Boats are as old as human civilization, but that doesn't mean there's no room for improving the design. Case in point is the SkiSea, a new hull concept out of Australia that uses special skis to provide hydrofoil-like lift. SkiSea creator Trevor Payne says this approach allows for greater fuel economy, stability in rough waters, a shallow draught, and higher speeds while generating minimal wash or bow waves. Gizmag spoke with Payne about his design.
Payne has spent more than a decade developing the SeaSki, starting out welding together prototypes in his garage in Tweed Heads, New South Wales in an attempt to create a boat that generated less wake without sacrificing speed. He started off attaching outrigger skis to a "tinny" (a small boat with an aluminium hull) before building a 3-meter (9.8-ft) aluminum prototype in 2008.
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The final 3.1-tonne
(3.4-ton) production model measures 8.25 x 3.5 m (27 x 11.5 ft), with a 7 x 3m
(23 x 10 ft) all aluminum hull.
It is powered by twin 300-hp (224-kW) outboard engines that give the craft cruising speeds in the region of 65 to 75 km/h (40 to 47 mph/35 to 40 kts) and top speeds in excess of 93 km/h (58 mph/50 kts), even in choppy conditions that would slow most other hull types. A diesel inboard engine is also available as an option.
Gizmag: Is there anything similar to the SeaSki on the market?
Payne: "A lot of work and time was taken in researching the design to see if it conflicted with other designs already in operation or proposed within patents submitted to world offices, but nothing was found that deterred me from proceeding with my own patenting efforts. The patent application process brought forward several objections from the patent examiners, especially in the USA and Europe, and to some extent, China, but the cases cited were overturned after our argument showed that every aspect of our claims was unique.
"We occasionally hear comments from observers who say they have "seen the same thing before," but closer questioning always reveals their observations were of designs that are usually displacement boats. The closest similar vessel is the hydrofoil, which had its origins in the late 1800s, but the hydrofoil and SeaSki achieve their activities by quite different routes. The hydrofoil uses the equivalent of an "underwater wing" to lift the boat upwards, whereas we achieve it with special skis, and the ski approach offers potentially much higher speed capabilities because the hydrofoil wing is operating underwater in 800 times the viscosity of air, which poses major obstacles for a "wing" at higher speeds."
What was the most challenging aspect of creating the SeaSki?
"In hindsight, my financial limitations. While I could handle the cost of small prototypes from my limited funds, life became increasingly difficult when I needed to meet patenting costs, purchase suitable production equipment, learn aluminum welding and, finally, build an operating prototype with fabricated skis, not the fabulous extruded skis we now have through the generous help of Ullrich Aluminium, a large Australian & New Zealand aluminum supplier.
"For the best part of 15 years of this development I had no income and mostly kept the project alive from a bank overdraft facility and then, bit by bit, by cheaply selling some shares in my patents to a couple of well-wishing supporters. The last four years raised the intensity of this struggle when it became evident that a public company was needed to attract investors to fund a professionally designed and built production model to impress an otherwise sceptical market.
"Unfortunately, crowdfunding was not an option in Australia at that time and the only successful ones were in the USA and they were constrained to their market. Also, Australian investors are very conservative by nature and attracted to the academia industries, real estate and the mainstream markets. We had to find directors with substance and also convince investors about our integrity and product advantages to raise at least AUD100,000 (approx. US$73,000) in order to be a chance in finally getting a matching dollar grant from the Australian Government after several failures in that direction. We now have finally made it to the "starting line" in the chase to commercialization, although we could still use a little more investment. Of inestimable assistance along this tough path has been the credibility gained from some of the earlier news media reports."
What can SeaSki do better than other boats?
"From the outset it was the speed aspect that impressed me and my great supporter, Percy Hannah, a local ex-fisherman who helped endlessly with the project. But then, as the boat was subjected to more difficult conditions, it became evident that its design intention of managing bad surface conditions had fully materialized too. This meant the design was adept at traversing bad choppy conditions at very quick speeds, whereas traditional hulls find this a very hard and uncomfortable operation. With the high cruising speeds attainable, there was also a noticeable fuel advantage coming through for the prototype and a further power phenomenon was observed also, but because we have not been able to replicate this at will as yet, we are reluctant to discuss it for the present, but it could portend enormously for the design.
