Seawork has the buzz of business being done
Having spent the best part of 30 years exhibiting at ‘leisure’ boat shows, I find visiting Seawork a fascinating contrast, writes Peter Poland.
Being a business-to-business show majoring on services and products, the atmosphere is more laid back. But there’s still the buzz of big business being done.
The show’s unique atmosphere hits you before you enter it. Ravestein BV’s Sky Lift has four giant legs that dominate the skyline, reaching up towards the clouds. Then you see five huge marquees filling the Mayflower Park and a marina full of RIBs and large commercial craft. Now in its 22nd year, the ever-growing Seawork exhibition clearly means business and the various ‘trails’ (Divework, Ribwork, Superyacht, Refit & Repair and Marine Civils) make life easy for visitors.
Beta Marine was my first port of call. This successful Gloucester-based company – a regular Seawork exhibitor - supplies marine diesel engines and generating sets for seagoing and inland waterways use to both leisure and commercial clients.
Sales manager Steve Booth said that around 50% of Beta’s production is exported, of which 10% goes to the Eurozone and the rest to more distant markets such as the USA and Far East. He also said that the loss of the London boat show had not damaged business because he transferred any ‘show offers’ to his website in January to encourage early orders from leisure buyers. And the cost of exhibiting was saved. He told me that record business has been done over the last 12 months and that Seawork plays an important part in this success.
Webasto is another UK company that enjoys a mix of leisure and commercial business (on boats and trucks). Jon Jennings told me that Webasto’s leisure turnover was bigger, but the commercial side was catching up fast. On the leisure front, he said business with inland waterways craft was booming and Webasto’s aircon systems were also increasingly popular.
Jennings added that Webasto is now collaborating with WhisperPower to distribute its electrical power management systems via Webasto’s network. This enables Webasto to become an important player in the e-mobility market. So – not surprisingly – business is growing year on year.
Electric and hybrid
Indeed, one inescapable theme at Seawork that is becoming ever more relevant is the move towards electric and hybrid drive systems.
Martin Mews of Fisher Panda explained how the German manufacturing company is at the forefront of this accelerating movement, supplying 3.8kW / 7.5 kW, 10kW and 20kW electric power units combined with either its underwater pod drive or a shaft drive. The power units can be installed singly or in pairs and can also be run as part of a hybrid drive system paired with a Fisher Panda generator or the boat’s diesel engine.
As motors and battery capacity advance, the possibilities seem endless. Ferries, workboats, inland waterways boats, leisure cruising yachts and catamarans around the world are already running on these systems and Mews said business was booming. I’m not surprised. The same applied to Fischer Panda generators, thanks to increasing demand from power-hungry superyacht owners.
Torqeedo - another German manufacturer of electric motors - is introducing a stream of exciting new models. UK and Ireland sales manager John Arnold told me this is Torqeedo’s eighth Seawork and that sales are growing fast.
The latest Travel model sold in large numbers off his stand at the 2018 Southampton boat show while the Travel 1003 has been adapted to provide a fully retractable auxiliary drive fitted in the new RS21 racing keelboat. Doubtless others will follow this innovative idea.
The larger Cruise outboards (equivalent of 5hp, 8hp and 20hp) are popular on sailing and motorboats while the Cruise pod drives (with fixed or folding prop) are aimed at sailboats up to 10 tons. The range topping Torqeedo Deep Blue motors (25kW, 50kW and 100kW) can be fitted to large motorboats, ferries, tour boats and yachts as an all electric or hybrid system. As an example, 15 passenger tour boats in Vietnam are Deep Blue-powered.
Barrus, one of the UK’s largest distribution companies, is also moving into the electric drive market through its tie up with Isle of Wight specialist Hybrid Marine.
The largest unit is based on a 315hp John Deere engine combined with two 10kW electric motors and the smaller is based on a 50hp Yanmar engine combined with one 10kW motor. Barrus’ senior R&D engineer Phil James told me that inland waterways boats are a major market for such engines. He also showed me the new Shire 10hp electric outboard engine that is being developed.
Goodchild Marine has also gone hybrid with its new Pilot Boat Leader, based on the ORC 136 Fast Patrol Craft and built for the Port of London Authority (PLA). Exhibited at Seawork, this is the first hybrid pilot boat to enter service in the UK, combining diesel and electric power, giving emission-free operation when in electric mode.
