The Ghosts in the Machine

Welcome to Chapter #3 in Zeelander University’s Master Degree program – The latest course in your 12-part series in advanced Zeelander ownership.

Today we’re going to explore together one of yachting’s high water marks in innovation, one where Northern European builders and engineers jumped far ahead of the rest of the industry:

The ins, the outs (and the sideways) of IPS drives

Zeelander Yachts – starting with their Z44 model – was an eager, early and successful adopter of Volvo Penta’s IPS drive systems. Every Zeelander built to date features this technology. That includes our about-to-be shipped Zeelander 55, arriving at our CT docks in mid-June. She is powered by twin Volvo Penta IPS 1350HP engines:

Z55 #7 w/twin IPS 1350’s, arriving CT mid-June
Closeup of the IPS 1350

Zeelander’s positive owner experiences with these drives suggests we take a comprehensive “under-the-hood” view of exactly what this integration does for owners, and how. Trust me, by the time you finish this chapter you’ll know more about this technology than 99% of your dockmates.

If you are late to the Zeelander University party, or would like to dive in again, you’ll find Chapter #1 on Night Vision options right here,  and Chapter #2’s coverage of Yacht Tender Storage Solutions here

But first, a word about about our fleet. By mid-June I will have two Zeelander models available for your viewing at our Norwalk, CT docks – A 2013 Z44,

Z44 Sistership

and the brand new Z55:

Z55 Sistership

A Brief Note About Safe Viewings: I look forward to showing you the Z44 and Z55 in person. Towards that end, I’m keeping a close eye on CT’s social distancing guidelines.

Longtime readers know my dedication to (an obsession with?) safety on the water. It has earned me in some circles the nickname of Safety Dave. I can live with that. I’m gratified that The Fog Warning’s blog postings devoted to safety issues continue to be its most widely read and shared. In fact, the single most viewed posting of all time continues to be this cautionary tale

So please rest assured that I have your best interests at heart in exactly when and how to show you these fine vessels. I promise you a good and safe time will be had by all, both at the dock and at sea. 

Meanwhile, back in our brave new world of virtual realms, here is your own private “boat show in a can” – 360 degree virtual tours of the Zeelander 44, 55 and the flagship 72:

Z44, Z55, Z72 and a Heesen 164 last June at our private Newport event. Stay tuned for this summer’s event schedule.

I. It’s an IPS World

Volvo Penta’s IPS technology is now almost 15 years old. I remember when I first heard Volvo’s pitch at an advance industry conference. It all seemed just too good to be true:

  • Joystick operation (a Hinckley exclusive, up until then);
  • Reduced fuel consumption;
  • Higher speed with less noise;
  • Tighter turning radii; 
  • Fewer engine installation hours;
  • A completely flat power curve, from low RPM to high (sorry, jets).
  • Dynamic Positioning (exactly what was that, I wondered?); and
  • Smaller (!) engines????

I was unconvinced, at first. Now, with some 540 builders having installed over 24,000 units, it’s hard to remember why it seemed so controversial. But indeed it was. Especially for me.

At the time I was selling large, powerful Turkish motor yachts with straight shaft MAN inboards, usually 1550 hp models. As a sometimes stodgy traditionalist, I was a tough sell. In particular, Safety Dave had a hard time getting past this key question:

“What happens when you run aground at speed?”

If a pod ripped off, I couldn’t see how it wouldn’t leave an awfully big hole in the bottom of the boat.

Volvo wholly answered my concerns with this [now] classic “test to destruction” video:

Some 15 years later, as far as I can determine there has never been a case of catastrophic hull damage due to an IPS grounding. In what I suppose is becoming the theme of today’s post, You gotta love great engineering!

II. Some History

This wouldn’t be a Master’s Degree program without some history in it, would it? Well, the IPS story starts in Sweden in 1959 – A time when a small Northern European country was able to punch above its weight (warning: more boxing metaphors to follow) and command the world stage in sports. 

That’s when Ingemar Johannson, (he of the crushing right hand he affectionately called “Toonder and lightning,” but others called “The Hammer of Thor”)

shocked the boxing world by taking the heavyweight crown away from Floyd Patterson (with seven knockdowns in three rounds, at Yankee Stadium) as seen here.

