Shock Mitigation


Mike Wills takes a look at the importance of shock mitigation and the necessary safety protocols needed in today’s tenders and powerboats for the comfort of crew and guests

In the recreational market, creature comfort has become important. In the past decade, outboard engine technology has advanced inexorably and so have hull designs. Boats are faster, consume less fuel and are more sea worthy than ever before. They are more safer and more versatile which has lead to the next generation of mid range, fast planing craft penetrating not only the traditional owner skipper market but now engaging with the charter, tender and adventure based tourist market in a way that was never self evident before. Despite the euphoria that has made the mid markets (20 -50’) herald some of the fastest growing brands in the world, there are many enemies to an exciting and pleasant experience on the water.

Motion sickness is an issue on boats where roll, and the five other equally disagreeable motions, including heave, surge, sway, yaw and pitch, are likely contributors to why not more people enjoy boating. A simple gyro easily installed, can now stabilise a craft at anchor. This sort of technology has fully embraced the mid ranges including RIBS and open weekenders which subsequently have benefited the most.

Ullman DynamicsAnd then there is impact from a rough and troublesome sea where seating technology has advanced in leaps and bounds too. With a golden passport from their roots in military and automotive industries, they now have a solid footing in recreative boating too. Impact at speed when negotiating a rough chop in a Mistral in the Med or a confused water in the Solent – hurts! It hurts the spine, jerks the neck, dislodges vertebrae and can even break bones. I’ll elaborate on this later on in this article.

Military use demands long term extended high performance in any sea condition and so does the highest echelons of car racing over rough terrain. In fact four shock absorbers are fitted on every land based vehicle in the world and has done so for decades for a reason – comfort and avoidance of injury, so why not on a boat?

The obvious answer had to come through seat shock absorption technology which arrived on the recreational scene about 25 years ago but there were hurdles. The sector was much smaller by volume and price sensitive to compared with the aforementioned military and automotive sectors. Today, there are many key players in the market that cater for this sector which has rapidly expanded over the past decade.

Anecdotally, my time racing in Class III (UK and World Championships) there was no seat technology and yet ‘the torture’ came from the seat. In rough weather (which we used to excel in), every wave we hit, transmitted to the back of my neck in a weird way. Like a Zulu spear that pierced the back of my skull. It was a unique and unpleasant feeling. At the time it was about the winning not the discomfort. To avoid any injury to my back, the technique was to ride the boat like a horse jockey holding onto grab handles so the potential sudden 10G impacts (yes that’s a force equivalent to ten times your own weight), had less effect. Newton’s laws of motion about action and reaction are as relevant now as they were in the 17th century…there’s no escape but there is now a solution!

If ever there was a competitive sector of the business then companies involved in making shock absorbing seating systems and the seats that ‘sit’ on them, take the lead! It is surprisingly technical and borne out of scientific research. This is why anyone that makes investments in this respect needs to refer to their websites and do some homework.

They are informative and a few have published bona fide scientific data which eludes to the infamous 10G impact if only for a few milliseconds and how that is successfully mitigated with their individual mechanical solutions. When a boat goes airborne and that’s when the propeller is well clear of the water let alone the boat, a 10G impact is surprisingly common in a 30+ knot light boat in a 3-4 ft/1m sharp chop.

Ullman DynamicsHowever I was drawn to Ullman’s website with a whole section of their site devoted to research and a notice of the EU directive that is ‘supposed ‘ to preside over this. Passed in 2002 and I am paraphrasing, the directive makes owners responsible for passengers’ exposure to dangerous impacts on high speed vessels and the onus on being on them to provide the best available technical solutions such as seats. Ullman concluded that no high-speed boat operations can be guaranteed or even claimed to be compliant with the EU directive. There is a caveat, Ullman’s claims are that the jockey seating configurations are currently the closest thing to EU compliance on the market.

With the EU struggling to legislate and ending up in a red tape fog, Ullman is exempt from the EU regulation in its purest form and indeed I assume, so must all other players in the market.

Ullman’s other concern was ‘bottoming out’ and Carl Ullman clarified for me, “Bottoming out means that the suspension reaches the end of its mechanical stroke. Some suspensions are prone to bottoming out, which can significantly amplify the peak acceleration, and they would be better off in seats without suspension.”

Let me explain ‘peak acceleration’ and back to Sir Isaac Newton, it’s not just the mass of a human body it is the product of the force that our bodies are accelerated at, that makes us heavier. Too much force and it hurts and even dangerous on impact with a wave!

There is one other thing on Ullman’s website that I took attention to which was about posture. Carl’s father, a Doctor Johan Ullman being a professional inventor as well as specialist in anaesthesiology and intensive care in occupational medicine. His affiliation is with the University of Stockholm and given that sphere of influence embarked on extensive research into how our bodies react to high impact at sea in whatever guise. He stated, “Sitting in a traditional seat always puts your spine into a C-shape. This is the worst position for the spine to be in when exposed to a vertical impact. There is risk for head jolts. Head jolts can cause whiplash-like distortion injuries and disk ruptures in the neck.”

