A new design at Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding could yield a 56’-class pilot boat capable of punching past 30 knots.

The newbuild project for the Virginia Pilots Association with an expected delivery in 2017 will be a 57,000-lb. vessel powered by twin Volvo Penta IPS900 drives, providing the pilots with more speed and time for meeting the new generation of bigger containerships calling at Chesapeake Bay ports.

“This now allows pilots to get beyond the 30-knot barrier which has been increasingly difficult,” given constraints on pilot boat design and available horsepower, said Jens Bering, manager of product management and marine sales for Volvo Penta in Chesapeake, Va.

An earlier delivery by Gladding-Hearn to the Virginia pilots was the Norfolk in 2012, an iteration of the highly successful Chesapeake class. That 53’7”x17’10”x4’10” boat attained top speed of 29 knots, powered by a pair of Caterpillar C-18s, each rated at 715 hp at 2,100 rpm.

Since then, Gladding-Hearn and co-designers C. Raymond Hunt Associates have built the Fort Ripley, a 64’x21’x10’6″ emergency response and pilot boat for the Port of Charleston, powered by three 700-hp engines with Volvo IPS steerable pod drives that pull the boat at more than 28 knots with forward-facing, counter-rotating propellers.

They followed that up with a significantly upgraded Chesapeake-class boat for the Tampa Bay Pilots. The Manatee achieves 27 knots while burning 28% less fuel than its standard propeller-and-shaft cousins, driven by a pair of 510 hp Volvo Penta D11 spinning IPS650 drives.

“That equals more productivity” for pilots, Bering said. “That four and a half knot difference (compared to conventional propulsion) over a day is 36 miles.”

Like the Fort Ripley in 2015, the Manatee was recognized this week as one of the Significant Boats of 2016 by WorkBoat magazine.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.