And just a few months later, at the New York Boat Show (anyone remember the classic NY Coliseum shows, on Central Park?)

Volvo Penta introduced the world’s first sterndrive engine, the Aquamatic:

Over the next three years Volvo Penta sold a then-unheard of $20m of these engines (in 1960 dollars!). They even hired their Swedish heavyweight champ to promote it, albeit on somewhat shaky waterskis:

Ingemar, in case you are wondering, promptly retired to buy and operate a Volvo-powered commercial fishing vessel in the North Sea.

As for Volvo, many revolutions (sic) later, in 2004 they landed their biggest knockout blow to date with launch of their IPS program.

Z55 #7
IPS Twin Drive Installation

III. The Ghosts in the Machine

If you happen to know exactly what “IPS” stands for, go ahead and blow The Fog Warning’s official horn (and your own):

IPS stands for “Integrated Propulsion System” – The artful (largely computer-driven) integration of a motor to a separate underbody drivetrain.  Its game changing features (beyond the joystick) included:

  • Forward facing counter-rotating props; 
  • Set into pods that pivots to port and starboard over a 30 degree range; 
  • 100% aligned with the bottom of the hull;
  • Eliminating the cost, drag, vulnerability and maintenance required of separate rudders, shafts and struts and gutless bearings;
  • Set into small and “slippier” hubs; allowing,
  • Larger prop blades.

They all magically come together to produce: 

  • 40% longer cruising range;
  • 20% higher top speed;
  • 30% reduced fuel consumption;
  • 30% less CO2 emissions;
  • 50% lower perceived noise; and,
  • All at lower horsepower!

For me that lower HP remains the icing on the cake. The IPS 1350’s equivalent horsepower (measured at the crankshaft) is actually produced by a 1000 HP engine. Why pay for more HP than you need? For comparison’s sake, in the straight-shaft world going from a 1000HP engine to a 1350 would cost you an additional 30%. 

Before we take a closer look at the magic under the hood, a brief aside about the notable efficiencies IPS drives provide by their “100% alignment with the bottom of the hull.” Here is a diagram of a traditional drivetrain, with its 12 degree downward shaft offset. It’s easy to see how much thrust is misdirected and wasted:

Now compare that with the completely flat IPS angle here, where every ounce of thrust is is directed towards forward movement:

Comparing these two diagrams I can see how Volvo’s engineers back in the day must have had the thought “There has to be a better way!”

There is. And here’s exactly how it works, via some high-value video – The best video I’ve ever seen of how IPS drives behave as you manipulate the wheel, throttles, and joystick (in split-screen view, no less). This video greatly increased my understand and appreciation of exactly what is going on under my feet as I move Zeeladander’s around.

You will note the full pod pivot, the operation of the counter-rotating props, and the varying exhaust trails as the skipper puts this [triple] IPS installation her through her paces:

The operation of double IPS installations (as in our Z55) is identical. The same is true for our Z72’s triple engine installation. Once boats get up into the 80+ range, quadruple IPS installs are common. But the basics never change.

Here are some things to look out for, minute by minute:

At Moment 0:53:

Here the boat is in idle, her props fully at rest. Notice the continuous exhaust bubbling out of the pod’s hub, rising up against the bottom of the hull. That’s a uniquely IPS experience. With traditional drives the exhausts exit at or through the boat’s transom. But with IPS drives at idle you’re always sitting on a bubbling cushion of air. On a flat calm day you will feel a little bit of vibration, and hear some gurgling.

Personally, this never bothers me. And the larger the boat, the less you’ll feel and hear (I see zero effect on the hull in this video’s 48′ test boat). But Zeelander owners typically have asked the builder to add Volvo’s Clearwake system for a quieter experience. It’s an exhaust bypass system that diverts the engine’s discharge out the transom in idle, just like in traditional straight drive installations. This option works automatically and seamlessly, and Zeelander’s owners report it a good investment. We have added it to June’s Z55 #7 delivery, so please feel free to call me for its pricing:

At Moment 1:21

Note how the pods pivot when the steering wheel is manually turned. Who needs the added complexity, cost and drag of rudders? In my experience, the high speed turning radius of IPS boats is a good 20% tighter than traditional shaft-driven boats, with less slide-slippage. It really does feel like the boat is turning on rails. 

