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Talkin’ boats with Robert Kaidy

Co-Founder, Ocean5 Naval Architects

Naval architects Robert Kaidy and John Canada founded Ocean5 Naval Architects in 2007 and have designed and engineered everything from pod-powered fishing boats to helicopter decks for 600-foot ships to 60-knot ballistic-protected patrol boats.

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Located on the St. Lucie River in Stuart, Fla., the company ( works with about a half-dozen production boatbuilders, including Boston Whaler, Pursuit and SeaVee. Ocean5 teamed with SeaVee and ZF Marine to develop the SeaVee 340 IPOD, which was touted as the first recreational boat with single-pod propulsion.
Kaidy, 43, who grew up boating on Chesapeake Bay, is the former director of engineering for Pursuit Boats and the former director of naval architecture and marine engineering at Palmer Johnson Yachts. Before that, he worked at Outboard Marine Corp. and U.S. Marine/Bayliner.
Here, Kaidy talks about the importance of naval architecture and sea-trialing boats before buying. Be excited about today’s new boats, Kaidy says. They’re built with stronger, lighter materials, and new propulsion technologies bring improved fuel efficiency and performance.
Kaidy lives in Stuart with his wife, Kathryn, and three teenage children — Josephine, Emily and Jonathan. He and his son often chase dolphin and tuna or fish inshore.

Q: You’ve designed some pretty cool boats — which are your favorites?

A: I love to fish and have been a fisherman my whole life and fortunate to live in South Florida. One of my favorite boats is the SeaVee 390. It’s just the ultimate sportfishing machine. These guys are really passionate about the boats they build and creating the coolest, most rugged, most reliable, highest-performing boat there is. From the pneumatic control systems that open and close doors and make coolers slide in and out to the multipart molds they use to build many of their parts, including the console, we can really do some neat things. They don’t want to compromise on performance — especially seakeeping and proper fishing heights. They’re willing to do lots of detailed engineering. At that first sea trial, the boat did everything it was supposed to do. It was so rewarding.

Oceans5 designed the SeaVee 390 with Volvo Penta IPS propulsion.

Q: What are some examples of that “detailed engineering” you mentioned?

A: We created a side door for the boat. They wanted a completely hidden side door, but they also wanted it to really … open up the side of the boat. We designed a giant stainless-steel, Soss-style hinge that was hidden when the door was closed. It needed to work really smoothly. It looks elegant and is rugged. We also did forward flip-out seats. The idea was when they were closed you’d see this flush fiberglass cover that would hide the seat. So from a fishing standpoint you could get blood and guts on the fiberglass, but nothing would get on the seats. When you wanted to sit there, it flipped out easy and was comfortable.

Q: You grew up boating on the Chesapeake. Do you remember a particular experience that got you hooked?

A: I was a Boy Scout, and I loved being outdoors and on the water. The most game-changing experience was the summer I was 14. I spent two weeks sailing Chesapeake Bay on a 24-foot sloop with three other guys through the Scouts. It wasn’t in great shape, but we didn’t care. We sailed from the northern bay all the way to the southern end of the bay near the Potomac River. It was awesome. We experienced heavy storms and sailed at night and long distances. It was stuff I had never done before. It solidified my passion for the water.

Q: Do you own a boat?

A: I have an old beater 17-foot Aquasport, a little center console fishboat. I have three kids and one is on the way to college, so my wife has limited the family boating budget. But my son is as fanatical as I am about being on the water and fishing. We try to get out … every weekend, whether it is inshore running around on the Indian River or St. Lucie River or offshore chasing dolphin and tuna. It’s powered with a 90-hp Evinrude. It’s a 1986 Aquasport, previously owned by John’s dad, the late Frank Bolin, former managing editor of Florida Sportsman. That boat catches fish.

Q: How did you become a naval architect and boat designer?

