A challenge while applying latching control on a wave energy converter (WEC) is to find a reliable and robust control strategy working in irregular waves and handling the non-ideal behavior of real WECs. In this paper, a robust and model-free collaborative learning approach for latchable WECs in an array is presented. A machine learning algorithm with a shallow artificial neural network (ANN) is used to find optimal latching times. The applied strategy is compared to a latching time that is linearly correlated with the mean wave period: It is remarkable that the ANN-based WEC achieved a similar power absorption as the WEC applying a linear latching time, by applying only two different latching times. The strategy was tested in a numerical simulation, where for some sea states it absorbed more than twice the power compared to the uncontrolled WEC and over 30% more power than a WEC with constant latching. In wave tank tests with a 1:10 physical scale model the advantage decreased to +3% compared to the best tested constant latching WEC, which is explained by the lower advantage of the latching strategy caused by the non-ideal latching of the physical power take-off model.