At Moment 1:43

As the engines are put in gear, note how the props counter-rotate. And if you look carefully, once the props are moving the exhaust stream source changes from the center hub up to the base of the unit, right against the hull. This is a performance move, as it reduces air in the prop stream, and eliminates cavitation.  Less air, more performance!

At Moment 2:53

Here you get a great split-screen view of joystick operation. Now we see how much of the fly-by-wire coordination is computer-driven. Again, gotta love that great engineering.

At Moment 4:17

Here you see a few moments of my favorite IPS/Zeelander feature: Dynamic Positioning. That’s where the “ghosts in the machine” really take over. You can get a fuller appreciation of the technology here:

Personally, I never got the phrase “dynamic positioning.” What does this engineering gobbledygook even mean? The phrase pre-dates IPS, by the way, part of a failed commercial and military project that went nowhere at the time. It took awhile for the technology to catch up with the vision.

I prefer the term Virtual Anchor, because that’s how we really use it. Push the button and two GPS sensors and a digital compass all spring into action, keeping the boat “anchored” and at a fixed compass heading for as long as you want. At the Palm Beach Marina (with its sometimes 3 knot ICW currents) I’ve held a pod-driven yacht 18” away between two opposing finger docks (without fenders) for fifteen minutes at a time. And this feature really comes into its own when you are:

Jockeying for position, waiting for the bridge to open…
Putting out your fenders…
Waiting for the fuel dock slip to open…
Casting to breaking fish, in current…
Launching your tender (safely, on the down-wind side)…
And of course, setting up for your perfectly romantic sunset/sunrise view.

They’re all just a push-button push away.  Worry free. Well, almost….

There are two things I suggest you keep an eye on: First, while you may be virtually anchored in place as you await that bridge opening in substantial current, most of the other boats around you will not be. And they can and will swoop down on you! If its a crowded day with many bridges to cross, I’ll put out my fenders just in case. On a less crowded day I’ll set my radar alarm to its 1/16th of a mile setting. That’ll pick up your intruders.

Now, in a credit to both their engineering skills and the size of their R&D budget (more on this below), Volvo Penta made this scenario easier to manage with their latest development: Enhanced Dynamic Positioning. When virtually anchored, all you have to do is just tap the joystick once, and your boat will shift over 30’ in that direction – and then automatically re-anchor herself! When the offending intruder has passed by you, you can resume your prior position with just another touch. Here’s a cool demo:

Brilliant!

Secondly, you shouldn’t put swimmers in the water while you are virtually anchored. Once you hit that button, the props are going to spin under their own (utterly blind) command. So when swimmers (or divers) are out and about, change the virtual for the actual – Drop that small, beautiful stainless plaything that sits so nicely at the bow of your bigger beautiful plaything:

IV. The Future

As I said, I give Volvo credit for continually evolving and improving IPS technologies. In my view, traditional straight shaft designs in our industry have been essentially static for the last fifteen years. MAN and the other big-box builders moved over to environmentally friendlier “Common Rail” technologies then, but haven’t done much since. Hinckley made improvements to their harbor-speed steering about six years ago, but I’m not aware of too much else since then. But Volvo’s dedication of significant resources to their R&D budget continues to pay off for owners (for example, see Active Corrosion Protection, in the Maintenance section, below).

As for the future, IPS is destined for a major enhancement in a year or so: An entirely self-docking boat! By connecting onboard sensors with dock-mounted beacons, docking will be managed by the ultimate “ghost in the machine”. An early version works well. In a demo test in Europe an industry observer wrote:

Even as an RYA instructor/examiner with years of experience berthing all kinds of boats, including craft fitted with IPS and a joystick, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain such slow, steady progress into the berth whilst keeping the boat perfectly on track.

