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August 7, 2019

Portland design firm wins $8M Navy contract for high-speed watercraft

Courtesy / Navatek LLC The “stepped hull” form can be seen on the bottom of this boat designed by Navatek. A similar approach may reduce hull slamming and increase safety for a Navy craft.

Navatek LLC, a naval design and engineering firm, won an $8 million Navy contract to improve the design and construction of small watercraft that can operate safely at high speed in rough seas.

The three-year project involves collaboration with Front Street Shipyard of Belfast, which will build the test hulls and collaborate on at-sea testing, and the University of Maine, which will support research of new materials, according to a news release.

The program is expected to bring new jobs to Maine. 

Navatek is headquartered in Honolulu and has locations in Portland as well as South Kingstown, R.I., and Arlington, Va. Navatek opened its Portland office, at 10 Free St., in June 2018, and is staffed there with 22 engineers. That number is expected to grow to 50 within the coming year.

The new design is called an advanced planing hull. Boats with planing hulls are designed to rise up and glide on top of the water when enough power is supplied.

According to written materials provided to Mainebiz by Navatek’s vice president of science and technology, David Kring, high-speed craft rely on highly-experienced human operators for the best performance. But even then, passengers often experience severe, injury-inducing rides that cannot be countered through traditional control methods.   

“Advanced techniques such as machine learning will lead to new control schemes that will assist human operators and enable effective, unmanned operation of small boats,” Kring said. “Beyond reduction of injuries, this work will also support increased confidence in advanced composite hulls for improved performance and reduction in noise. Along with new hybrid-electric propulsion development, this will enable special operators to perform critical new missions.”

Front Street Shipyard combines its “built in Maine” composites experience with Navatek’s research strength, he added.

The science and technology advances from the research is expected to benefit all of the Navy’s small craft programs.

Minimize the slam

Maggie Craig, Navatek’s deputy director of Portland operations, told Mainebiz that the firm has a history of working with the Navy’s Office of Naval Research on research projects. Recent projects include making ship machinery and systems autonomous so they can repair themselves, she added.

Now the goal is to design watercraft that can operate at high speeds, even in bad weather conditions. 

“If you’re out in bad weather, with big water and a lot of wind, it can get very choppy,” she said. “If the Navy is working under these conditions, there’s a high rate of injuries that can be very serious.”

Then hull should minimize the slamming that boats experience in choppy waters, she said.

Design features to do that include a “stepped hull” shape, to replace bottoms that are typically smooth surfaces. 

“The idea is that, even if the boat lands a little crooked, it will never land on one flat surface. It will always be a smooth landing,” she said.

The design also includes a shape that incorporates “air entrapment tunnels” to help cushion landings, thus producing a more comfortable ride. Front Street Shipyard has already begun construction of a prototype, she said.

At the official launch, JB Turner, president of Front Street Shipyards, said, “We’ve long believed that our experience with advanced composite construction for boats and ships will provide a key advantage to our Navy, and we are happy to team with Navatek to build our combined capabilities in this area through this new research program.”

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