Stabilisation: It’s what’s on the inside that counts
Last updated: 04/10/2017
Stabilising a yacht on the water these days is a necessity — nothing obliterates relaxing and luxurious vibes quite like spilled wine, smashed glassware and vomiting guests. Thankfully, modern zero-speed and underway stabilisation options are in abundance, and largely create a fantastically balanced and stable experience on board.
Today’s stabilising technology will allow you to stand on the deck of a superyacht travelling at 20 knots, feel as if you’re stood on land and prevent even the most seasickness-prone of guests from having a rather undesirable on-board experience. However, the stabilisation working on levelling the entire vessel is not precise enough to deliver a truly level surface at sea that is, for example, suitable for playing a fair game of pool.
From thwarted attempts at building an independently balanced cabin within a hull to deliver a completely level interior, to self-levelling pool tables and stabilised wine cellars, I’ve taken a look at a few interesting applications of precise stabilisation in the marine domain.
Introducing Sir Henry Bessemer
Sir Henry Bessemer, born 19 January 1813, was an English inventor whose steelmaking process—known aptly as the Bessemer process—would go on to lead the way in steel manufacturing from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, and also played a major role in establishing Sheffield as a key industrial centre during his lifetime.
As a severe sufferer of seasickness, in 1868 Bessemer devised the idea of a ship in which the passenger cabin—the saloon—would be suspended on gimbals and kept horizontal mechanically, isolating occupants from the ship's motion. On paper it seemed an ingenious solution; in reality, it was to prove a prodigious failure.
Whilst the suspension did work as intended (a steersman controlled hydraulic cylinders to tilt the saloon based on readings from a spirit level), the constantly shifting centre of gravity led to the ship being almost impossible to steer and properly control. Its first trip ended with a crash into the pier at Calais, and this together with its just-proven poor performance, led to the ship being dismantled just four years after its first—and last—commercial voyage.
So, while independently stabilised saloons and interiors didn’t exactly kick off, that’s not to say there aren’t uses for stabilisation inside a vessel.
Meet the world’s most mesmerising pool table
A century-and-a-half on, things are looking a lot more fun. This pool table debuted on board the luxury liner Radiance of the Seas, and contains its own self-stabilising system of gyroscopes and motors, allowing its surface to remain strictly horizontal even in rough seas. In the GIF above you can see the tilt of the ship and how the table immediately responds to it, keeping the pool balls still. Even when the table has to adjust its pitch or roll while there are balls in motion, they continue along their natural paths without so much as slightly deviating from them.
Royal Caribbean, the owners of Radiance of the Seas, once boasted that this table was the only one in existence, and hasn’t revealed how much it cost to have it made. It has since been confirmed to be a pool table from STABLE, a Norwegian company that specialises in providing stabilised platforms to cruise ships and large yachts, for several different kinds of application.
It turns out you can actually independently stabilise a lot more than just a pool table. STABLE also provides stabilised beds, wine cellars and cabinets, dining tables, bowling alleys, control rooms and even stabilised operating theatres, using the same technology that powers its billiards table.
Svend Heier, CEO at STABLE, was able to shed some light on how the technology is being increasingly adopted in the superyacht industry: “The business in the superyacht sector has definitely grown the past 4-5 years, both pool tables and beds.”
“Our platforms take into account the horizontal accelerations of a boat, like when the boat accelerates, turns, [or swings] in the waves. A gyroscopic platform does not work well as a pool table platform, for instance, if you make a sharp turn, all the balls on a gyro-table will start to move because of the centripetal acceleration/force. On a STABLE platform, the balls will not move because our platforms make a correct tilt in the turn to keep the balls laying perfectly still."
It was the pool table, funnily enough, that conceived the idea of the stabilised bed, as Svend explains a scenario that occurred after selling eight pool tables to Royal Caribbean: “A very seasick person had a nap on one of the tables and became completely fine again after 15 minutes. Eureka; we got the idea of curing seasick people and developed a stabilized bed. The feedback from customers of the bed is really good; the bed is both very comfortable and cures seasickness. It has been installed on both cruise ships and yachts.”
What does the future of marine stabilisation hold?
In today’s age of anti-roll tanks, refined fin stabilisation and gyro stabilisation systems, stabilising a superyacht is much easier and more efficient than it used to be. It’s a tough challenge to create new breakthroughs in general marine stabilisation right now, as the established products and systems are the best they’ve ever been. You could say the industry is, uh, rather stable at the moment.
I had to ask Svend if the original concept of SS Bessemer would be possible with today’s technology: “It is possible to design a big platform, like a stabilized deck or a complete room inside the hull. So far we have developed a circular platform (diameter 5.5m) for a dining table or comfort zone. We also have a solution for a stabilized container (20ft) for professional use on board offshore vessels, the navy etc.”
“To stabilise a whole room inside the hull is as mentioned possible, but it requires some space around it to be able to move it in pitch and roll.”
That sounds promising to me; but in hindsight, why would any shipbuilder desire to separate the entire interior space from the ship’s motion at a presumably exorbitant expense, when today’s systems and techniques achieving largely the same end-result exist at much lower costs? SS Bessemer was created, ultimately, to merely prevent seasickness. But we’ve mostly done that, now, haven’t we?