NZ-based Sealegs has begun licensing its patented amphibious boat technology. Already the world's largest amphibian manufacturer, Sealegs' first licensee under the "Powered by Sealegs" scheme is Dubai-based ASIS Boats, one of the world's top three manufacturers of Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). Sealegs current technology is suitable for boats up to 2.5 tonnes (2500 kg), but the company will launch a system suitable for boats up to 6.5 tonnes (6500kg) in June.
Sealegs boats have until now been based around high performance RHIBs that can be landed anywhere and driven at speeds up to 8 km/h (5 mph) on land. Now that capability will be extended to much larger boats, significantly reducing the hassle of launching and retrieving boats up to 12 meters (36 ft).
ASIS Boats has a dominant market share in Middle Eastern markets and will offer Sealegs motorized, retractable and steerable wheeled system as an upgrade option for its entire range of boats from 5.1 meters up to 12 meters and across all sectors, including the recreational marketplace and fast growing commercial and military sectors. ASIS supplies many of the world's military forces with specialized solutions, and the Sealegs technology can be expected to become far more widely available through ASIS.
The entry of ASIS into the amphibious market will also greatly increase the global supply of amphibious boats, as it will offer the Powered by Sealegs system on all its models including cargo, towing, firefighting, transporter, diving, recreational, rescue, anti-piracy, military, special forces and customized boats (you can even order bulletproof cabins), and with its massive production capability, ordering an amphibious solution will no longer involve a prolonged wait.
New Zealand's Smuggler Marine has also licensed the Powered by Sealegs system, having married its Strata 750 centre-console RIB with the Sealegs system to create a high-performance composite amphibious vessel.
ASIS Boats' first amphibious craft to be powered by Sealegs is a 6.5 meter boat powered by a Volvo V6 225HP engine and driven by a Hamilton Jet.
Following the launch, Gizmag spoke to Sealegs Chief Executive Officer David Glen about the new licensing scheme and the roll-out of this new phase in the development of the company, ten years after its initial launch and with over 850 boats in the water.
Gizmag: What drove the change in strategy for Sealegs from manufacturer to licensor?
"Our technology has been well proven in the broader recreational space and it's now operational in forty countries around the world. It's robust and reliable and now we're getting ready to leap to the next level in the size of the boats that we can put Sealegs technology on, it was implicit in going up the scale that we were going to need to collaborate with boats builders around the world to propagate the technology.
"Our experience in the New Zealand marketplace as a boat builder has taught us a lot. The vast majority of issues we deal with in New Zealand are with owners ringing up about service issues and not technology issues. They relate to bilge pumps and outboard engines and electronics and that sort of thing. The hydraulic system looks after itself so long as its not abused and its maintained properly, so it makes sense to hand off the local manufacturing in different markets to companies that are already servicing those markets.
There are several factors that underpinned our decision to begin licensing. The first is that it's no longer viable to build boats in New Zealand for a global market because, coming from far-off New Zealand, if they don't fit in a box, it's simply uneconomic to do so. The marine industry in New Zealand is just one industry compromised by the strength of the New Zealand dollar. There are quite a few other industries suffering too.
"Then there's the fact that we've developed an even bigger technology for much larger boats and with the impending launch, it has become even more imperative to work with other boat builders in their local markets.
"Having launched the amphibious concept a decade ago, it has taken a long time to build some awareness around the world as to the real value that amphibious technology adds.
"If we attempt to launch the bigger technology ourselves and go into international markets ourselves from New Zealand, it would be a long and expensive row to hoe, and the chances are we'd wither on that journey.
"We have decided that the best option is for us to identify and partner with strong, well-proven boat builders with scale, like ASIS. You can imagine there are a lot of large boat builders around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, so we set out to identify those builders and collaborate with them to put out technology on their craft.
"That's not to say we aspire to put our technology on all of their boats, but we think there's a big market out there for amphibious technology. There are a lot of people who still aren't aware of the benefits available from an amphibious boat.
"The fundamental decision was that if we are going to grow into a large global business, we need to collaborate with other boat building companies."
Gizmag: How has the response been so far?
"We're very confident. We've had a couple of boat builders using our technology on their craft in New Zealand successfully and that has given us confidence that it's not difficult to work with good boat builders.
"We've also had a poor experience with an overseas boat builder who made all manner of representations about what their capabilities were, and they came up short of expectations, so we learned a valuable lesson and we've become very selective about who we will work with in future. We will only work with quality boat builders, people who have good skills, good existing boats, and a very strong position in their respective marketplaces.
"The Smuggler experience was good in two ways because all of our Sealegs boats had been aluminum construction, and the Smuggler boat is composite construction. The initial development experience turned out to be relatively straightforward because Smuggler was able to replicate all of the things we do on our aluminum boats in their composite boats ... things such as the layout and configuration of the system, and we were able to use that as a reference for a composite boat. Hence, there's no need for companies overseas to think that only aluminum boats can be fitted with Sealegs technology.
"Now we're working with ASIS, they've got the opportunity to develop boats in both aluminum and composite and they took heart from the fact we'd done the preliminary licensing arrangement with Smuggler on a composite boat.
"The Smuggler boats and our cabin boats currently max out at a fully laden weight, fully-fueled and with four or five people on board, at about 2500 kg and that's really about the limit of our existing technology.
"We're now about to launch a new technology which will enable us to have amphibious boats up to 6500 kg so it's a quantum leap from where we're at right now, to where we'll be in a few months' time.
Gizmag: What can you tell us about the new technology?
"We went back to ground zero to begin development of the new technology. It's not just a linear extension of what we've done previously. We started all over again with a clean sheet and used our decade of experience with the existing system to come up with what we consider to be some pretty clever new technology.
"Maurice Bryham, who founded Sealegs and is our chief technical officer, is driving this new project and we're very excited. We think that people will be very impressed with what he's come up with.
"The first boat is under construction in New Zealand at the moment and it will be a 34 footer with twin diesel and twin jet drives, with our new amphibious technology on it. The boat is an alloy boat and we'll be showing it for the first time in June (2014).
Gizmag: What do you think are the major benefits of Sealegs technology?
"Sealegs was born from the opportunity of using your boat any time of the day, irrespective of tide, and not having the hassle of launching and retrieving from a trailer. Sealegs users can park their boat on the beach and use it immediately whenever they want. They can be in the water inside a minute or two with no effort.
"It's more expensive than a regular boat but all of our owners use their boats far more than they were able to before they got a Sealegs boat. If you're thinking about buying an amphibious boat, talk to an existing Sealegs owner. They are our greatest advocates.
"We've got any number of Sealegs owners who go boating on their own, because they now can. We've got quite a few people who are in wheelchairs and they go boating because they now can. The biggest single benefit is the convenience factor, the ease with which a boat can be launched and retrieved.
Gizmag: Are you actively seeking licensees now?
"Yes, but we're the ones who are being proactive. We've been doing our due diligence on markets and identifying the key players and then approaching the best ones directly. If we haven't knocked on their door already and they think they are a key player with high quality boats and a network in place, then they are very welcome to contact me and we can pick it up from there. We've been in the market for a decade now and we know many of the top boat builders around the world and we're talking to most of them already."
Product page: Sealegs