Here’s what I took away from last week’s HiPer Craft 2013 forum held in Norfolk, Va.: While there may be a contraction in the market for go-fast boats because of government belt tightening, the innovations spurred by the boom times are here to stay.
Ted Salus, a vice president with Annapolis, Md.-based Ocean Craft Marine, said that his RIBs are now being sold to ecotourism and dive boat operators. Hann Powerboats is marketing their high-speed interceptor as a crewboat for the energy market. Willard Marine has chartered their 43′ interdiction boat to the umpires for the Americas Cup yacht races.
These commercial applications of what were once strictly military boats represent the best side of the Homeland Security funding bonanza. Also, look at all the nice fireboats that have been built that will serve their communities for years to come. Yes, there might be room for budget cuts, but the high-performance craft sector actually does contribute to other sectors of the marine industry. Consider the fast pace of innovation in these small boats. We have seen propulsion systems advance with higher speeds and greater fuel efficiencies, hull shapes refined, and rides improved significantly. All of these advances are largely due to the demand for government boats in the past decade.
Now consider the typical pace of innovation in the maritime industry. Seafaring is an ancient occupation, rich in heritage and tradition. On the flip side, it is culture that is skeptical of change. Not that we should expect drone towboats on Ol’ Man River anytime soon, but vibration reduction materials built into a towboat’s hull are nice.
Meetings like HiPer Craft and MACC are valuable opportunities for designers, builders and end users to put their heads together. It is really too bad that the Navy had to pull the plug on MACC. The organizers of HiPer Craft, the American Society of Naval Engineers, say they are working to get MACC up and running again next year. Stay tuned.