A: I went to school at the University of Maryland [in] College Park and studied aerospace engineering. I figured out halfway through school that I really didn’t want to design rockets and airplanes. I wanted to design boats and ships. … I got a job when I was a junior in college with Advanced Marine Enterprises, which was an up-and-coming firm designing for the Navy in Crystal City, Va. I finished my degree in aerospace engineering and spent the first five years of my career working for Advanced Marine, designing ships for the Navy and the Coast Guard, but I wanted to really get into recreational boats. I got a break to work for Fountain Powerboats … and was eventually the director of engineering, then went to Seattle to U.S. Marine.

Q: How and when was Ocean5 created?

A: The genesis was basically me — providing direct consulting to customers as Robert S. Kaidy Naval Architect. I started it in 2004. I needed another engineer and naval architect. I had lots of projects. I gathered together four other guys. Everyone was hungry to go out and do work. We came up with the name Ocean5. Eventually, when it came time to really start the company, it really just ended up being me and John [Canada]. I had been chasing John to come join me for years. At the time he was the chief naval architect for Whiticar Boats in Stuart. We’ve been Ocean5 since 2007.

Q: What are people looking for in boats today? Are they still clinging to creature comforts or do they want something more basic?

A: The different boats and niches of boats have become extreme. For instance, a fishboat has become an ultra-fishing boat. Cruising boats have gone over the top. The customer expects that the boat is absolutely fully featured. We draw analogies between the car and boat businesses. You used to be able to buy a basic car — no stereo, no cruise control, roll-down windows. No one would ever imagine buying a car like that today. The same thing is true in boats. They want all the features, whether they are buying a value boat or midmarket or premium boat. Secondly, boats have become semicustom. If the customer wants something that was once considered aftermarket, they now expect that they can get it installed by the builder at the factory. It’s forcing builders to be much more flexible.

Q: So people have little desire to get back to more basic boats, even in a tough economy?

A: The more working-class guy who has made it through the recession is going to wait longer to buy a boat, but I don’t think their expectations in what a boat should be have gone down. Their expectation is if they can afford to buy a boat today, they’re going to get a better value in a fully featured boat. I don’t think they want a stripped-down boat. A number of builders have tried to strip down their boats and I don’t think it has worked. People want a fully featured boat at a good price and with good value.

Q: What features do they want?

A: Performance is king, particularly for sportfish boats. They want performance despite fuel prices. They want integration because they have it in other areas of their lives. … If a boater can play his iPod in his car, he should be able to play it in his boat. If he has GPS and Internet features in his automobile … he should have the same features and abilities on his boat. This is going to change the way boats are designed and used and offer people more features and less hassle. We used to see 20 different control heads on a helm console, with all of them displaying different information. You looked at the console and it looked like an old aircraft. All of these components had different display styles and interfaces. That was a big pain in the neck for the owner. In the next five to 10 years you are not going to see this on boats. The control for all the electronic devices, and even electrical devices, is going to converge in one display or system.

Q: Are similar advances taking place with boatbuilding materials and methods?

A: We are seeing a lot of builders using core, at least in the hull sides. We do a lot of laminate and structural design — hull laminate and stringer grids, for example. Builders are going away from what we call stick-built plywood grid structures covered with glass. They recognize they can better control the quality of the laminate and increase the repeatability of their build. Composite fabrication is getting more sophisticated, and it’s happening in the background and driven by the manufacturing side of the business. It is not necessarily being driven by marketing. I think it is an exciting time.

Q: How are boatbuilders doing with their designs?

A: We still see builders who fake it to make it. They roll out an old mold and throw a new deck on it, or hire a plug builder to make a structure that looks right but there’s no engineering behind it. There are still hulls out there — and builders building them — that don’t work right. They porpoise. They hook when they turn. They don’t float right. They do all kinds of bad things. They’re not fair or have incorrect shapes. Our hope is that people’s expectations are getting higher and they believe that the hull should be properly engineered and not created ad hoc.

Q: What should boaters do to make sure there is proper naval architecture behind the boat?

