The reliability of davits used to launch rapid-response craft from a naval vessel can mean the difference between success and failure of a military or humanitarian mission.
The clock is ticking. Timing is critical. As is the covert Nato mission in the dead of night to intercept suspected armed pirates en route to attack a UN humanitarian aid ship moored off Eritrea to supply refugees caught up in the Ethiopia crisis. Human lives, as well as valuable cargo and assets, are at risk.
While this is a hypothetical scenario, it reflects real-life challenges for navies and coastguards in tackling such missions that are critically dependent on rapid deployment of high-speed craft, as well as the functionality of technology used to launch such vessels.
Readiness is key and this necessitates the reliability and efficiency of davit systems to perform repetitive missions at sea in a failsafe manner, as well as effective follow-up maintenance to ensure these systems continue to work efficiently.
“The sea is a very difficult environment in which to conduct military missions as one is up against a dual enemy: volatile marine conditions as well as the actual enemy,” explains William Goodall, a former surface warfare officer in the British Royal Navy and now area sales manager with Bergen-based davit supplier Vestdavit.
“It is therefore vital that a davit system is available for operations as and when required, that it functions correctly and has the widest possible operational window so that it can be deployed in extreme sea state conditions if needed.”
Navies use a variety of launch craft for a range of vital tasks including counter-terrorism, operations to combat piracy and prevent drug smuggling that entail protection of human life, as well as recovery of arms and ammunition, explosives and contraband.
Such craft are also deployed in humanitarian efforts, for example to rescue stranded refugees or vessel crews in the event of a maritime accident, along with more routine tasks such as inspection of fishing vessels to ensure national fishery laws are being upheld and supervision of territorial rights.
These tasks demand a high level of durability, reliability and regularity for davit systems, which can be used as many as 12 times a day for launch and recovery of craft in the case of fishery inspections.
Delivery of dependable boat-handling systems requires these to meet both technical and performance specifications that enable them to respond as expected in real-life situations.
“We believe we need to walk the talk. That means not just supplying standardised equipment for our clients only to meet technical specifications but making sure it is fit-for-purpose and able to fulfill functional requirements in practice,” Goodall says.
“The system has to deliver when you press the button, with highly motivated personnel and equipment all ready to go,” adds the ex-officer who served tours of duty in the South Atlantic, Pacific and Persian Gulf where energy security was a priority, as well as carried out patrols in British and Norwegian waters, during his eight years in the Royal Navy.
Vestdavit has a long-established and proven track record in supplying efficient davit systems, having delivered more than 2000 such systems since 1965 including recent reference deliveries on vessel newbuilds for the US, French and Australian navies, as well as the US Coast Guard.
Goodall points out that a pair of davits supplied for two British naval warships, HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise, in 1997 are “still going strong” even as upgrades are now being considered for the vessels that have a design lifetime of 25 to 30 years.
He attributes the “impressive longevity” of Vestdavit’s systems to durable components and regular preventive maintenance involving both weekly checks, and annual and five-yearly inspections in line with IMO guidelines.
This is necessary to counter the stresses and strains from repetitive operations in tough sea conditions on a davit’s moving parts – such as shock absorbers and winches – to ensure it remains fit for an operational window of up to sea state six.
The functionality of such components is also vital to safeguard both personnel and valuable equipment inside the craft being dropped to the water, such as a remote-operated vehicle that may be used to detonate a mine at sea.
Vestdavit is able to deliver a diversity of davits required to handle the wide range of craft used in operations for naval, coast guard and seismic customers that form its core clientele.
The company has also developed davits for hostile environments like the Arctic with measures such as protective housing and hot cables to de-ice components to withstand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, enabling polar vessels to operate in extreme and remote conditions.
This was demonstrated last year with a pair of Vestdavit’s PLR-5002 davits on Norwegian Coast Guard vessel KV Svalbard that was used to retrieve data sensors in the Beaufort Sea and the US Coast Guard has recently ordered the company’s HNFE-5000 davit systems for one of its polar security cutters.
Goodall believes the proven durability of Vestdavit equipment justifies a premium price tag as lifecycle costs are relatively lower due to reduced expenses on spare parts and servicing, with some clients requesting retrofits of its davit systems to replace existing ones that are less reliable.
Vestdavit is focused on high-end, sophisticated equipment based on a proactive approach to client requirements as it exercises thought leadership in the field of davit systems.
Technical director Helge Gravdal says the company’s experience with previous deliveries enables it to determine the correct specifications for a davit based on the client’s operational requirement.
“Clients such as navies may have very specific requirements, such as the need to deploy a craft rapidly at speed in a high sea state, and this influences the design of davit we deliver. So dialogue with the end-user is very important to us,” Gravdal says.
Vestdavit is also taking a technological lead with, for example, development of davits using electrical rather than hydraulic power and Gravdal believes there will be more hybrid systems in future.
It is now taking a further step forward beyond traditional davit systems with its innovative MissionEase solution that facilitates deployment of multiple craft from a single ‘garage’ inside a vessel using an automated track system.
One such system is already in operation on a crew-change vessel and another designed for 13 boats is now being installed on the Nexans Aurora subsea cable laying vessel under construction at Norway’s Ulstein shipyard, marking the first commercial contract.
Goodall believes this will pave the way for future such installations of MissionEase on naval vessels and that the system also has potential for the expeditionary cruise market.