With the above in mind, seats have been remoulded, redesigned and logistical design has been improved, though bear in mind, this was the journey with military, emergency and municipal services that came before our recreational market.

Other major contenders in the market, their take on how they have successfully engaged with the market is interesting, worthy of consideration and warrants a visit to their websites for the fuller picture.

My conversations around the world started with Shockwave seating and mitigation systems. 24 years in existence, Shockwave is Canadian based and one whose roots still remain in special military forces around the world, supplying Sentinel bases and a range of seating to boot.

ShockwaveThat said their unique claim is all that is required is a 220 mm clearance gap to fit the base beneath a seat. The absorption process is principally based on air/sprung cushioning and the system can be installed within a day. The Sentinel is equipped with a 100mm travel FOX Float H2O shock which absorbs small bumps and vibrations at the top of the suspension travel with bottoming protection during peak impacts. Design is compact and adjustable.

They export all over the world and often found on fibreglass and aluminium boats between 20 – 45’. Their mid back seat is by far the most popular but their military seating has carried favour with more luxurious and less budget conscious owners. Pricing starts at 1497euros for the base and a further 60 euros for a high pressure pump that can take the pressure up to 350psi! The pump is not needed everyday but can be used to fine tune those guests or passengers of varying weights.

ER PRO, from Greece takes a slightly different stance in their engagement with the market through cross fertilising technology with Öhlins a Swedish centre of excellence, in shock absorption for Formula 1, moto GP, moto cross, mountain bikes and even snow mobiles. The worldwide service network associated with this alliance comes as an added bonus too.

Their solution to shock mitigation at sea, utilises progressive coil springs over air springs with racing style settings and above all to provide bespoke solutions for the recreation market as they have done so, historically, for military, coast guard and police use, as well as automotive.

The product range of absorption system and seat range which is the Chameleon, Jockey and Spartan, are sold mainly in Europe and increasingly in America. Mitigating G force for ER PRO is between 4-6G, though this can be adjusted upwards, if necessary. Price ranges start from 2500 to 8000 euros depending on specification and bespoke design including painting/upholstery and seat design and interestingly ER’s proprietor sees this as adding value to a boat that is fitted with this technology. I agree.

Shark SeatingFrom New Zealand, Shark Seats have a full range of seats and systems, claiming the lightest possible suspension seats, renewable bioplastics, making the top four in the UK’s Ministry of Defence for no adjustment required for passenger weight between 40Kg to 120Kg and now exporting to 50 countries worldwide. In much the same market as the others, recent successes include the tender and tourist markets.

FLEX™ is the core of the Shark suspension system and provides 225mm of smooth travel. It is corrosion free, light and tough. Choice of seating reflects the company’s ambition for reflecting the lifestyle of the owner though fitting your own seat is also possible. It is the Luxe for office to boat, Epic for open top boating, stylish and exposed to the rigours of the sun, Ultra for the budget conscious and Ultra-light for those builders in the market for tourist use.

The company addresses the 10G slam and claims this can be reduced to 4G in a larger boat and 4G to 2G for a smaller boat with their systems. Pricing starts from circa 800 euros for a basic set up to 4000+ euros for a sophisticated high end result.

Exporting to 55 countries, Ullman kits can be seen on high profile brands such as Goldfish, Windy, Scorpion and Ribcraft. There are several more and that makes them conversant with the tender, high performance RIB and professional markets.

Their range of seats is the Jockey, Bucket, Bolster and Daytona seats. The Jockey and Bolsters are popular with drivers and operative functions certainly within the confines of a helm.

Jockey and Daytona seats are used for passengers with the latter often sending guests to sleep even in a high speed journey!! 10G can be experienced by a professional operative with no side affects. Price ranges start from 3,000 to 14,000 euros, depending on the spec of the kit.

Scandinavian Seat Suspension Systems is a business to business company and so does not sell to an end user. The systems and there’s a whole range of them, shown on their website appears to cater for the mid range markets. The company also reflects Ullman’s foray into the reasons why this equipment, mitigating shock, whilst at sea is valid.

And finally, what are their future plans? This proves interesting as all are looking towards even more comfort and security than is currently available. SHOCKWAVE will be announcing new innovation in their take on their current product range later on this year.

ER ProER PRO will be introducing two new models that will be released in 2024. The first one in April and another one in September.

SHARK SEATING aims to expand on the EVO seating range with additional accessories and to continually reduce weight on their ranges. This is something that is work in progress and announcements will be made in the future. Their mantra is to reduce weight in all product ranges and maximise recycling once the product has reached an end of life stage.

ULLMAN will be launching a complete series aimed at the larger crew transfer vessels, luxury tenders and ferries. These seats feature a unique patented suspension system called FJORD (Flexible Joint Omni-resilient Dampening). This allows the seat to counteract the movement of the boat, a bit like a gyro that offers superior comfort and protection from wave impact at a competitive cost.

This sector is alight at the moment as more innovation pours into this market. There must be a reason to report on what happens next!