Marine and Industrial Transmissions and Transfluid supplied the parallel hybrid system while Barrus supplied the Yanmar engine. Alan Goodchild summed up the importance of this new vessel saying “We are confident that Leader will do just what its name suggests by encouraging others to support the need for greener, cleaner air.”
Seawork 2019 shows how the future – or at least a large part of it – is electric. From small outboards to large engines, e-mobility is becoming the name of the game and is set on a seemingly limitless upward curve.
RIB builders were displaying their wares at Seawork in ever increasing numbers, with 55 exhibitors (including accessory suppliers) listed on the Ribwork Trail. And the good news from Alistair Hughes (team leader of CCS Boats in the UK MoD) that the MoD is looking to buy 150 new fast craft spiced up the mood no end during the Speed@Seawork event.
The RIB market looks strong. Jason Purvey of Ribcraft told me that the last year had been a big success and that lead times on his boats are lengthening. He was showing an 8m RIB with a cuddy/cabin and a Suzuki-powered 9.5m model with an enclosed ‘all weather’ cabin built for the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority. Commercial RIB Charter also exhibited its large Ribcraft-built CTV.
On the fittings front, Harken Industrial’s stand was dominated by a towering structure festooned with Harken products developed or adapted from leisure use to commercial and industrial uses.
MD Andy Ash-Vie recalled that the first time he pitched up at Seawork with Harken yachting gear, plenty of people asked ‘what on earth are you doing here’ - while others laughed behind his back. Nine years later, Andy is enjoying the last laugh.
Harken Industrial now supplies a large selection of load-management and safety products for workboats, RIBs, platform support vessels, superyachts, pilot, police, defence and dive operations. Its wide range of winches, pulleys, rails and cars are adapted to a multiplicity of uses.
To give an example of how Harken’s track and car systems solve unusual problems, Andy told me that hundreds of cars and metres of track were used for the staging of a world famous rock group’s concert. While 3km of track found a use in Legoland.
Changing tack, he showed me a recent invention - based on the parrals used on yacht gaffs - to make a ‘roller sling.’ He also demonstrated a foot clamp incorporating cam cleat jaws that’s used for rope climbing. He reckoned that Harken Industrial developments now represent around 25% of Harken’s global business so he’s delighted that he took a gamble on Seawork nine years ago.
Much the same can be said of Barton Marine (now distributed by Barrus). Its track and traveller car systems, industrial snatch blocks (for moving and lifting loads from 200kg to 350kg) and ‘block on a strop’ ranges (with a working load limit of 600kg) all sell to non-marine commercial operations in factories and on construction sites as well as for marine uses.
Barton sales manager Christian Brewer said “our line of standard and bespoke track systems/traveller cars can be used for easy movement of commercial and industrial gear, sliding roofs, deployment of loads on deck or for transit carriers.”
As an example, he told me that Barton tracks and sliders are used by a company manufacturing playground equipment while Barton blocks are used by companies specialising in such diverse activities as tensioning swimming pool covers and fish farm nets. It’s obvious that – with a bit of lateral thinking – leisure marine equipment can be sold for a very wide range of non-marine uses. And Seawork passes on this message.
Seasure is another marine fitting maker to have spread its net from leisure to commercial buyers thanks to Seawork. Graham Brown told me that he first exhibited at Seawork ten years ago. To his surprise and delight, he quickly made a military contact that has been buying his wares ever since.
Then he had another lucky break, courtesy of his wife who complained that crashing around in his high speed Merry Fisher powerboat was uncomfortable. So he modified a mountain bike shock absorber to make a shock-mitigating seat to keep her happy. This worked so well that he displayed it at Seawork and has since gone on to produce a range of shock-mitigating seats for commercial vessels, retro-fits between standard pedestals and seats on leisure craft, and for RIBs with longer, narrower seats. These now sell in large numbers with 95% going for export.
Outboard Engine makers and suppliers are well represented at Seawork, again showing how the commercial market is every bit as important as the leisure one.
Yamaha’s UK marketing coordinator Matt Bryant told me that around 40% of UK sales were to commercial and military users. He added that although sales of 2-stroke engines were banned on the leisure market, the Yamaha range of 15hp to 90hp 2-strokes was popular with naval and military users. However he said that Yamaha’s latest four-stroke 25hp model is only 1kg heavier than the same size 2-stroke. So the weight gap is narrowing.
