No more rock ‘n’ roll

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Some designers and boatbuilders say gyroscope stabilization will be part of most boats’ standard equipment in the coming decade.

Seakeeper says its gyro stabilizer technology virtually eliminates boat roll at low speeds and at anchor.

“I see in boats from 45 feet and up a continued growth of gyro stabilization technology,” says Bill Blount, CEO of Donald L. Blount and Associates, a Chesapeake, Va., design firm.

“I don’t know many sportfish boats that are not getting the Seakeeper option. We at the very least design the boat with that feature built in.” (Seakeeper is a Solomons, Md., company that specializes in active gyro stabilizers for boats.)

Designer Michael Peters follows the same strategy. “With every boat we draw now, we have to have a planned space for [a gyro stabilizer],” he says. “Five years ago, we didn’t even think about this. It’s a huge development. It’s becoming much more prevalent than we thought. We thought it was just for guys with larger boats and deep pockets, but with everything we design over 40 feet, the builder wants to know where the gyro is going.”

Bill Prince, president of Bill Prince Yacht Design in Port Washington, Wis., says his company is working on a 44-footer that may have a gyro. “They take up space, but often in new builds it is space that has been freed up as a result of using pod propulsion, so I do see it as a strong trend,” Prince says.

Intrepid has installed four gyro systems, and one was for its new 475 Panacea, which was on display at the Miami International Boat Show in February, says company president Ken Clinton. The builder has installed them in two 390s and a 475 Sport Yacht. The next boat? A 430 Sport Yacht.

“I think they will grow in popularity as long as the technology becomes more efficient to manufacture, as I think that the biggest thing holding back this technology is the price,” Clinton says. “Otherwise, who would not want a boat that did not pitch and roll, regardless of sea conditions?”

Like most technologies, early versions were expensive, says Shepard McKenney, who founded Seakeeper in 2003 (www.seakeeper.com). “But as quantities go up and costs come down, we believe gyros will become ‘must have’ equipment on most boats over 30 feet,” he says. “To that end, we are making large investments in plant and personnel to make this happen as soon as possible.”

Seakeeper has delivered more than 1,300 gyro systems, and 374 were delivered in 2013, says McKenney. The two current models, the M8000 and M26000, have been installed in boats from 37 to 215 feet in single and multiple configurations. The majority of installs have been M8000s on cruising and sportfishing boats from 50 feet to 70 feet, he says.

MJM Yachts has made the Seakeeper gyro stabilizer standard equipment on its new 50z. “I am amazed that after five years of the Seakeeper being available … that we are the first to make it available standard,” says Bob Johnstone, founder and CEO of Boston-based MJM (www.mjmyachts.com). “Why not solve an obvious user issue — comfort in a seaway.”

One of MJM’s customers, whose wife was prone to motion sickness, told Johnstone he would buy a 50z if a Seakeeper could be installed. Shortly thereafter at last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the MJM team met some motoryacht owners who were interested in a smaller boat with the Seakeeper. “They were dialing down to a smaller yacht and had favorable experiences with gyro stabilization,” Johnstone says. “They asked if we could put a Seakeeper in the 50z.

“I was sensitive to the concept of making a powerboat as steady as a sailboat in waves but even better, without heeling, to achieve the best of both worlds,” says Johnstone, a co-founder of sailboat builder J/Boats.

Installing a Seakeeper in a powerboat has structural requirements that are similar to putting a keel and mast on a sailboat, he says. “The torque loads are there trying to pull the boat apart and upright, the difference being the Seakeeper is installed on top of the structural grid and the keel underneath,” he says. “The 50z structure is designed from the outset to handle Seakeeper loads.”

But boat stabilization technology, of course, includes non-gyroscopic equipment, such as fin stabilizers from companies such as Quantum (www.quantumhydraulic.com) and Side-Power (www.side-power.com). “There are multiple companies out there with the technology now,” Blount says. “All have pluses and minuses, and you have to find out which is right for your yacht.”

The Side-Power Stabilizer System uses a patented Vector Fin stabilizer. The product won an international design award last year. IMTRA, a manufacturer and importer of marine products in New Bedford, Mass., installed its first Side-Power system in 2012 on a 105-foot Sunseeker. The system allows the hydrodynamic fins to be positioned for maximum efficiency.

“Adding these stabilizers has changed the boat’s overall performance and how we use it,” says the Sunseeker’s captain, Trevor Woodman. “We can now go to sea in almost any condition and anchor out without worrying about guests getting seasick or having to endure an uncomfortable motion.”

See retlated articles:

- The Golden Age is now

- Advances in innovation over the last 20 years

- A peek into the future

May 2014 issue