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Wave Piercing Catamaran
high-speed passenger and vehicle ferry

The Wave Piercing Catamaran is a good example of innovation through the combination of two technologies.

The traditional catamaran, developed over the centuries by South Pacific cultures, is a fast, stable, two-hulled boat, but on choppy seas it gives a rough ride. In 1984 New Zealand-born Phil Hercus successfully combined the strength and speed of the catamaran with a wave-piercing hull design called SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull). SWATHs are used to stabilise giant oil platforms.

Hercus's new-style cats ride steadily above the water while their hulls plough through the waves. They've been built in Hobart since 1984. Constant development of the Wave Piercer design has led to larger vessels with increased speed, capacity and reliability.

Ninety-six metre long catamaran ferries now ply the oceans carrying up to 950 people and 300 cars while averaging 41.2 knots. Larger vessels of 120 and 150 metres length are in development. Cargo configuration is flexible and uses mezzanine ramps to adjust the arrangement of cars and trucks.

In 1989 an Australian-made Wave Piercing Catamaran set the speed record across the Atlantic Ocean on its delivery voyage. In 1998 another Australian made Wave Piercing Catamaran took the record.

Phil Hercus and Robert Clifford received the AO in 1995 for service to the shipbuilding industry. The manufacturer, Incat Tasmania, has built over 25 large fast ferries.

The company turned over $200 million in 1999-2000, employed over 1000 people and had sold its ships in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Britain, Korea, Japan, Argentina, North America, Australia and New Zealand. The Royal Australian Navy has operated an Incat vessel between Darwin and Dili in East Timor to transport Australian and United Nations Forces.

Incat has never patented its three hull design, relying instead on keeping ahead with the technology. In 2000 their innovations included a retractable T foil (small winged keel) to increase passenger comfort in high seas. The company also utilises an on-board computer system so that if problems occur, images can be emailed from anywhere in the world to the projects section for troubleshooting and action. This post sale service includes a 24 hour response team available worldwide.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
International Catamaran Designs Pty Ltd : R&D, design

International Catamarans Tasmania Pty Ltd : manufacture
Key People
Phil Hercus, AO : naval architect
Robert Clifford, AO : boat builder, Incat Chairman.

Further Reading
'Wave piercing catamarans'
P Collenette
Design World, no 19, 1990.

Incat Tasmania
Blue Riband Hales Trophy website
Incat Designs - Sydney
Advanced Multihull Designs

A Wave Piercing catamaran leaves New York Harbour. Courtesy Incat Designs.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum