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Innovative US company Seakeeper has stabilised 6000 large yachts since its inception in 2008, but putting its product into a 26-footer could open this innovation to mass market.



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Gale-force winds crashed down Middle Harbour in Sydney, buffeting our Signature 788SF as it strained against the pontoon; testing conditions, to say the least, for the newly-installed Seakeeper 2. Earlier in the week, I'd watched the throngs of onlookers at the Sydney International Boat Show watch in amazement as sales representative Simon Bochenski, as well as MD of Twin Disc Glenn Frettingham, demonstrated the product by rocking the 26-footer, then pressing the gyro button to stabilise the hull almost instantly. From the crowds, shouted questions erupted about tow vehicles (ideally a big Dodge Ute) and the instinctive subject of power usage.

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So, here we were at the dock to find all this out. Looking over the Signature, a nine-month-old model beautifully finished by the Queensland-based company, the only apparent change was the fibreglass box behind the centre console chair. Opening the lid revealed a mini Seakeeper gyro: a two-foot-diameter ball encased in a steel frame that allowed it to oscillate fore and aft on a gimbal, actively controlled by hydraulic rams. Inside the ball, a precision machined-and-balanced flywheel rotates at up to 9,000rpm to counteract the boat's movement. It's DC-powered, uses 300-650 watts depending on the sea state, from a bank of four deep cycle 150-amp gel batteries located in the bilges just ahead of the centre console. These are charged from the 44-amp alternators on the twin 200hp Suzuki outboards.

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"We reckon up to 6 hours use on the batteries alone," said Glenn as he showed me around. Shore power was also fitted to this boat so batteries can be charged at the pontoon. This Seakeeper 2 model only launched a few months ago, and is tiny compared to the ones I've used recently on boats like the Riviera 72 and Prestige 680 motor yachts. Designed to be factory-fitted or retrofitted into 27-32 footers, it claims to reduce roll by up to 95%. Weighing in at 188kg and with a volume of about 0.6m square, it left plenty of sidedeck space on the Signature's 2.5m beam.

"By the time we'd fibreglassed in the frame, the box and the unit itself, you're looking at about 300kg," said Glenn.

For towing, this probably puts it beyond a standard LandCruiser and towards something like a Dodge utility, but a base boat with single engine would probably be towed by a Holden Colorado or similar. Alternatively, simply dry-stack the boat and let the forklift get you to the water. Price-wise the unit is $29,900+GST and about $5,000 to custom-fit it to the Signature. Greg Haines, of Signature Boats, told us this base boat sells for $180k but our review boat was probably in the region of $300k, as it was highly spec'd up to include Czone digital switching, twin 17-inch Garmin glass bridge screens, the latest GMR 18 broadband radar, autopilot and other goodies. Also, an Australian-made trailer is included with this model.

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Avoiding mal de mer

Back on the water, we used Suzuki's nifty SPM joystick and given the strong wind it was put into boost mode to ease us sideways off the dock. The SPM fly-by-wire controlled the outboards' hydraulic rams to turn the engines at various angles to one another, optimising just the right direction of thrust to match the joystick's intuitive movement. Another handy feature is the GPS position-holding function, called SeaStation, which is ideal for waiting off the fuel pontoon. Pushing the throttles down, the twin 200hp engines pushed us steadily against the gale, before I slowed and went broadside while touching the Garmin screen to activate the Seakeeper 2. It had been warming itself up (or spooling as they call it) soundlessly for about 25 minutes, so by touching the soft button I unlocked the mechanism and within seconds our rocking had nearly ceased, just like the brochure claimed. This effect is not nearly so apparent on larger vessels, so the dramatic calming was startling; allowing me to even walk around the deck and take some photos. Alternatively, I could have comfortably used the Signature's toilet or laid out a picnic on the the bow table, even in less than ideal conditions.

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Equally, when underway with my bow just off the wind to incur more motion, switching the Seakeeper on vastly reduced the yaw and roll; and with the alternators charging it, you have no power limitations.

For fishermen who tire of balancing on their knees to counteract the boat's movement, this will undoubtedly lengthen their time casting a line, while for those prone to seasickness, that picnic at sea can finally be enjoyed. Yep, it really does work.


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