If you want an elegant, efficient boat of almost any type or size, go to Southerly Designs. And if you want that boat built well, you go to their neighbour Dongara Marine in Dongara, in the heart of Western Australia’s prolific rock lobster country.
This versatile and very seaworthy aluminium rigid inflatable SAR boat is a small but classic example of the capabilities of both companies.
“Cape Rose was the first newbuild Marine Rescue (VMR) RIB built by the cooperation between us and Dongara Marine,” Southerly Designs told Baird Maritime. “We believe it provided us with a strong entry into the RIB sector in Australia and sets the precedent for many more to come.”
“We have since secured a number of additional RIB contracts, both for Marine Rescue and other users,” added the builder, Dongara Marine. “The project has been really important in enabling us to demonstrate our capability in RIB production, and thus provide buyers with another proven local builder of this type of vessel.”
Although a proven design, the RIB posed challenges particularly during the development phase, as Southerly explains.
“Small vessels of trailerable size are frequently challenging with regard to ensuring compliance with stability standards, so we had to carefully plan and simulate all aspects of stability to be sure of the outcomes,” said Southerly.
The designer added that the other major challenge of trailerable vessels is weight. There are, however, numerous lessons learned and re-inventions of construction methods to help minimise weight without compromising safety and durability.
Even with all the negative aspects associated with it, the Covid-19 pandemic did not impose any significant difficulties on Dongara Marine during the RIB’s construction phase despite the fact that it was the company’s first ever RIB newbuilding project.
“Every time we build a boat we learn new things, and Cape Rose was no exception. There weren’t any big lessons, but a lot of little detailed lessons regarding production techniques and approaches for this type of vessel, which we have since transitioned into improving efficiency on subsequent RIB builds.”
Dongara Marine added that everyone involved also gained familiarity with technical and contract expectations and project management processes, describing the effort as, “collaborating to get the best possible result.”
The pandemic also enabled Southerly to highlight a growing trend in the local market.
“Demand for recreational vessels has increased markedly during the pandemic, which has driven enquiries and sales in the non-commercial sector. However, lead times for equipment and materials have also blown out, so planning around long lead times items has recently come more to the fore.”
The designer added that alternative fuels and low-polluting propulsion are areas where interest and intent are steadily growing. Hybrid, electric, gas and other propulsion system alternatives are developing rapidly and are increasingly being requested by vessel owners.
“Covid also led to a surge in non-commercial vessels,” Southerly told Baird Maritime. “Various kinds of SAR, security and enforcement vessels have also seen strong demand. Windfarm support vessels is another growth area and the offshore windfarm sector continues to expand into more and varied areas.”
“For us,” Dongara Marine added, “the biggest challenge at the moment is finding skilled staff at sustainable wage levels. With the WA economy being strong, and the labour pool being limited particularly through challenges of international skilled migration, expanding our operations in the way we want to has not been easy.”
Both Southerly Designs and Dongara Marine remarked that 2021 has been a growth year and so both companies are looking to continue the same growth across 2022.
“We’ve been really busy on both the production and business development fronts,” the builder said. “Having finished Cape Rose right at the start of the year, we entered the year with four projects underway, including Raging Bull, a 25-metre catamaran motor yacht, a major offshore vessel upgrade, and a private RIB.”
Dongara Marine said it entered 2022 with 13 projects either underway or contracted. That includes 10 new boats including the 25-metre catamaran, two lobster fishing boats, and a series of RIBs. The work will run through until at least the end of the first quarter of 2023, which the company claims is “a really great position for us, our suppliers, and our staff.”
In addition to catering to the strong demand in existing markets, Dongara Marine is continuing to seek further projects.
“We certainly see strong opportunities going forward,” the builder told Baird Maritime, “and that’s reflected in our decision to invest in a much larger, waterfront facility. It is already under construction, and we anticipate commencing operations there mid-year. We are also recruiting to support the levels of activity that the facility can sustain, and which current and prospective projects promise to deliver.”
When asked about the direction in which the RIB industry is headed, Southerly highlighted the continued strong demand for boats with traditional inflatable collars.
“RIBs for most purposes have really now evolved into regular monohull vessels with large foam fenders, although certain niches still remain for the ‘true RIB’ with inflatable collars that form an integral part of the hull. RIB-style vessels have great utility and with the advancement of lightweight and highly durable foam fenders, and so these vessels will continue to see growth into the more heavy duty workboat markets.”
For Dongara Marine, the RIB production industry is “quite mature” with a number of builders in Australia capable of producing boats suitable for professional use. The company clarifies that it is somewhat differentiated through its willingness to customise to requirements.
“In boats like this, on a technology front, we would expect unmanned systems to become more commonplace. From a business and industry perspective, we are sure we are not alone in hoping that local suppliers will be afforded ready access to opportunities for sea boats for the Royal Australian Navy. We are also sure that industry can produce relevant boats if they are able to access the supply chain in a manner that is commercially and logistically viable for them.”
Southerly adds that the Australian workboat industry in general is being partly driven by the same trends that are becoming evident in the naval architecture sector, with propulsion systems counted among the most rapidly changing technologies along with an increasing imperative to reduce emissions.
“Search and rescue, government, and ports remain the strongest sectors for locally built vessels,” Southerly told Baird Maritime. “Proposed offshore wind farms may also provide new opportunities in the years ahead.”
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