I’ll admit it. I was dubious when I first heard about the Ride system from Seakeeper, the company best known for its innovative gyro-stabilizer systems that virtually eliminate roll. Having fished aboard boats with Seakeeper gyros, I can say without hesitation that these systems work marvelously to enhance the comfort factor many times over, particularly when anchored up to fish a wreck in sloppy seas.
But what about the Ride system? It’s designed for automatic control of pitch and roll of boats up to 35 feet in length while underway in a wide range of sea conditions.
The skeptic in me asked, “How much better could it be than traditional trim-tabs?” I had the opportunity to find out on a demo run during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show aboard Seakeeper’s Bluewater 2850 center-console captained by Andrew Semprevivo, president and CEO of Seakeeper.
Need For Speed
Before we discuss the results, let’s hit the highpoints of the Ride system. More than five years in research and development, Ride uses a pair of interceptor-like control surfaces (one on each side the bottom of the transom). Seakeeper calls them controllers.
Interceptor-style systems with similar auto functions have been around for years from brands such as Humphree and Zipwake. In fact, there are trim-tab systems from Bennett and Lenco designed to offer similar automatic capabilities.
What sets the Ride system apart is the speed of the proprietary rotary actuator. Using technology inspired by aerospace development and used in some high-end automobiles, the electrically powered rotary actuator can adjust the blades up and down with mind-boggling speeds.
“Seakeeper Ride’s proprietary, rapid-deployment rotary blades make 100 adjustments every second,” Semprevivo says. Those adjustments are based on taking 1,000 measurements every second, and the controllers operate at speeds up to 300 millimeters per second (mm/s), according to Seakeeper.
A unique aspect is the module housing the rotary actuator. It’s outside the transom. Seakeeper has engineered a system that seals the internal components from water intrusion. Other interceptor systems have the electric actuator on the inside of the transom, which requires cutting a relatively large hole for the shaft that actuates the interceptor.
With the Ride system, the only hole required for each module is a small one in order to pass through the power cable in to the bilge area. The module itself attaches to the transom exterior with a high-strength adhesive such as Plexus. That eliminates the need to drill mounting holes for mechanical fasteners, helps prevent water intrusion, and simplifies installation.
The Ride actuator modules interface with proprietary electronic three-axis sensing hardware that understands how the boat behaves in terms of pitch, roll and yaw. Sophisticated software then sends commands at light speed to the high-speed rotary actuators that move up and down to instantaneously control bow oscillation, as well as keep the boat from rolling from side to side while underway. Ride also has the ability to “learn” the boat and sea conditions to refine and deliver the most comfortable and fuel-efficient ride possible.
A compact and intuitive optional key pad on the helm lets the captain turn the system off and on, but Ride also networks with compatible multifunction displays that offer graphic displays of operational parameters and touchscreen control. More often, boaters will interface with the system through their MFDs, according to Seakeeper.
How Did It Work?
My demo of the system took place in moderate Atlantic seas outside of a Fort Lauderdale inlet. To explore the difference it can make, we ran the twin outboard-powered Bluewater 2850 at speeds up to 37 mph both with and without the Ride system turned on. With the automatic function off, the boat behaved as you would expect, with the bow rising and falling at the mercy of the waves.
This oscillation robs the boat of fuel efficiency. It can also cause a rough ride, and is one of the most tiring aspects of being on a long run. A helmsman might try to manually correct for this by trimming the drives in and/or deploying the interceptors or tabs to keep the bow down, but this also can take a toll on fuel efficiency as the hull tends to “plow.”
With the Ride auto function on, bow oscillation was minimal as the system made adjustments with blinding speed to seamlessly allow the sharp entry to cut the waves when necessary, but allow the bow to rise slightly to skim the water between waves. From the helm, I noted that the forepeak was no longer rising above and falling below the horizon line (as it was without the auto function), confirming Seakeeper’s claim that Ride eliminates 70 percent bow oscillation. This also preserved forward visibility.
Heel and Turn
To test the system’s ability to correct for a list, we shifted crew members from side to side while underway. Without the auto function, the boat developed a list. It might be a misstatement to say that the Ride “corrected” a list, because the boat did not heel over with the shifting weight when the auto function was on. The system acted so quickly that the boat never departed from its even keel.
Turns feel different too. With the auto function off, the boat leaned over hard in sharp turns. In auto mode, the boat still leaned in hard turns, but not nearly as much, lending a greater feeling of comfort to crew members.
Ultimately, while I had climbed aboard as a skeptic, I disembarked as a believer. The Ride system is currently available as standard equipment on select models of Chris-Craft, Scout and Sportsman boats, and Seakeeper says the list of OEM partners is expanding.
Ride will also be available as an aftermarket add-on to existing boats. MSRPs for the system (starting at $4,500) are definitely higher than auto trim-tab systems, but on par with or less than other interceptor-style systems.