Some other fortuitous advantages also manifested themselves in our trials of both the 2-tonne (2.2-ton) prototype and 3.1-tonne (3.4-ton) production model. Perhaps the most important of all of these could be the almost zero boat wake from the SeaSki while traveling at cruise speeds. The bow waves generated by the passage of the boat are no more troublesome to other boaters or the source of bank erosion/damage than surface conditions caused by a mild 20 km/h (12 mph/11 knot) wind.
The final characteristic worthy of comment is that our vessel is far less affected by a moving sea surface than other designs while drifting or at slow speeds. This could have benefits ranging from avoiding sea sickness to avoiding injury when these boat motions become violent, as they often do when an unheralded storm surprises everybody."
What do you see as the potential applications for the SeaSki?
"By far the largest small boat market in Australia is the recreational market and the SeaSki has great application in this area for all the reasons listed above. Our company, though, recognizes that the immensely strong build by our contractor, Yamba Welding & Engineering, positions our vessel for operations in most survey boat roles. Foremost of these is likely to be within the water-taxi or small ferry enterprises where the speed of our vessel gives it the work capacity of one-and-a-half similar sized vessels. This saves the operator the capital cost of two vessels where demand exceeds one vessel but not two, meaning a smaller fleet of SeaSkis has the work capacity of a larger fleet of other boats. This is even more of an issue where busy waterways (such as Sydney Harbour) can generate bad choppy conditions that adversely slow traditional boats by up to half speed.
We also foresee our role moving into sea rescue and police/border activities eventually, but island transfers, such as in the Torres Strait, and island resort operators would find the vessel practical for speed reasons and the ability to stably beach bow-first and land passengers through the bow even with wave activity present and no jetties.
It has a lot of potential for crew boat operations, dive boat destinations, offshore servicing and scientific surveys in sensitive areas where sea life and growth would be threatened by high-speed displacement hulls (all traditional designs). On the vast wind turbine generator fields of Europe's North Sea, its greatly dampened vertical forces (the sudden lifting and slamming of boats by waves) make it an excellent contender for moving small service parties between the turbines and service platforms, as it also has the safeguard of in-deck positive flotation should the worst occur. There are also many military roles to be found within the navy and special forces operations."
What applications do you see the SeaSki being adopted for initially?
"The production model is only now 'sticking its nose out the door' so it has not had the publicity likely to attract attention from seriously interested parties as yet. However, we have approached a large Australian Government organization concerned with border issues and invited their interest in the production model. We've also discussed our vessel with a large Australian taxi franchise (automobiles), which is interested in initially integrating four water taxis with its on-road services, but this could be more than a year from fruition."
Do you have any technical improvements to the design planned?
"We hope our vision of embracing many quality boat builders on a global scale to make the SeaSki presence known in the shortest timeframe will pool a considerable resource of engineering and boat building skills ready to push the ski concept to greater functionality and efficiency. There are several attributes of the ski design that have not been properly exploited as yet that could surprise even me, its greatest advocate! These revolve around the biggest enemy of boating efficiency – water drag. I also have ideas with regard to drive systems especially suited to the SeaSki that I would like to find time for testing."
What's your ultimate vision for the SeaSki?
"My private contention is that SeaSki vessels should eventually be capable of carrying passenger loads approaching those of today's large air carriers and they could fulfil roles as coastal shuttles taking pressure off congested roads, rail and air transport. Their size would make sea conditions less intimidating in all but the severest storm conditions when even aircraft are grounded. Also, (who knows?) sea dwelling communities are moving out of the realm of Jules Verne and into probability, especially where assets are to be found and sea encroachment is an issue.
"I also like the idea of small format craft SeaSkis, even sail driven, purely for fun. The existing SeaSki boats are exhilarating to be aboard and always impress all who experience them!"
Having patented the design and received an Australian Government grant, Payne has recently commenced the commercialization process and is seeking partners to help get his design on waters around the globe. Pricing for the SeaSki depends largely on the type of fitout, with the 7-m (23-ft), 3.1-ton model that boasts the equivalent space of traditional 8 to 9 m (27 to 30-ft) boat falling in the AUD$230,000 to 250,000 (approx. US$165,000 to $180,000) ballpark, depending on choice of engines, steering, communications equipment, night vision, radar, etc. Deliveries of the first SeaSkis are expected to begin in 2016.
You can check out the 3-tonne SeaSki production model in action in the video below.
Note (Dec. 24, 2015): The SeaSki site has exceeded its bandwidth limit so access may be patchy for a few days, but emails can be sent to Trevor Payne via firstname.lastname@example.org