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On the B.C. coast, regulations are catalyst for well-designed compact crew boats

Jul 25, 2013 11:12 AM

The greater part of the rugged inlets and islands that make up the British Columbia coast are accessible only by floatplane or boat. Most floatplanes take only three to five passengers and not a lot of freight. Heavy cargos are hauled on ramp barges or landing craft. When a larger crew or smaller freight needs to be transported, the role of the crew boat or water taxi has become paramount.

A new Daigle Marine crew boat undergoes sea trials.


Recognizing that requirements for larger passenger vessels make no sense for small, near-shore boats, Transport Canada regulations define a set of standards for Small Commercial Vessel Compliant boats. These are generally under five gross registered tons and not more than 8.5 meters, or 28 feet, in length. They include exhaustive regulations with regards to stability, electrical systems, fire/heat sensors and alarm panel, engine air vent closures, CO2 extinguishers and a wide range of other details. As any builder will assure you, these are indeed comprehensive. Each new vessel requires completion of a detailed compliance report that includes eight pages with 137 specific items as well as spaces to describe the waters where the vessel will operate.

The command center for a crew boat going into marine-research service at British Columbia’s Hakai Pass.

Transport Canada Personnel regulations define certification for operators of passenger vessels with 12 passengers or less, requiring Small Vessel Operators Proficiency (SVOP) and MED (medical) A3 certificates. The certification for such operators is less stringent in terms of sea time and formal course work than the 60-ton masters certificate required for passenger vessels over five gross tons — 28 feet, or more than 12 passengers. This makes it possible for a logging company or sport fishing lodge to employ a skipper for their own crew boat more readily than if they were to meet requirements for larger passenger vessels. Similarly small charter crew boat operators can employ people with appropriate levels of competence for their service.

Discovery Launch  operates a water taxi service from the Campbell River waterfront.

As a result of the above two sets of regulations, British Columbia boatbuilders have developed a compact vessel that meets the above regulations for vessel design, construction and less stringent crewing regulations. In a perfect marine world, form would always follow function. But regulations have led to tonnage frames and doors that can be used in the calculations to reduce registered tonnage on many U.S. and Canadian tugs. In fish boat design there is often a length limit that leads to boats with chunky 2:1 length-to-beam ratios. Happily for B.C., the 12-passenger 28-foot crew boat builders have reached a compromise that is at once pleasing to the eye and maintains a high level of functionality.

Invariably built in aluminum and, in most cases, with one or two diesel inboards, dozens of these hardy little vessels do vital work to service both industry and recreational needs on the Pacific Coast of Canada. It is not unusual to see these boats, which comfortably provide seating for 12 with a 10.5-foot beam, taking kids to school in island communities, taking loggers or tree planters in to up-coast camps for their work week or delivering tourists from the end of the highway or a land-based airport to sport fishing lodges on coastal islands. It is reasonable to assume more than 6,000 passengers use these vessels each day on the West Coast.

Loggers and salmon farmers are notoriously hard on equipment, so many of the earlier versions of these crew boats were pretty rough and ready vessels built within the Transport Canada requirements. But over the years, many operators, particularly those carrying guests to fishing lodges, have specified additional features within the mandated envelope. As people carriers, often competing with the charter floatplanes for market share, speed and safety are important. At the same time, even inside waters on the B.C. coast can see some steep sharp choppy waves when winds go counter to tidal flows.

A crew boat belonging to Bute Inlet Lodge doing a freight run out of Quathiaski Cove. The vessel is carrying building supplies.

Anyone familiar with the 1960s deep-V hull designs from C. Raymond Hunt will recognize the generational influences on these hulls. As with all discussions of modified deep-V, and planing hulls in general, much thought is given to deadrise and the transition from a steep deadrise on the bow to a reduced deadrise aft. The focus is often the advantage or disadvantage of carrying the steep forward deadrise to a more or less reduced deadrise at the transom. Too much deadrise and it will take a lot of power to get up and planing, and stability is compromised. Too little, especially forward, and the passenger’s teeth will be rattled when pushing into a 30-knot westerly blowing down Johnstone Strait against a 3- or 4-knot ebb tide.

The bottom and transom for a crew boat newbuild at Daigle Marine in Campbell River, British Columbia. Daigle is known for its proven hull design.

Steve Daigle, building at Campbell River on Vancouver Island, has been a leader in custom-built 12-passenger crew boats. “Our hull design is well proven so we don’t vary that hull form, but the customer can specify the options,” he said. Each vessel is designed for the end use in mind. This is much easier than taking an existing production line boat and converting it for some use other than that for which it was intended.

In mid-March, Daigle had one of his 31-by-10.5-foot “Eagle Craft” crew boats nearing completion in his shop alongside a half dozen other vessels of varying sizes and in various stages of completion. The red-hulled boat for a marine research institute at Hakai Pass halfway up the B.C. coast was being finished to a very high standard.

Daigle’s passenger vessel hulls have an 18.5-degree deadrise aft at the transom with a gradual increase over the length of the hull. Keel doublers and lift strakes are welded to the bottom that also provide grounding protection along with a log guard mounted just ahead of the props. They generally use a quarter or 5/16-inch 5086 alloy hull plate with transverse frames on 24-inch centers. Most boats are powered by a single six-cylinder 330-hp Volvo D6-330 or 370 engine turning a DPH Duoprop leg or a pair of D4-260 Duoprop 260-hp engines. There is a four-inch reverse chine, a narrow horizontal stripe extends from the stern, where it helps provide initial lift and stability. It continues forward to the bow where it serves to knock down spray. Various builders have developed their own modification of the shape of the hull with some using less deadrise to allow less horsepower.

A few boats in this class have been built with outboard power. Others have modified interiors to function as patrol craft or pleasure boats.

These vessels are fitted out with the latest in marine electronics, suspension seats, head compartments, safety equipment, paint jobs, non-skid deck surfaces and sound-proofing.

Fortuitously the British Columbia crew boat is one of those cases in which government working with industry have created regulations and good design principles that have resulted in a vessel design and construction that needs not compromise form and function to regulations. Unfortunately for Canadian builders, the U.S. Jones Act does not allow any vessel used in the U.S. for “commercial use” to be built anywhere other than the U.S.

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