Virtual instrumentation represents a PC based control system which incorporates manipulation of data acquired from physical transducers in specific ways using a very high level graphical environment. The deployment of this non-traditional approach is demonstrated in this paper by application to design of a fin control system for a yacht. One of the disadvantages of the traditional stabilizer system is the enormous hardware involved in the controllers and instrumentation panels, which make maintenance and troubleshooting difficult. With the help of virtual instrumentation, design of the stabilization controller and instrumentation panels can be carried out much more effectively, in comparison with the traditional hardware approach. A multi-disciplinary approach is adopted here and it consists of the assessment of the hydrodynamic coefficients of the yacht using a numerical package, representation of the hydrodynamic coefficients by suitable polynomial functions, identification of the time dependent fundamental frequency in the roll disturbance signal sample, generation of control signal for an appropriate fin angle based on the fin lift characteristics of the chosen fin and employment of feedback control to maintain the fin at the appropriate angle for maximum control. Once the ship based hydrodynamic coefficients are generated, the entire control algorithm is developed in the virtual instrumentation mode using LabVIEW environment. The effectiveness of the system is verified through laboratory tests on a yacht hull form. The control algorithm permits choice of frequency dependent hydrodynamic coefficients by use of a harmonic distortion analyzer in the virtual instrumentation environment. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.