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Machine guidance technology enables contractor to dredge marina to spec with speed

Excavator dredging in marina

Customer Profile: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia-based McQuade Marine is a family-owned business that has been a dredging contractor since 1969. 

Business Challenge: Perform maintenance dredging on marinas and channels in Queensland, Australia with greater accuracy and speed.



  • Improved underwater visualization
  • Tight positioning
  • More efficient day-to-day activities
  • Easy to prepare comprehensive reports to owners and clients

Excavator dredging the mud-like material

In an important marina maintenance project, McQuade Marine, an Australian contractor known for its expertise in dredging since 1969, has set new standards for efficiency and precision in the dredging industry. Tasked with the removal of approximately 5,550 cubic meters of mud-like material from the Sanctuary Cove marina on the Gold Coast, McQuade Marine successfully completed this project within a challenging two-week deadline, minimizing disruption to marina users and nearby residents.

Sanctuary Cove marina, nestled on the Coomera River, is a bustling recreational hotspot that has seen significant growth over the years. Offering unhindered access to the Pacific Ocean, it now boasts four man-made marinas with over 300 moorings and a dedicated superyacht berth. Facing the complex task of dredging in the confined spaces around berthing pockets and pontoons, McQuade Marine leveraged its long-standing commitment to agility and continuous technological advancement.

The company employed a combination of GNSS-enabled machine control software and specialized marine software, enhancing its underwater survey capabilities and optimizing dredge-head actions. This innovative approach allowed for real-time visibility of the seabed profile, enabling precise targeting and removal of material without the inefficiencies of traditional methods.

Alexander Brink, a systems expert at McQuade, highlighted the transformative impact of integrating different systems. “We’re finding that it’s a combination of systems that is redefining our productivity and efficiency,” said Brink.

The team from McQuade deployed a 45-ton Komatsu PC450 long-reach excavator on a custom built barge for dredging. The extracted material was subsequently transported to the Faucon, a split-hull trailing suction hopper dredger, for relocation within the marina.

Operator in cab dredging with TMC system

A distinctive approach taken by the team was the incorporation of the Trimble Earthworks machine control system on an excavator, overlaid with the Trimble Marine Construction (TMC) software. This provided a comprehensive and real-time 3D view of the operation, showcasing not only the surveyed surface, design and dredged depth, but also the excavator, the Faucon dredger and the GHT1 barge.

“With TMC, we have 3D visibility of the seabed profile so we can precisely target and remove only the needed material,” said Brink. “It’s considerably more efficient than blind digging, or even our old machine control/dredger coordination workflows. Overall, the technology reduces guesswork and reliance on experienced operators alone.”

High performance positioning

In order for the excavator operator to maximize targetable material and focus on areas that were not dredged to within tolerance, regular hydrographic surveys were uploaded directly into TMC.

A key feature of this project was the Wi-Fi connectivity between the operator on the excavator and the skipper of the dredger. This connectivity allowed them to share the vessel's positioning and 3D model information in real time, and verbal communication and coordination also through Wi-Fi optimized the positioning and maneuvering of the dredging equipment. 

 “Connecting our machines through Wi-Fi-enabled TMC screens allows operators to optimize their positioning and reduces time spent moving between cuts,” said Brink. “Both parties can see the maximum and minimum reach of the excavator combined with the radius of the bucket's current position. This is a game changer. We send it through the Wi-Fi network and immediately the skipper can see exactly where that dredger needs to be. This also means hands free talking between the two crew members to facilitate maneuvering and optimal placement of spuds (stakes) that anchor the dredger to the sea floor.”

skipper of the dredger in the cab

Rewards of real-time technology

Brink praised the real-time benefits of the integrated TMC and Trimble Earthworks solution, emphasizing its ability to immediately target areas not within tolerance based on updated hydrographic surveys. This advancement not only maximized the efficiency of material removal but also streamlined the process of generating volume progress reports, enhancing project management and customer satisfaction.

“We’re working in mud-like conditions,” he said. “With our old system, we couldn’t overlay the updated bathymetry for the operator to target the high spots not within tolerance. Now, hydrographic surveys can be conducted and then seamlessly uploaded straight into TMC for the excavator and dredger to immediately start targeting any areas not within tolerance —thereby maximizing targetable material.”

With just a few clicks, the operator can produce volume progress reports for both the project management team and the customer, streamlining the reporting process for all involved. Brink continued, “We used to take pictures of the cab screen to track our daily progress. This workflow is so much better.”

He summarized, “The ability to screen share Trimble Earthworks information by technicians is fantastic. The customisation of information at the displays is also excellent. The added Wi-Fi connectivity from the dredger to the excavator with TMC allows us to use free real-time full-duplex communication with wireless headsets over ethernet.”

McQuade Marine relied on skills, tools and technologies to successfully complete the Sanctuary Cove dredging project within the stipulated time frame, and provide the customer with documented assurance of the quality of the work completed.

Aerial view of the marina and dredging