Substance, style and sublime service

Cranes are the real hard workers of the superyacht scene – performing all the behind-the-scenes manual labour to ensure that everything runs smoothly. They are the ones hoisting the tenders, jet skis and submarines to and from your superyacht. They also may be the ones saving your life, used for rescue boat and life raft hoisting. And yet they receive very little attention, often discussed under the wider umbrella of hydraulics but rarely given their own focus.

Though not always particularly pretty, their vital nature makes them something we need to stay up-to-date with. After all, crane malfunctions can be serious. It shook the industry when the 40 metre Tecnomar Nadara Low Profile was accidentally dropped in 2015, after a crane’s pulley system unexpectedly snapped a during a seemingly regular offload. As the ropes on the crane lifting the yacht gave way, Low Profile slammed down onto the deck of the container vessel. The exact structural damage caused and the repairs required after the incident were unconfirmed. But one thing is for sure; no one was envious of the owner and this great misfortune. It led to questions about easily this kind of error can occur, and how that fault could be avoided in the future.

Those striving towards faultless operation onboard will always do well to make sure their technology is current, and this is no different when it comes to cranes. That is why today we are focusing on these unsung heroes of the industry. What big issues do the manufacturers admit they still need to solve, what are the most exciting new developments, and what’s coming soon? It’s all here…

More functionality than ever

To an outsider it may seem as if crane technology has been fairly stagnant over the last few years. Even Colin J. Kiley, President of Nautical Structures Industries, admits that high-speed advancements in general technology can take some time to trickle down into the crane and heavy lifting sector. Thankfully this is not currently the case.

Developments in alternate industries have now reached the superyacht market, meaning cranes now have more functionality than ever before. As Kiley explains, “Thanks to the advancements in technology developed in the military and offshore wind farms, 3 dimensionally compensated cranes are now available to compensate for pitch, roll and yaw.” This is important because it makes them easier to operate on vessels facing harsh weather conditions. Particularly for smaller yachts, this additional compensation means that they can run safely.

And 3D stabilisation is not the only 3-dimensional force Kiley believes will affect the future of cranes. He said: “I believe the use of 3D stabilisation with HOP cranes will allow for safer handling and ease of boarding and disembarking from a vessel for the owner and crew. Additionally, I foresee that use of 3D printing that will allow for major changes in crane designs… [It will] allow for much lighter weights in the equipment, allowing for bigger and more fun toys!” These bigger cranes would be much easier to handle than today’s monster machinery.


Safety first?

Kiley argues that safety should always be the primary issue for those manufacturing heavy lifting equipment. As we have already heard, when a lifting appliance fails the consequences can be devastating. This is not just in terms of damage to the vessel. Serious injury and death can occur to the crew, owners and guests alike. To protect from this there have already been advances in regulations, testing, and hook safety and maintenance. But Kiley thinks that as yachts continue to get bigger, lifting heavier tenders and operating in harsher conditions such as the arctic, the yachting sector will need to adopt some more of the technology used in the commercial and military sectors. In particular, load cell and load cycle recorders could be used to better determine the need for service, replacement parts and maintenance. He said: “The use of this type of equipment, that can send information back to the manufacturer if there has been an overload or a side load to raise an alarm before failure occurs, … will be found more commonly in our sector in the near future.”

Jessie Rogers, head of PR and Marketing at boat builder and composite specialist Jeremy Rogers, similarly prioritises safety in her company’s new developments. Jeremy Rogers’ sister company Atlas Carbon Products produces baby davits and lightweight lifting beams, which are often used to meet health and safety lifting requirements for the crew.  But Kiley believes that in the future we will see more use of the aforementioned compensating cranes for this purpose. Nautical Structures Industries is presently working towards this.

Technology alone cannot negate the hazard of heavy lifting. Kiley said: “I get excited about the advancements in technology that we can bring to the sector to reduce risk, add safety and allow owners the ability to utilise their investments more often… But [I] still believe in the KISS principal. What is needed today when we are using 8-tonne, 10 metre knuckleboom cranes is proper training for crew.” After all, all the 3D compensation in the world is pointless if the crane is being operated by someone who doesn’t understand it. We still need crew that fully understand the safe operation of a crane and all international hand signals and operational parameters. For this reason, Nautical Structures Industries is now offering training with all of its new build installations, as part of its annual services and as a standalone class to clients.




