Australia, with its large continental shelf, requires faster and more economic methods of conducting hydrographic survey. Backed by the Royal Australian Navy an experimental programme to investigate airborne laser methods was commenced in the mid 1970s and completed in 1984. This programme demonstrated that airborne laser depth sounding can be used effectively in Australian coastal waters. This paper reviews the achievements of the experimental programme and describes some features of LADS, a ‘Laser Airborne Depth Sounder’ planned for operational use by the RAN Hydrographic Service. The paper was presented at the Congress of the International Association of Institutes of Navigation, Tokyo, 1–5 October 1985.