I suspect that the actual release of this technology awaits a chicken-or-egg business challenge – until marina’s adopt and install the required beacons, owner’s won’t pay for the option (no pricing is hinted at yet). But I am certain that once its released – and Zeelander’s own engineers have put it through their own rigorous tests – it will become available to you. Until then, here’s your preliminary look:

Beyond that, Volvo has a working model of a hybrid electric IPS drive. Based upon what I saw at the Dusseldorf boat show this winter, hybrid drives are growing in popularity far quicker in Europe than here. But once worldwide demand for this technology increases, I’m sure you’ll see Volvo introduce it into the market

V. Maintenance

The maintenance needs of traditional inboards are different than pods. Inboards require:

  • Sacrificial-anode replacement;
  • Prop adjustment;
  • Cutless bearing repair;
  • Shaft alignment;
  • Anti-fouling paint;
  • Engine oil checks;
  • Transmission fluid checks; and,
  • Fluid checks of hydraulic steering.

Pods delete from your concern prop adjustments, cutless bearing repairs, and shaft alignments. But they do add to the mix:

  • Drive-oil changes every 250 hours, or annually;
  • Lower-unit oil checks.
  • Annual removal and inspection of prop sets and seals;
  • Re-greasing of the prop shafts; and,
  • Lower unit antifouling paint.

As for your zinc replacements, you can take that off your to-do list (and off your annual budget) by opting for Volvo’s Volvo Penta’s new ACP (Active Corrosion Protection) system. It replaces conventional anodes altogether by applying carefully measured countering currents, continually measuring and automatically adjusting the electrical output for protection in both brackish and salt water. What’s more (and I just love this) it displays your degree of protection in real time on your engine control panel:

Volvo’s Active Corrosion Protection System Screen Readout

If you keep your boat in a “hot” marina (just check your yard bill for how often they have to replace your anodes) this is for you. It’ll save on hauls and divers, big time. As always, for options pricing, just launch that flare…

Speaking of your budget, on an annual basis pod maintenance (done right, by our certified IPS techs) is going to cost a little more than straight drives – perhaps $1,000 more per engine (on the other hand is should cost about $2,000 less than jet drive maintenance). But net/net, the increase in IPS fuel efficiency over straight drives will leave you ahead if you use your boat more than 150 hours a year.

VI. Warranty

As for Volvo’ warrantee, IPS systems come standard with two year’s of warrantee coverage. But on your price lists you will find the option of increasing that term by three years, for a total of five year’s protection.

Now, there are way too many variables for me to predict your service needs in years three to five. But I will disclose here an industry secret: Volvo incentivizes its techs, worldwide, to respond to extended warrantee owners first. As I see it, if you need critical service over the July 4th weekend, its nice to be at the top of the list.

VII. Class Takeaways

A client recently engaged me in a long talk about The Fog Warning’s mission statement. As quoted on its homepage, it’s all about answering those big, eternal questions of yachting:

1. What makes a yacht great, and why?

2. Who makes a great yacht, and how?

My client, a skilled yachtsman and a bit of philosopher, suggested that the “who” is a more subjective question than the “what.” He has a good point. I’ll talk about the “what” first.

Locked away and thinking hard in the Hamptons (however comfortably) these last three months, it’s become clearer to me than ever that what makes a yacht great, in measurable and objective ways, is great engineering.

I have long looked to Norther European builders for this kind of innovation and quality. Now, of course great engineering does not live exclusively in this part of the world. But when I look at what Volvo has done on the propulsion side; what Feadship, Lurssen and Heesen have done for big yachts; and what Zeelander delivers for “small” yachts, I see theIr uncompromising devotion to quality engineering as their defining character. Personally, I’m excited to be associated with that kind of character.

As for the second, more subjective question – Who makes a great yacht? Well, that’s more your call than mine. Put another way, that’s for your needs, values, and tastes to determine. The Fog Warning has averaged 6,800 annual readers over the last few years. That’s thousands of different opinions of what’s best, and every one is more important than mine. All I will say on the matter is this:

Knowledge is power!

See you at the next class (if not on a CT Zeelander before then).

Safety Dave

Four screens + one bottomless cup of coffee + 25 hours of work = Z.U. #3

About Dave Mallach

It amazes me to say that this now my twentieth year as a yacht broker. I'm lucky enough split my time between Manhattan and Westhampton Beach, but in season you are most likely to find me on my trawler “Gypsy” at mooring #44 in Coecles Harbor, Shelter Island. Or, of course, you can just call me at 516-816-1703. I do look forward to it.