Cutting-Edge Technology is Redefining Operational Envelopes and Finding New Uses for Workboats in Military, Commercial and Leisure Markets.


Published Mar 16, 2018 9:08 PM by Wendy Laursen

(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2017 edition.)

The refugee crisis in Europe prompted Damen to complete the first two of six migrant rescue vessels for the Turkish Coast Guard in under 10 months. The coast guard’s efforts have been crucial in saving lives in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, and the new vessels have capacity for up to 120 survivors.

The Damen SAR 1906 was designed in cooperation with the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM), Delft University of Technology and De Vries Lentsch naval architects. Fabricated with an aluminum hull and composite wheelhouse, the vessel’s light weight means it can combine speeds of up to 33 knots with efficient fuel consumption.

The hull was adapted from Damen’s Axe Bow technology, which provides the seakeeping capabilities to operate in all weathers and sea states. Even a capsize situation does not hinder activities as the vessel can right itself. Moreover, the engines and onboard equipment have been designed to continue operating even after the vessel has capsized.


Louisiana-based boatbuilder Metal Shark has partnered with Angelle Development to introduce a new propulsion system aimed at coast guard vessels as well as other military, commercial and leisure markets. The “Swamp Shark Drive” is an all-terrain propulsion system specially engineered for operation in extreme shallow water, riverine and mud flat environments. The system propels a vessel through dense vegetation, mud and debris-strewn waters.

Existing propulsion systems used on riverine patrol boats rely on a constant flow of clean water to operate, but Swamp Shark overcomes that limitation. Rather, it features a fully self-contained onboard keel cooling system with no appendages beneath the hull and no need for overboard raw water. This allows for smooth operation over underwater obstacles, vegetation-clogged water or even loose mud with no cooling issues.

The propulsion system also includes a machined-steel surface drive and internal/external stabilizing hydraulics. The outdrive, with custom cavitation plate, features hydraulic power trim and steering. Its stainless-steel, surface-piercing propeller powers through mats of vegetation or branches while providing outstanding control on open water even at high speed.

A patented hydraulic/electric rebound system, consisting of actuators inside and outside the vessel, allows the drive to smoothly and automatically adapt to changing conditions. When the drive impacts a solid object, such as a log, it swiftly “kicks up” so that the propeller will not be impacted. The system then exerts reverse pressure to instantaneously return the drive to its normal trim position as soon as the object has been cleared.

Metal Shark CEO Chris Allard says the Swamp Shark offers better shallow water operation than a waterjet with significant advantages over an airboat in terms of noise, payload capacity and reversing ability. Twin-engine, Swamp Shark-powered 30 and 35-foot vessels are being developed specifically with commercial applications in mind. “The quintessential, twin outboard-powered aluminum workboat prevalent throughout the Gulf of Mexico and around the world would now be available in a larger form,” Allard explains, “carrying heavier payloads, with the shallow water prowess of the Swamp Shark as well as the safety and reliability of diesel power.”

Metal Shark is also busy in the ferry market. In August, the company received orders for five Incat Crowther-designed Horn-blower ferries with accelerated timelines that call for the vessels to be delivered in 2018. In July 2016, Metal Shark was selected to build six ferries for the NYC Ferry System, delivering them on time between April and June of this year after an average per-unit build time of ten months. In October, Metal Shark delivered its first two ferries for Entertainment Cruises’ Potomac Riverboat Company division in Washington, D.C., producing the vessels from start to delivery in just over six months.

“We certainly are in a period of increased ferry activity,” says Allard. “Metal Shark is responding with accelerated lead times, changing the industry standard for ferry deliveries. By standardizing our product line and marketing standard ferry solutions, we will continue to accelerate delivery timelines.”


RIBCRAFT, based in Massachusetts, has introduced its 41-foot RIBCRAFT 12.5 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with the recent delivery of a specialized U.S. Coast Guard Subchapter T-certified tour boat to Cape Rib Tours. She will be used for whale-watching expeditions, sightseeing tours and thrill rides and can accommodate up to 34 passengers in a combination of jockey-style pod seats and a large aft bench seat.

The new model is the largest in the RIBCRAFT range and is suited for tour operators and security and military applications. It features the company’s signature deep-V hull and bow sheer with an extended waterline and generous beam and can reach speeds in excess of 50 mph.

