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Seawork: Aptly Named, Well Worth the Visit

Perhaps the busiest part of the Seawork event involved the impressive display of workboats - all available to board and trial - alongside this waterfront venue. Image: Joseph Keefe

By Joseph Keefe

Southampton, United Kingdom: It has been quite a few years since I last touched down in the UK; longer still for a visit on a maritime business trip. And, I don't cross 'the big pond' casually for one these events. This morning, Seawork 2019 in Southampton is not yet over but if the past two days have been any indication at all, then the entire event will be regarded as a rousing success for all involved.

There is something for everyone here. I overheard one attendee refer to the event as the annual gathering of "the boys and their toys." To be sure; almost every possible development, new idea, and the widest gathering of shallow draft workboats I've ever seen in one place, was mustered and on display in this compact venue. But, in the year of the maritime woman, I'm happy to report that it wasn't just the boys from Britain here. A decidedly international, diverse multi-generational crowd, hailing from all four corners of the globe, descended en mass on the docks at Southampton for this well-run and fast moving event.

Small enough to cover and take in the full breadth of what's happening in the workboat markets, yet big enough to be relevant, Seawork was good value and I was happy to have made the effort to attend. Setting this show apart from other similar events, the number of working hulls on display - virtually all of them available to test drive and evaluate - was simply tremendous. A short demonstration of the new COX diesel outboard engine on the water was perhaps my favorite part of the three day event.

On the Water
It turns out that the revolutionary COX diesel outboard, which potentially will change the way military littoral craft do their work in future, especially in terms of safety, has some other equally lofty aspirations for the recreational sectors, as well. Sure, the initial cost of the engine is far higher than its standard gasoline-powered counterpart, but it is the potentially much smaller long term cost of ownership where Cox hopes to shine.

Achieving high speed cruising speeds easily and smoothly, once at full speed, the engine runs at far lower speeds and, importantly for the cost conscious consumer, it has demonstrated 30% longer endurance than a gasoline outboard burning the same volume of fuel. But, it is the lower operating RPM speeds which promise a longer lifespan.

For the recreational user where price is no object, the Cox diesel promises longer trips without refueling, the elimination of worries as to where the next 'bunker' dock might be had, and is backed by $100 million in R&D costs that brought it to market. Joel Reid, Cox global Sales Director admits that he would have liked to have brought the engine to market sooner, but, he says, "We wanted to get it right from the outset. And, we did that."

For the operators of luxury yachts, the attraction of having to deal with just one fuel source is one of its chief draws. With the yacht tender also using diesel, bunkering operations are simplified and of course, the storage of gasoline is eliminated. Safety, no matter what the ultimate application for this new engine, is therefore a chief draw.

It would be easy for Cox, and its chief competitor, OXE (also in display at Seawork), to focus chiefly on the military, coast guard and municipal safety markets, which have long yearned for a safer alternative to gasoline. But then, remember that while the U.S. workboat fleet numbers almost 39,000 hulls, the domestic recreational fleet has swelled to more than 11 million vessels. That's an attractive slice of the waterborne market. Eventually, and as mass production kicks in, it is hoped that the gap in price between the diesel engine and its gasoline predecessor will tighten. Reid says it is only a matter of time before it does.

Hands On
Seawork was and is very much a hands-on event. With numerous demonstrations of technologies, virtual reality training tools and a raft of other new products, there was plenty to see and touch. On the waterfront, throngs of visitors cycled in and out and literally every five minutes, there was departure and arrival of a workboat filled with potential buyers and journalists along the busy quay. I wish I'd had time to board them all.

Trade events are a necessary and valuable aspect of the global marine business model. Nowhere else will you get to see so much and get to know the product or service you may buy, so well. And, to my mind, it's been a while since I've been to an event where so much of what was on display was available to test, try, and trial. Seawork: aptly named and well worth the visit.

Jun 13, 2019


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