Rip Roaring

Posted: December 1, 2010 in Marine


A tragedy in treacherous seas in 1991 was the catalyst for a fleet of bigger, more powerful launches for one of Australia’s foremost sea pilot operations. The two latest launches for Port Phillip Sea Pilots are a cutting-edge design, with twin 800 hp Cummins QSK19 engines a key feature of one of the vessels.

 WhenVictoria’s Port Phillip Sea Pilots lost a pilot and two crew in brutal seas in 1991, the need for a bigger, more powerful launch became obvious.

 The three men died after their pilot launch George Tobin was swamped in ‘The Rip’ after flipping stern over bow.

‘The Rip’ can be an extremely violent body of water at the narrow entrance to Port Phillip Bay from the notorious Bass Strait.

 The skeletal remains of many wrecks beneath and around ‘The Rip’ are grim evidence of its danger.

 The tragedy in 1991 resulted in a new generation of boats for the sea pilots.

 The launch swamped in ‘The Rip’ was 12.9 metres long and powered by twin  10-litre, 300 hp Cummins L10 diesels.

 The new breed of launch that emerged after the tragedy was 16.5 metres long and propelled by twin 19-litre Cummins KTA19 engines rated at 700 hp, giving the crew the ability to power out of trouble if the conditions turned deadly.

 In 2005 the switch was made from the mechanical KTA19 to the electronic QSK19 Cummins pumping out 800 hp, resulting in a 1,600 hp pilot boat – the most powerful of its type in Australia.

 Two new launches were commissioned by the sea pilots in 2010, the biggest costing $3.25 million. Akuna IV is 18.5 metres long, has a 6.1-metre beam, and displaces 30 tonnes. Operational speed is 26 knots, although the vessel is capable of over 30 knots.

It also is propelled by twin QSK19s rated at 800 hp, although these 19-litre engines differ from the earlier QSK in that they feature Cummins’ latest technology fuel system – a modular common rail design that enables cleaner, quieter and faster power delivery.

 The other new launch is the 14.3-metre Ranger III powered by twin Cummins QSM11 engines rated at 610 hp.

 Port Phillip Sea Pilots is an organisation steeped in tradition and intensely proud of its record in navigating a safe passage for thousands of ships a year entering and leaving Port Phillip and Western Port bays.

 Port Phillip Bay in particular is a busy sea route for ships destined for the Port of Melbourne which handles a significant amount of Australia’s container traffic.

 When the sea pilots decided to commission the two new launches in 2010, they conducted a worldwide search before selecting a design from French naval architects Pantocarene which they were convinced was the most advanced of its kind in the world.

 The new composite launches would be fully self-righting, have a suspended wheelhouse for noise and vibration minimisation, and incorporate a ‘beak’ hull for exceptional comfort in head seas with very low slamming and vertical acceleration.

 Hart Marine in Mornington (Victoria) was selected to build the vessels. Headed up by Mal Hart, the company has been operating since 1983 and is recognised both locally and overseas as a leader in the composite boat-building industry. It is calculated the company, with around 40 permanent staff, has worked well over two million manhours building composite structures.

Impressed with Hart’s experience in building world-class ocean racing yachts, including winners of many notable races – Skandia in the 2003 Sydney-Hobart in 2003, for example – the sea pilots concluded Hart would be the ideal builder for the new pilot boats.

The Hart Marine composite construction uses vacuum bag resin infused technology which provides thermal and acoustic advantages (better insulation in the cabin), lower maintenance costs over the life cycle of the vessel compared with other materials, and a high standard of finish.

 Construction of the new launches was overseen by Port Phillip Sea Pilots’ maintenance chief Chris Richards who has had 35 years with the sea pilots organisation.

He describes the design and construction of the new boats as “exceptional”.

Naval architects Pantocarene have also endorsed Hart Marine’s build quality.

 Hart Marine was able to enhance the design of the boats with additional engineering features such as five-bladed propellers to reduce both underwater noise and cavitation, and remote-mounted gearboxes to further reduce noise and vibration.


Port Phillip Sea Pilots have been using Cummins power since the early 1970s. The QSK19 and QSM11 engines in the new boats both meet the International Marine Organisation’s Tier II emissions regulation that took effect in Australia and New Zealand during January 2011.

 Daniel Gallagher headed up the project for Cummins.

“He was a huge asset to the whole project,” says Chris Richards. Mal Hart agrees: “The Cummins boys do a great job… that’s what sets Cummins apart.”

The modular common rail fuel system featuring on the QSK19 engines incorporates a high-pressure fuel pump that generates around 1600 bar (23,500 psi) to enable cleaner, quieter and faster power delivery. The system also prevents unbalanced fuelling between cylinders to significantly reduce engine vibration, noise and harshness.


The reduced noise is a key benefit of the new QSK19s.  “They’re noticeably quieter than our earlier QSK19 engines,” Chris Richards confirms. “Noise is an important issue these days and we’ve been really conscious of getting the noise levels down.”

 The earlier QSK19 engines went into service in 2005 and have been both more reliable and fuel efficient than the older mechanical KTA19. “The reliability of the QSK19s has been first class, and the fuel saving has been around 30 litres an hour,” Chris Richards points out.

 The new pilot boats also have Cummins C Command Elite which features colour, touch screen instrument panels that display a wide range of data in text and graphics format to help the operators monitor and maximise vessel operation and performance.

 The C Command system is fed with data from the Cummins Quantum electronics that monitor operating parameters such as fuel consumption (instantaneous and trip), duty cycle, engine load and speed, while providing diagnostics, prognostics and complete engine protection.



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