Bryant also commented on the ever-increasing size and power of outboards, with Yamaha’s latest XTO model pitching in at 425hp. Looking at the rows of multiple outboards perched on the transoms of workboats and RIBs in the marina, we agreed that – as in the leisure market – some buyers were moving from inboards to outboards. The ease of working on and maintaining outboard engines is a major attraction. He added that Seawork is a very important commercial show.
There seemed to be a reduction in the number of production GRP catamarans designed to service the offshore wind farm industry on show this year. Blyth was there again, but its impressive 15m cat was a passenger vessel certified to carry 110 people with a top speed of 20kn. Blyth’s other recent deliveries were for survey vessels – one to ABP and an 18m to Swansea University. MD Stuart Davidsen told me “We haven’t built a wind farm boat for a while”.
However global design consultancy BMT announced that its Southampton-based specialist ship design team has been awarded the contract to design two advanced 20m Crew Transfer Vessels (CTVs). These are for the fast expanding US offshore wind farm industry and mark a major breakthrough for BMT into this huge market.
Speaking of CTVs, a fortuitously timed visit to Seaglaze’s stand provided me with a perfect illustration of how well Seawork’s on-the-ball publicity machine works.
Cowes-based Diverse Marine decided to place a contract with Norfolk-based Seaglaze for marine hatches, doors and its newly-introduced Concealed Frame Windows for the new £3.25m 24m Chartwell CTV that it is building. Both companies are Show exhibitors so Seawork sent a photographer and PR lady to record the hand-shaking confirmation of the deal. At the same time the MDs of Diverse and Seaglaze gave quotes explaining the reasons for this tie-up.
As a result, Seawork was able to generate instant and well-informed publicity for two companies exhibiting at its show. It was a great example of how the Seawork team supports its exhibitors.
At the same time, Caroline Muckleston of Seaglaze told me that the new and patented Concealed Frame Window combined modern aesthetics, strength and ease of installation. Seaglaze believes that these features – combined with its competitive price – will lead to increased sales, improving on the results of the last 12 months ... which have been the best ever.
On the electronics front, market leaders Garmin and Raymarine were both exhibiting again. Garmin’s Barry Parker told me that the commercial market was important to the business, saying that the Striker Plus series is the industry’s leading fishfinder series and that the Panoptix Livescope scanning sonar system was also in demand. He also told me that the EmpirBus digital switch facility was proving very popular and that ‘custom home screens’ were available.
Seawork’s Small Business Enterprise Zone was another well- supported feature that was buzzing. It included a fascinating variety of businesses.
I stopped at Marchwood-based Ultramag Inspection Services’ stand where Matt Amos told me the company was back at Seawork after a two-year gap. He explained that Ultramag specialises in non-destructive tests using ultrasonics and radiography on liners, RoRo ferries, MOD vessels, dredgers etc. In fact anything made of metal. He even has a team in Dubai at the moment, doing ultrasonic tests on pipelines.
On the quayside I enjoyed meeting Petur Petursson, a jovial Icelander who started his company Markus Lifenet 40 years ago. He has been manufacturing and selling the man overboard and recovery systems that he invented ever since.
Martin Lidgate of UK distributor Energy Marine (International) had a stand displaying Markus emergency MOB ladders, scramble-nets, cradles and throw lines. These robust and effective products have been sold for all types of boats, ships, inshore installations and waterfront facilities (including, I was told, the Seawork marina). And I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to sell for many years to come.
To get an insight into the world of specialist ship, tug, patrol boat, pilot vessel and fishing boat design, I spoke to Sandy Reid of Macduff Ship Design Ltd. Based in Aberdeenshire, Macduff has designed more than 200 vessels since its inception in 1993.
Read told me that the fishing industry was robust at the moment and that the sister company Macduff Shipyards has around three years worth of fishing boat orders in hand. What’s more there were three19m and two15m crabbers (to Macduff designs) currently in build in Vietnam for Irish and southern England clients. Business is clearly brisk.
As a final Seawork treat, I was stopped in my tracks by a film showing the most amazing rough weather boat testing I have ever seen. It was a fitting climax to an enjoyable day at a successful exhibition.
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