March Dispatches: Bow Thruster Debate, Safety at Sea

In an effort to keep some semblance of normalcy and routine in our ever-changing lives, we are continuing with our monthly Dispatch. Hopefully it will provide some distraction and allow you to focus on the time afloat that we will all enjoy soon, when the COVID-19 storm has passed. We are looking ahead to the upcoming launch of our new Hood 57 and will post photos and give a full update in a future Dispatch.

In these March Dispatches:

Bow Thrusters: Yay or Nay?

Safety at Sea: Essentials to Know and Have

Bow Thrusters: Yay or Nay?

March Dispatches - Bow Thruster on sailig yachtBow thrusters, like politics, drive intense debate. Some boat owners argue that a lateral port or starboard nudge is indispensable when docking. Others contend that a thruster’s complexities of cut-out tunnels, drop-down props, batteries and cables are unneeded drag, weight, and cost. Some believe that good design and boat handling skills should eliminate the need for a bow thruster.

Still, bow and the larger family of maneuvering thrusters are undeniably popular: Roughly 50 percent of all 30- to 65-foot recreational yachts feature a bow thruster, according to Southern Boating Magazine. Factor in sophisticated transverse propulsion systems on larger vessels and low-cost externally mounted thrusters found on smaller boats, and the bow thruster market certainly gets far larger. 

March Dispatches - Bow Thruster in useNot surprisingly, Lyman-Morse has designed and installed countless maneuvering thruster systems. But interestingly, of the several hundred power and sail boats we service annually or have built, perhaps 3 out of 10 feature the technology. In fact, on our newly announced LM46 Performance Cruiser, a bow thruster is an option; but not a recommended one. The LM46 program is in the school of good design, and good boat handling, means there is no need.

On the currently in-construction Hood 57, bow thrusters were essentially rendered obsolete: The vessel features twin, counter-rotating propellers and individually steerable propulsion modules, as part of the Volvo Penta IPS1350 Pod drive technology. The boat pivots with a touch of a joystick.

Picnic Boat Pairing

But, on over 1,200 JetStick-controlled Hinckley Picnic Boats, bow thrusters play a critical role. “When we first introduced those boats, it was very difficult to harness the jet drive’s authority at low speed. You never knew where neutral was,” says Shepard “Shep” McKenney, the serial marine entrepreneur who led the team that developed the JetStick technology for Hinckley in the mid 1990s. “But once we installed a bow thruster, we gained infinite fingertip control over the jets, and we never sold a boat without one.”

To better explore the decision-making process in choosing a thruster, we dug into last year’s retrofit of the sister-ship of the record-breaking round-the-world racer British Steel: the 1985 Robert Clarke-designed, 60-foot steel ketch Gone with the Wind.

“This was an experienced owner, who had circumnavigated before, who was taking his wife and two young kids on another round-the-world cruise,” says Philipp Schietinger, carpentry foreman at the Lyman-Morse boatyard in Camden, Maine, who supervised the project.

“He knew exactly what he was looking for: A thruster to handle a 65,000-pound boat when docking in less than ideal conditions.”

Thrusters Engaged

March Dispatches - Bow Thruster on classic yachtPositional thrusters first appeared on commercial ships in the mid-20th century as low-cost alternatives to hiring pricey tugboats to maneuver in crowded ports. But starting in the mid-1980s, marine equipment makers like Side-Power, ABT•TRAC, Lewmar, Vetus, Yacht Thruster, Sideshift and Thrustmaster flooded the market, as they realized bow thrusters were the salve for boat owners’ biggest fear: Docking. 

For Gone with the Wind, that meant Schietinger and the design team at Lyman-Morse began to work through the myriad of bow thruster options. A simple externally mounted thruster was rejected as too feeble. Also dismissed as too complex were emerging water jets, electric rim thrusters, and combination tunnel/drop-down thrusters. A retractable drop-down and a hydraulically powered unit were also avoided as too costly and complicated for a world-circling family cruiser. 

Instead, a conventional battery driven, 24-volt, Side-Power SE170 tunnel thruster, mounted through the boat’s bow inside a roughly 10-inch steel tube, proved to be the right mix of low-cost, easy maintenance, and durability. 

Ed Joy, one of Lyman-Morse’s marine architects, then weighed in on the critical position of the thruster’s tunnel. “There are three factors,” says Joy, “Distance forward of the boat’s pivot axis, distance below the waterline, and length of the installed tube.”

Balance of Power

Joy balanced these factors against the center of the boat’s windage — or ‘lateral wind draft area’ — to find the thruster position that maximized its turning moment. Gone With The Wind’s thruster was placed just aft enough of the bow to allow for a 12-inch tunnel depth. That single tube diameter depth prevents air or sea foam from getting ingested into the unit.  

The thruster’s batteries were then carefully sequestered from the main house electrics; they were located close to the drive unit to minimize lost voltage from long wire runs. 

