Optical imaging is the preferred sensory modality for underwater robotic activities requiring high resolution at close range, such as station keeping, docking, control of manipulator, and object retrieval. Machine vision will play a vital part in the design of next generation autonomous underwater submersibles. This paper describes an effort to demonstrate that real-time vision-based guidance and control of autonomous underwater submersibles is possible with compact, low-power, and vehicle-imbeddable hardware. The Naval Ocean Systems Center's EAVE-WEST (Experimental Autonomous Vehicle-West) submersible is being used as the testbed. The vision hardware consists of a PC-bus video frame grabber and an IBM-PC/AT compatible single-board computer, both residing in the artificial intelligence/vision electronics bottle of the submersible. The specific application chosen involves the tracking of underwater buoy cables. Image recognition is performed in two steps. Feature points are identified in the underwater video images using a technique which detects one-dimensional local brightness minima and maxima. Hough transformation is then used to detect the straight line among these feature points. A hierarchical coarse-to-fine processing method is employed which terminates when enough feature points have been identified to allow a reliable fit. The location of the cable identified is then reported to the vehicle controller computer for automatic steering control. The process currently operates successfully with a throughput of approximately 2 frames per second.