Tideman Boats’ most recent delivery was an HDPE vessel for Amsterdam’s harbor master. CEO Bruno Tideman says HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is indestructible, requires no maintenance and cannot sink. “RIB tubes are quickly damaged when bumping into a sharp rock or rampart. Not HDPE. Its viscous and elastic characteristics prevent it from both deformation and cracks.”

Oxygen, salt and water have no effect, so no paint system is required. Nor is there any marine growth. Thanks to its clean and smooth bottom, HDPE boats keep their speed, says Tideman. Without anti-fouling, there is no toxic pollution and no environmental damage. Additionally, the carbon footprint of HDPE production is five times lower than aluminum.

Strategic Marine unveiled two new crewboat designs in June, the StratCAT30 and the StratCAT38. The vessels provide increased capabilities for windfarm crews to stay at sea for longer periods of time, work farther offshore and operate in a higher sea state, including increased berthing space and cargo deck strengthening. The StratCAT 38 also has the option of including Palfinger deck cranes and a walk-to-work gangway for technicians. Both vessels are the result of a collaboration with BMT Nigel Gee.


Gas4Sea, a commercial brand jointly launched by ENGIE, Mitsubishi Corporation and NYK in 2016 to develop the use of LNG, has taken delivery of the world’s first purpose-built LNG bunkering vessel. The ENGIE Zeebrugge arrived in Zeebrugge at the beginning of April after delivery from Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction in South Korea and is undertaking ship-to-ship LNG bunkering operations in the region, offering an LNG capacity of 5,000 cubic meters.

More such vessels are entering the market. Shortly after the delivery of ENGIE Zeebrugge, Shell’s LNG bunker vessel Cardissa arrived in Rotterdam. Cardissa can carry 6,500 cubic meters of LNG, and Shell has also signed a time charter agreement with Victrol N.V. and CFT for a bunker vessel with a 3,000-cubic-meter LNG capacity.

Wärtsilä has reached a new milestone in battery technology development with the installation of a hybrid energy system on board the Viking Princess. The Norwegian vessel is now the first-ever offshore supply vessel on which batteries reduce the number of generators aboard the ship. She now runs on a combination of a battery pack for energy storage and three LNG-fueled Wärtsilä engines.

The new energy storage solution will improve engine efficiency, generate fuel savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The fuel-saving potential can be up to 30 percent in various operations, and the CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 18 percent per year depending on operational conditions and requirements. The hybrid solution provides a more optimal load on the engines, and engine maintenance intervals can be extended.


Sea Machines Robotics, a company building autonomous control systems for ships and boats, released its first product in September, targeting commercial workboats and utility craft. The Sea Machines 300 offers either Direct Remote Command with remote joystick control and a one-kilometer range or Autonomous Command, a computer-control system that pilots a boat on preplanned or routine long-duration missions with real-time self-awareness.

The system uses data from navigation sensors including DGPS, AIS and radar. It’s built on marine industrial Siemens’ components and computers and can be integrated into an array of propulsion configurations.

Autonomous does not necessarily mean unmanned. The technology can be used both to upgrade the operation of vessels with a crew on board and, in some situations, provide operational improvement by enabling remote vessel operation. States CEO Michael Johnson: “Most of the early adopters will use this technology in applications where a daughter craft supports a mother ship, such as oil spill response, spill boom dual-towing, hydrographic and bathymetric surveying and vessel escort. Early adopters are coming from the U.S. and Northern Europe. It’s a huge market, and the benefits of autonomous technology will eventually make this technology standard on all vessels.”

Indeed, workboat autonomy projects are getting underway around the world. In Europe, the One Sea ecosystem, founded in 2016 and led by DIMECC, involves industry leaders working to reach their joint goal of autonomous shipping. The founding partners are ABB, Cargotec (MacGregor and Kalmar), Ericsson, Meyer Turku, Rolls-Royce, Tieto and Wärtsilä. Finnpilot Pilotage joined recently as the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications is preparing legislation to enable remote and autonomous piloting of ships in Finland. For Finnpilot Pilotage, participation means moving pilotage beyond rope ladders and into the digital age.

And that’s what defines all of these advances. Moving into the digital age and, at the same time, improving the safety, performance and environmental friendliness of marine transport.  MarEx

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.