Changing appearances

Whilst in the past crane technology had always been very much a case of substance over style, manufacturers are slowly waking up to the idea that they can do both. And indeed, that this is what the industry wants. Rogers explained that she has recently witnessed an active drive to create cranes which better fit in with the luxurious superyacht style. “The main progress as we see it has been moving from chunky, functional looking metal cranes to super lightweight elegant cranes, which can become a feature of the yacht rather than an eyesore,” she said. And to create this, carbon is the material of choice. Its lightweight nature and attractive look, plus the fact that it can also be easily stowed away, ensure this. Indeed, Jeremy Rogers has noticed an uptake in clients asking for a range of superyacht staples to be crafted from carbon. This marks an industry-wide trend for even the most functional products to have a modern and elegant design.

Yet because cranes are first and foremost a tool, some still see them as antiquated and almost agricultural. Rogers believes that Jeremy Rogers has bucked this trend by using carbon, but this is not to say that everyone in the industry has caught up. And though cranes have come some way, she admits that there is always more progress to be made. “In the future making even lighter weight davits with new materials would of course be an aspiration,” she said. But what these new materials would be is for now anyone’s guess.

Rogers did say that her company is constantly working to develop even more lightweight solutions that can be removed completely from view when not in use, maintaining the beautiful lines of the yacht. However, the general goal will always be to make cranes which are easier for the crew to use.  One very current issue when developing products is making sure that rescue tender deployment meets MCA regulations. “This is a big area of growth, as well as Jetski, tender and Waterslide lifting solutions for newbuilding and retrofitting,” said Rogers. Kiley agrees that the rise of onboard tenders has impacted the industry, predicting that over the next five to ten years the use of dynamic cranes will become standard. This will be because of the higher percentage of superyachts built to accommodate submarines. With sub loading a more frequent necessity, Kiley thinks that the entire dynamic operation will have to advance to allow for a safer experience getting them onboard.

‘Cradle to grave’

The way that crane maintenance is handled may also be about to change, following a wider superyacht industry trend of all-encompassing service programs. Today’s owners are exploring further than ever, but they also realise that with this comes greater risk. So, worldwide programs that offer a complete cradle to grave service for maintenance, service and repair for vessels fit well with this new lifestyle.

This is a relatively new idea for many in the crane market. It requires all the involved companies to partner in the development of the lifting systems, through the design, installation, commissioning, training and maintenance for the life of the equipment, which could result in challenging collaborations. Yet it might just be worth it. Nautical Structures Industries has had overwhelming response to its creation of a 10-year service program including all cranes, passarelles, side accommodation stairs, hatches and doors.

Whether this will catch on everywhere remains to be seen, but there are clear benefits to this type of service program. The builders know that the products that were installed on their vessels will be maintained by the manufacturer to the standards demanded during the build. The crew gains by having the relationship with a shore-based materials expert that visits the vessel on an annual basis and can provide the maintenance and service for the entire package of hydraulic equipment. Additionally, having all of the maintenance and service logs kept to exacting standards and backed up at the manufacturers facility and servers makes class inspections painless. Owners benefit from lack of down time, increased safety and security and reduced overall costs.

Overall, it looks like the future of cranes is anything but dull. Developments that are already underway will transform the way we transport items on, off and around vessels. This will ensure that less people and vessels are harmed in the process. With companies such as Jeremy Rogers focused on enhancing the design of these tools and more 3D printing on the horizon, it looks like modern crane technology is set to fulfil both substance and style. And with all-encompassing maintenance programs set to take the industry by storm, sublime service could come to be something we all come to expect. The future of cranes is looking bright.


By Colette Flowerdew-Kincaid

Don’t miss our Shipyards Special Edition in March, where we will focus on the different lifting systems used in yards – in amongst a range of other hot topics! 


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