Marine hydraulics: The hidden heroes of a superyacht
Last updated: 11/05/2017
With superyachts getting bigger and design features and systems becoming bolder, the role of hydraulics is incredibly vital in getting them off the ground and keeping them running.
Yachting Pages spoke to marine hydraulics experts Hydromar Marine Equipment, C-Systems and Services and Phoenix Marine Solutions about the importance of keeping on-board hydraulic systems consistent, as well as new trends and developments in the industry.
Who needs hydraulics on a superyacht?
The moment a guest steps on board a superyacht, hydraulics are enabling them to walk on to the passerelle, store their Jet ski, and keep the vessel moving as they cruise from one destination to the next.
As Elizabeth Noles from Phoenix Marine Solution states, “Hydraulics are absolutely crucial in the day-to-day running of any superyacht, and everything that moves.” So much of a superyacht relies on hydraulic systems to run safely and efficiently, from steering systems and stabilisers, to bathing platforms, balconies and other boarding equipment.
Running hydraulic systems on board a superyacht
As marine hydraulic systems control so much of a superyacht’s function, it’s important to keep them consistent in terms of the supplier, and the number of systems on board. Elizabeth says, “Hydraulics are the only reliable way to move heavy items on board. Therefore it is important to have one hydraulic supplier for the entire yacht to ensure the system is centralised and that one hydraulic power unit is operating everything on board.”
Steven Hartgers from Hydromar also explains the importance of combining systems for a streamlined operation, i.e. trying to combine as much hydraulic equipment on a single power pack as possible. An example of this is the aft ship power pack, which includes the passerelle and hatch, bathing platform, transom door and overhead garage crane.
“Having two or three main hydraulic systems in aft, mid and fore ship on board a superyacht benefits the yard during installation, as well as the crew who are using and maintaining the systems. We divide the yacht into sections, and each has its own hydraulic power pack system.”
The power pack is the drive unit to operate all hydraulic equipment on board. Generally it contains a hydraulic oil tank, pump, electric motor and valve set, which ensures the correct oil flow to separate equipment. Pressure is then created by the oil flow which travels to hydraulic cylinders built in to the equipment, enabling it to move. This movement is operated by a PLC programmed e-control, such as a push button or remote.
Steven continues, “These units can control all the hydraulics on board, except for some equipment such as steering gear, rescue cranes and stabiliser systems, which would have their own dedicated power pack for class approval reasons. Otherwise all other systems can be combined.”
Carlos Castillo from C-Systems and Services also stresses an important point, “It’s important to routinely maintain all hydraulic equipment to ensure the safety of the crew and prevent costly and potentially dangerous situations.”
There’s more to superyacht hydraulics than some might think…
While it might be often assumed that hydraulics are confined to just running a superyacht, hydraulics actually have some rather cool credentials, and are responsible for some of the most impressive features seen on superyachts. One incredible example of superyacht hydraulics at its most extravagant, is the folding hydraulic helipad of Oceanco’s Alfa Nero, which simply folds away into a swimming pool when not in use.
However, hydraulic systems for tenders and toys are, “The most prolifically used systems on board”, according to Elizabeth. Tenders and toys are usually kept in a garage, with hydraulic systems used to open the door smoothly. There are also a number of other features, which require hydraulic systems such as the tender winch and bathing platform, in order to launch the vessel as quickly and safely as possible.
One particularly impressive example of how hydraulics are used to operate storage of tenders is described by Hydromar’s Steven. “We supplied gull wing doors to Heesen on M/Y Galactica Star (above-right image). Behind these gull wing doors, a smart tender garage arrangement was created using our special slew beam cranes.”
What does the future hold for superyacht hydraulics?
As superyachts get bigger, their features and technology are changing too. Steven says, “Designers are able to create more elaborate features on board and hydraulics can be used to operate or drive these special features such as large bathing areas, swimming pool covers and all kinds of hatches, doors and balconies. This gives superyachts even more versatility and added value for a yard having to offer/sell the yacht to a prospective owner.”
As described earlier by Steven from Hydromar, more complex hydraulic systems such as Programmable Logic Control (PLC) are also a growing trend in on-board hydraulic systems, due to the continuous desire for systems on board to be as innovative, efficient and fuss free as possible. Carlos from C-Systems agrees, adding that PLC systems help to “Synchronise all hydraulics on board, making things as easy as pushing a button.”
Aside from technology, there is also greater collaboration and understanding between shipyards and hydraulic specialists. Steven explains, “The yards are understanding the importance of cooperating with a hydraulic specialist like us more and more.
“The systems get more and more complex, therefore the need to closely collaborate benefits all parties involved and results in a more effective production process and with higher quality.”
Take a look at some amazing videos of superyacht hydraulics in action with our YouTube Hydraulics playlist.
If you’re looking for a new hydraulics supplier, take a look at our list of davits & hydraulics businesses.