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In this paper, the implementation of genetic programming (GP) to design a controller structure is assessed. GP is used to evolve control strategies that, given the current and desired state of the propulsion and heading dynamics of a supply ship as inputs, generate the commanded forces required to maneuver the ship. The controllers created using GP are evaluated through computer simulations and real maneuverability tests in a laboratory water basin facility. The robustness of each controller is analyzed through the simulation of environmental disturbances. In addition, GP runs in the presence of disturbances are carried out so that the different controllers obtained can be compared. The particular vessel used in this paper is a scale model of a supply ship called CyberShip II. The results obtained illustrate the benefits of using GP for the automatic design of propulsion and navigation controllers for surface ships.