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Big-Boat Trends & Innovations

By Michael Vatalaro
Published: October/November 2013

New options, from propulsion to stabilization, are popping up on midsize cruising and fishing boats. Here are some features you might see at the fall boat shows.

Gyro Stabilization

Stabilizers are usually associated with larger-displacement speed trawlers and yachts, but Seakeeper recently unveiled a model aimed at 36- to 43-foot boats and kicked things off by installing one on a 39-foot Intrepid 390, a boat that's anything but slow. The 50-knot Intrepid was designed as a custom tender and is the first boat of its size to have a gyro installed.

Photo of a Seakeeper gyro unit

The Seakeeper gyro unit tucks away under a forward hatch in this Intrepid 390. Expect to see more installations of these units on fishing boats at the fall boat shows.

Gyroscopic stabilization works by spinning a flywheel to create angular momentum. If you've ever stood a bike on end and spun the front wheel, angular momentum is the force you feel resisting efforts to turn the handlebars back and forth. To create angular momentum, you can either spin a really big flywheel with a lot of mass slowly, or a smaller one very fast. Seakeeper has taken the latter approach; their M5500 model spins at 7,500 rpm generating 5,500 newton-meters per second of angular momentum, which translates to a righting force of around 9,600 newton-meters (7,000 pound-feet of torque). That energy is transmitted to the boat by mounting the gyro unit down low in the stringer grid along the centerline. When the boat starts to roll, the gyro rotates fore or aft on gimbals, creating a counterbalancing force. The rate of roll is controlled by a pair of hydraulic arms and a digital processor. The result is up to an 80-percent reduction in roll.

The Seakeeper is effective even at anchor, because it doesn't rely on the forward motion of the boat to generate righting forces. The system does require power from a genset; a 20-amp circuit is necessary to spin up the flywheel. But there are no external protrusions to slow down a fast boat like the Intrepid and possibly hang up a fishing line or be damaged. Expect more high-end fishing boats, in particular, to sport these in the near future.End of story marker

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