VESSEL REVIEW | Ocean Explorer – High-end tourist boat for Australia’s famous Hamilton Island

Best Large Tourist Vessel – Ocean Explorer (Photo: Guy Obren/
Best Large Tourist Vessel – Ocean Explorer (Photo: Guy Obren/

Commercial Marine Australia (CMA) and Wildcat Marine recently delivered a 23.6-metre tourist dive boat to Australia's luxury Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Islands group.

Ocean Explorer commenced life as an efficient catamaran commuter ferry for 200 passengers to local Class 1C standards and limited to 24 metres for manning reasons.

The partly fabricated vessel was subsequently purchased at auction and reborn as a luxury tourist dive vessel. The vessel was lengthened, with the hulls cut on the vessel's centreline and moved to add another metre onto the beam. A passenger reduction applied in order to house 120 guests in a new, custom-designed superstructure.

The new three-deck layout incorporates an additional sun deck with large open living spaces and spacious lounge areas for guests to enjoy. The aft main deck was kept large to support diving and snorkelling activities including a kitting bench and storage for 44 diving tanks along with a refill station.

A full width beachfront was created at the stern, enabling guest access to the water across the full 8.7-metre beam and including the provision of a pair of four-metre diving tenders launched via a hoistable platform. Underwater lighting is incorporated into the vessel and the beachfront, enabling night diving and dinner cruising activities to be scheduled depending on the time of year.

The vessel is operated by the Explore Group as part of its Whitsunday Islands experience. As with most tourist vessels, the ability to provide a mixture of activities and operations is key to enable the vessel to work throughout all seasons.

While configured primarily as a reef dive vessel, the ability to run cocktail and dinner cruises, go whale watching or island and beach exploring and provide VIP guest transfers all enable the vessel to be adapted to the various operations and challenges associated with island tourism.

"The client requested a one of a kind, standout multi-purpose vessel," CMA told Baird Maritime. "The operation was to complete a reef dive and snorkel throughout the day and an evening dinner cruise from Hamilton Island. The request was for floor-to-ceiling glass on the main deck and a high end but commercial finish for guests to enjoy the views while relaxing."

"By far the biggest challenge in this build was accommodating the new owner's requirements within the existing designed displacement and volumetric capacities of the pre-existing hull," commented Rob Tulk, Principal Naval Architect at One2three Naval Architects.

"It is always a challenge to build a multi-purpose vessel," added CMA. "Weight is always against you so every kilogram needs to be taken into consideration. Allowing for a full dive operation and then to change to dinner cruise, the systems on board to allow for the glass washers, ice makers and refrigeration get busy. We also had to accommodate a full size teppanyaki BBQ on the second level at the back deck for diners to watch the chef cooking right in front of them in the evenings."

A luxurious outfit drove the design to a new level. This included stone benches and facades, extensive polished stainless steel, spacious lounges, and the addition of 90 square metres of open sundeck lounge together with full bar facilities. Spear Green provided the fitout design and worked with One2three to manage the weight, trim and stability implications of the re-purposed vessel.

The interior includes luxury Beurteaux custom booth seating, and Ayres panelling and Dampa tiles throughout the main deck and bridge deck. The sundeck layout was designed by the builder, with custom aluminium curved seating, upholstered by Fuci Interior Design, for guests to be able to enjoy the views in groups.

The vessel features conventional fixed pitch propeller drivetrains, with Yanmar 6AYM-WGT engines providing 670 bkW per side driving Veem propellers via ZF2050 gearboxes. Isuzu 4BG1TRV gensets marinised by Zenith Engineering provide power to all consumables including hydraulics for the aft platform. Ocean Explorer cruises at 21 knots and has Humphree interceptors installed to optimise performance.

All electronics were supplied by Ultimate Marine Power including 20 CCTV cameras and a 19" Simrad navigational package.

Part of the owner's brief was to provide clean, luxurious deck surfaces for guests to enjoy. This required all deck equipment including the Bauer dive compressor/refill stations, anchoring and mooring equipment, fire hoses, platform hydraulics, external showers and dive gear lockers and all bunker stations and electrics to be cleverly concealed.

The anchor is housed at centreline under the tunnel, but the Maxwell winch is located in the port hull, to enable two cavernous deck hatches to be included in the foredeck, providing concealed storage for bean bags and lounges to be located around the foredeck when cocktail cruising.

The Bauer V680 dive compressor features four separate pressure banks through a customised fill station offering four filling whips to fill bottles while Ocean Explorer is underway. The single-stage hydraulic dive platform allows for easy entry into waist deep water for divers.

Ocean Explorer
Name of vessel:Ocean Explorer
Type of vessel:Tourist boat
Classification:NSCV 1C / 1D
Port of registry:Hamilton Island, Australia
Owner:Explore Group, Australia
OperatorExplore Group, Australia
Designer:One2three Naval Architects, Australia
Builder:Commercial Marine Australia/Wildcat Marine
Construction material:Aluminium
Plate cutting:CNC router by Blue Scope
Length overall:27.47 metres
Beam:8.6 metres
Draught:1.48 metres
Displacement:84 tonnes
Main engine/s:2 x Yanmar 6AYM-WGT, each 670 bkW @ 1,938 rpm
Gearbox/s:2 x ZF 2050 2.032: 1
Propulsion:2 x Veem propellers
Generator/s:2 x Zenith Isuzu, each 60 kVA
Steering system:Electric hydraulic
Maximum speed:25 knots
Cruising speed:20 knots
Hydraulic equipment:AC and DC backup power pack for steering and full underwater swim platform
Electronics supplied by:Ultimate Marine Power
Depth sounder:Simrad
Audio video system:Ultimate Marine Power
Paints/coatings:Jotun Extreme Gloss
Windows:G James
Lighting:Hella Marine
Floor/deck surface finishes:Vinyl interior and designer flake non-skid exterior
Interior designer:Spear Green Design
Interior fitout/furnishings:Ayres Panels linings and bars with Dampa ceilings (interior);

Lamanex Aqua Panel ceilings (exterior)

Safety equipment:Supplied by Survitec
Rescue boat/s:2 x 4.5-metre inflatables
Type of fuel:Diesel
Fuel capacity:2 x 2,500 litres
Freshwater capacity:2 x 1,000 litres
Sewage/blackwater capacity:2 x 350-litre treatment tanks;

900- litre blackwater holding tank;

900-litre greywater holding tank


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Baird Maritime / Work Boat World