A: Go run a boat if you’re considering purchasing a boat. Demand that the dealer run it with you, or ask the dealer to find an owner of the boat you are considering and go run it with that owner. Run the boat yourself and operate it in the loading conditions that would be similar to the way you will load it. Operate it at various speeds and conditions. Turn the wheel hard and make sure it doesn’t exhibit strange properties. Bring it on and off plane to make sure the bow doesn’t rise too high. See if the boat can get up on plane when it is loaded with people. Experience the boat before you buy it. Also, ask the builder who designed the boat. Who is the naval architect? The other thing is crawl around and look in places you normally wouldn’t — under coamings, for instance. There shouldn’t be any raw glass or fingers of pointy, catalyzed resin. That’s an indication of the whole quality.

Q: What role will advances in propulsion play in the design of recreational boats?

A: We’re in the most exciting time for boat design in some respects because of the propulsion changes and advances. Just take diesel engines and the integration of computer control in diesel technology and the effect of turbocharging and aftercooling and the developments in direction injection and common-rail injection. I call it dropping block size. What we used to get out of an 11-liter engine you now get out of an 8-liter engine. The power keeps going up on a particular engine. There was a builder who used to offer a 6-liter mechanically governed engine with about 330 hp. That was back in the late ’90s. Today that engine is offered at 480 hp. It’s just incredible. And then there’s the pods. They have brought joystick control to the mainstream and taken a huge hassle out of boating. And it’s highly efficient. With outboards, we used to think that high performance was going to be limited to 2-strokes. But over the past 10 years 4-strokes have met and exceeded the power of 2-strokes. It’s an exciting time with outboards. Their advances have made a 40-footer powered with outboards seem reasonable. That wouldn’t have been reasonable 10 years ago.

Q: What bugs you about today’s boats?

A: When I see companies building boats that have aspects that are unsafe and design elements done by someone who clearly has no experience designing equipment that is going to work at sea. For instance, a hull-side window with sharp edges that creates high stress concentrations, and that window might be too close to the waterline. Aesthetically, it might be perfect. Unless there was a massive amount of engineering behind it, that stress area is going to produce problems for the boat owner. And if they’re at the waterline, those problems could sink a boat. I have a huge concern about designers who are not backed up by naval architects and design engineers. You’ll see structures without the proper continuity, like sundecks that are not supported below properly, or boats that have no transverse bulkheads in the house structure or superstructures. You will see boats with longitudinal bulkheads and no transverse bulkheads to prevent racking in the overhead structure. We see lots of structural issues. Watertight integrity is critical, and yet we see a lot of boats where the machinery space bulkhead has penetrations and is not watertight or fume-tight.

Q: Name some designers and naval architects you admire.

A: The top of the list is crowded, but I would name Don Blount first. He is a numerical engineer, and he has defined new processes and codified new processes that we use to design boats. He is also a lover of the water and boats. For design processes in the production boat world, I admire the old head of design and engineering at U.S. Marine, my former boss Mark Paulhus. I learned so much from him in how to design small craft and the art of leadership. Lastly, the original group of naval architects and ship designers at Advanced Marine Enterprises, including Dave Helgerson, George Edwards, Rich Kelly and many others.

Q: What are you working on now?

The company's design portfolio includes patrol boats.

A: We recently completed a custom 108-foot cold-molded megayacht. It’s being built in Europe. It was really exciting. I can’t say much more about it, but we are hoping you’ll see it in the magazines next year. We are completing the major refit of two different power cats. One is a 55-foot cabin boat — the Gemini 52 — that makes over 40 knots. We put a new bottom under her to correct a number of running problems and improve her hydrostatics. The other cat is a 35-knot cabin power cat undergoing a major extension. We are also working on a new boat for SeaVee. I can’t say more, other than it might be my new personal favorite. We’re also in the middle of a design of a 50-foot patrol boat for a foreign government for use against pirates. So we’ve got a really mixed bag of great projects on the boards.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.