to an hour at a time and most jobs require a dive team consisting of 2-3 divers – commercial diver, standby diver, and supervisor – for a single mission. Depending on its battery life, a ROV can remain underwater for hours on end. 

Video Recording Capabilities

One of the most remarkable benefits of the ROV is its photo and video recording capabilities, providing high resolution footage. In dark and murky waters, a ROV can be deployed to record, and later reviewed for documentation and results.  Alternatively, the footage can be edited to serve for documentary programming.

Fit into Confined Areas

Depending on its size, a ROV is capable of maneuvering and inspecting small and hard to reach areas. This is critical when collecting data that would otherwise be unattainable by divers. 


ROVs provide a safe alternative to explore dangerous areas for divers. Both from shore or by divers in the water, a ROV can be deployed in underwater locations to gather remains and collect data. In situations where divers are needed, ROVs can inspect critical areas, while the diver determines the safest possible route. 

Easy to Use

Mini ROVs are often equipped with a handheld controller to greatly reduce the learning curve. It takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with controls, a few hours to be proficient at piloting and a weekend to become an expert.


In comparison to larger submersibles, a micro ROV is much more cost-effective. For those who are interested in exploring narrow underwater areas, to gather footage or collect data, a micro ROV is a very affordable option. Related: Vessel Inspections: How to Save Thousands of Dollars 

Underwater ROVs in Various Industries



Aquaculture is a key source of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for millions of people around the globe. ROVs are used in aquaculture to make net inspections, lighting, feeding, trouble shooting and stock monitoring easier and more efficient. The use of underwater ROVs has proven to be a cost effective way for fish farmers to ensure healthy fish crop, efficient harvest and environmental protection.

Learn more: Middle East Aquaculture Growth: New Wave of Sustainability 


Commercial and Salvage Diving

commercial dive underwater rovs

The more commercial or salvage divers know about the underwater environment they are able to enter, the easier it is to prepare for and mitigate risks. ROVs are an essential tool in ensuring a higher level of diver safety.

Learn moreMini-ROV and your Commercial Diving Company 


Municipal Infrastructure

aging infrastructure-underwater rovs

Routine inspections are critical to the long-term care and success of any type of infrastructure. With underwater infrastructure, routine inspections such as dam, bridge and reservoir inspections were traditionally difficult and often dangerous. ROVs are now being used to perform infrastructure inspections of pipeline systems so that divers are not put in harm’s way. 

Learn moreAging Infrastructure Inspections: Surveying the Dinosaur



military underwater ROVs

Threats to security are often hidden in underwater locations, either as discarded evidence, contraband travelling on ships or explosives placed to cause destruction. A ROV offers a safer view of threats and evidence that is hidden beneath the waves, without jeopardizing diver’s safety.

Learn more: Robots to the Rescue: ROVs for Search and Rescue 


Environmental Research

research underwater rovs

ROVs are used to help with environmental research and to survey our oceans for evidence. The cost and risk for divers to perform research dives can prohibit environmental organizations. A ROV provides a cost-effective alternative to make use of research grants and funding. 

Learn more: Climate Change Research: Underwater Drones used to Monitor Marine Health


Oil and Energy

underwater rovs inspection

As the population grows, the need for efficient production and delivery of energy is becoming more pressing. Wind, solar, oil and gas, nuclear and hydroelectricity involves infrastructure under the water. Enduring safety, efficiency and lessening environmental impact relies on periodic monitoring and inspection. A ROV offers an alternative to sending divers underwater to perform said emergency or routine inspection work. 

Learn more: How a Hydroelectric Engineering Firm is Generating More Business using Underwater Drones



Shipping-underwater ROVs

A vessel’s structural integrity, potential transferring of invasive species, or contraband smuggling demands periodic inspections of boat hulls during transit and when entering ports. A ROV provides an affordable, user-friendly way to perform marine surveys, hull and ship inspections and ballast tank inspections without the need for diver intervention.

Learn more: Providing New Innovations to Shipping Industry


Underwater Discovery

 diving underwater ROV

As we discover more and more about our earth, the desire to understand what we cannot see beneath the waves is greater than ever. Many discovery expeditions now make use of specially designed ROVs equipped with cameras to mitigate risks and help divers with imaging and video recording capabilities.

Learn more: Searching for the Avro Arrow with an Underwater Drone


Deep Trekker Underwater ROVs

Underwater exploration, inspection and monitoring is critical across various industries, and as more and more industries find new ways to utilize ROVs, the market continues to expand. At Deep Trekker, our vision is to make the underwater world accessible to everyone. To do so, we offer robust, capable and easy to use underwater ROVs that can be deployed within a moment’s notice – to gather information and to serve as an accompaniment during diving missions.

To learn more about our submersible ROVs or to receive a quote, visit our website or contact us here.


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  • Ben Reid says:

    The length of time that a diver can stay under, depends on the depth in which they are working. For example if its 30 feet or less a diver can remain there for 5 hours.

    • Brendan Cook says:

      Hi, Ben.

      Thank you for your input. You are right – depending on the environment and type of underwater work, divers are able to stay under for long periods of time.

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