Once planned, the welding team from Lyman-Morse Fabrication carefully cut the tunnel duct holes and mounted the 10-inch steel tube through the bow. Then Scheitinger beveled and faired the welding work to the form of the hull to mitigate drag.

Who then wins the thruster debate? That all depends: “I’d personally have one,” says Kevin Dibley, owner of Dibley Marine Design based in Queenstown, New Zealand, and the designer of the LM46.

“Some of my current clients wouldn’t. It’s all choice.”

Safety at Sea: Essentials to Know and Have

March Dispatches - Safety Gear

Back in August, the U.S. Coast Guard released its annual Recreational Boating Statistics. For the second year in a row, the total incident-rate fell by roughly 5% in 2018: 4,145 incidents out of a fleet of roughly 11 million U.S. recreational vessels. That is roughly half that of similar rates in cars.

The Coast Guard is transparent about marine accidents and offers robust access to over 3,800 marine incidents.

Since safety is the stock and trade of Lyman-Morse, we were intrigued by the information, and what we could learn to make the vessels we build and service even safer for the coming boating season.

“It’s all about making sure skippers and crews understand the details of their equipment,” says Eric Roos, sales director at Lyman-Morse. Roos has also spent decades as a professional captain and harbormaster in five busy anchorages in and around Acadia National Park, including Northeast Harbor, Maine.

“The vast majority of people struggle with even the basics, like what a Man-Overboard Button does. It does not have to be that way,” says Roos. “It can be fun for a family to sit down and talk through who does what in an emergency. Safety is simple.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

March Dispatches - Life jacketsAs in most years, roughly 53% of all boating accidents in 2018 were due to operator errors: Inattention, improper lookouts, and overall inexperience were major culprits. The marine industry deserves credit for increased training options, like the U.S. Coast Guard’s Mobile App or available Boating Safety Courses.

Experts agree that proper training is key to operating boats safely. 

“I like to advise people to go right to the source, The USCG’s Rules of the Road,” says Matt Jacobson, Service Manager at Lyman-Morse, who has also spent over 12 years crewing and skippering vessels domestically, in the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. 

“The rules cover every possible scenario on the water. I make a point of checking them each season.”

Boat Safety For That Particular Boat 

Lyman-Morse’s deeper analysis of 2018 operator errors revealed skippers and crews routinely struggled to configure their vessels properly for safe operation. Distractions, poor visibility, and restricted sightlines were major causes of incidents. Experts agree that it’s critical for boat operators to regularly explore options to improve helming ergonomics and complex electronics.

“I think folks need to be aware that electronics can fail,” says Roos. “Knowing where breaker switches are located and how to turn them off quickly, can avoid damage or injury.”

Putting Some Style in PFDs

March Dispatches - Lifejackets2018, like most years, saw far too many boaters not wearing personal flotation devices when they otherwise should have. That’s foolish considering the current innovation from lifejacket makers, like Mustang, Stohlquist,and Spinlock. Each offers a wide variety of low-profile, offshore-ready personal flotation devices that fit any gender, age, or even pet.

“Every boat we touch here goes through a company-wide checklist to ensure it meets Coast Guard standards,” says Dennis Gunderson, Service Manager at Lyman-Morse. “Making sure the lifejackets are up to spec is a big part of that.”

Reimagining Marine Communications

One last trend from 2018: Boaters stubbornly forget that smartphones don’t function as expected in marine environments. That connectivity gap is being filled by marine-aimed communications options, including:

All offer excellent connectivity that work beyond normal cell phone network coverage. They either enable direct ship-to-ship communications with nearby vessels at sea or they offer robust two-way text massaging with family, colleagues, and search and rescue services in case of an emergency on the water.

“If I could decree that a single piece of equipment be installed on every boat,” says Gunderson. “It would be a modern AIS automated identification system. These AIS systems give anybody exact coordinates for both boats and for crews that carry personal locator beacons.”

Gunderson says AIS installations at Lyman-Morse start with weighing the cost and complexity of units that both transmit and receive identification data, versus units that only do one or the other. With proper planning, he says, all boats large and small can have the similar location technology as those found on larger commercial vessels.

“If someone has a chart plotter, they can have an AIS system,” says Gunderson.

AIS installers must take the time to register both the so-called AIS static data and a boat’s unique Maritime Mobile Service Identity to function properly. Gunderson says it is a policy at Lyman-Morse to subject all safety equipment to rigorous checklist reviews before a vessel is released for duty.

“If I am going to be on the water, I keep a cheap personal locator in my pocket so an AIS system can see me,” says Jacobson. He recommends a low-cost model, like the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 ($289) or the ACR AISLink Personal Man Overboard Beacon ($289).

“Pretty much every professionally-managed boat I know insists on this kind of crew-location system.”

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