MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — An Australian boat builder is trialing an innovative design for pilot boats by replacing traditional rubber fenders with more durable high density polyethylene bumpers.
Ben Switzer, factory manager for Melbourne-based Hart Marine Pty. Ltd., told Plastics News the fenders on the 25-ton, 60-foot pilot boats, which regularly dock against much larger vessels and port infrastructure, take a beating as they rub against barnacles and rust.
They need to be wide and safe for pilots to transfer to and from the smaller boats onto large ships to guide them safely into and out of harbors.
“The buffer has an extremely hard life under constant pressure and severe conditions and is an integral part of the boarding system for pilots to the ships,” Switzer said.
He said Hart, a specialist pilot boat manufacturer, is the first Australian company to follow a European trend towards HDPE bumpers and is still trialing them on Kestrel, a pilot boat built for the Port Kembla Ports Corp., near Wollongong.
Hart commissioned Seaford, Australia-based Fusion Hire & Sales Pty. Ltd. (FHS) to fabricate the bumpers.
FHS said in a statement the trial HDPE bumper is added to the molded rubber polyurethane fender system Hart normally uses on its pilot boats.
Switzer said the HDPE bumper fits into a sleeve so it can be rotated to spread the wear points that result from impact on wharfs and ships. It is designed so entire sections can be replaced when worn or damaged.
He hopes the new design will extend the average 10-year life span of pilot boats' buffers.
“Time will tell, but we see it will have the capability to slide over the ship's topside, resulting in less damage,” Switzer said.