High-Speed Boat Aids Military and Law Enforcement
by Andrea Cohen, MIT Sea Grant
If you happened
to be gazing at Boston Harbor from a warm office building one
in early February, you might have wondered why a Nigerian Navy
speedboat was zipping across the white caps at close to 70 mph,
hairpin turns that should have made the boat flip over (and over
and over). The 27-foot twin-hull craft, designed and built by
Mass.--based Intercept Boats, is indeed bound for Nigeria--hence
the bright yellow lettering. But on this day, the boat, known
as a Night
Cat 27, was providing the Massachusetts State Police with a taste
of what they too would soon be captaining.
owner, Bob Perette, says he
U.S. Border Patrol in Miami purchased one of Intercept's first
courtesy of Intercept Boats
got the idea
for designing a high-speed boat for military and law enforcement
agencies in the early 1990s while reading a magazine article about
how the United States was losing the war on drugs because those
with drugs had faster boats. "So I started doing some testing in
my bathtub with these little models," says Perette, who was then
working in the automotive industry and had no experience as a boat
builder. Perette brought one of those models to Cliff Goudey at
MIT Sea Grant, hoping he would test it and thereby provide the quantifiable
data needed to convince others that the craft was not your average
director of MITSG's Center for Fisheries Engineering Research (CFER),
suggested that Perette go one step farther and incorporate modifications
to a boat Perette already owned—and then he could test the boat
in a real-life scenario.
Goudey and Justin Manley, then a student in MIT's Undergraduate
Research Opportunity Program (UROP), created an instrumentation
a black box with a motion sensing package—which they connected to
a laptop computer. "We took the unit out on Bob's boat and then
on a similar sized conventional deep-V hull," says Goudey. "We were
measuring accelerations and rotation rates in three axes. Measuring
these six degrees of freedom, we were able to compare the performance
of the two boats on that choppy day off Hull, Massachusetts." He
recalls that the pitch and heave in particular were noticeably less
with Perette's novel design, and the boat tracked as if it were
on rails, making high-speed turns that he did not think were possible.
The CFER report that resulted from the experiments quantified the
The data piqued
the interest of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Suffolk, VA.
"The Navy then tested the boat, and the results were the same,"
says Perette, who points out that the smooth ride translates into
an advantage in terms of less fatigue. Anybody who has spent time
bumping up and down in a speedboat knows that the motion quickly
becomes exhausting. And that fatigue is a critical concern for military
and law enforcement personnel. According to the Navy's findings,
the Night Cat's ride was roughly 300 percent less fatiguing than
the speedboat against which it was tested. This means that a person
riding in the Night Cat for nearly five hours in four-foot seas
would be as tired as a person riding for 1.5 hours in another boat.
The boat's unique hull design also allows it to turn at a rate of
41 degrees per secondor 112 percent faster than similar craft.
catamaran, powered by two 300-horsepower outboards, is constructed
of foamcore covered with fiberglass. The front end of the boat is
reinforced (for ramming other boats) and four padeyes at the corners
mean that the boat can be picked up by a helicopter. With a fuel
tank that holds 210 gallons, the Night Cat can operate for roughly
eight hours and reach speeds of 70 mph.
"I'm a sailor
and not particularly fond of high-speed powerboats, but I've never
been on a boat that can do the kinds of things this one can," says
Goudey. He also notes that it's not exactly clear which design features
are responsible for this superior performance. "I think Perette
simply hit on a combination of changes that makes it work."
the boat as the wave of the future for law enforcement and notes,
not surprisingly, that the Night Cat has gotten a lot more attention
since 9/11. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Police Department sought
his help in guiding a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker into Boston
Harbor with a SWAT team. "My boat was the only boat in the neighborhood
that was highly maneuverable, and at the time we had painted it
with an anti-reflective coating to make it hard to see," he explains.
Perette began preparations but ended up not participating in the
actual mission, he says, after Boston Mayor Thomas Menino got a
court injunction to temporarily keep the LNG tankers out of the
Intercept has delivered one boat to the U.S. Border Patrol in Miami,
and another to the Nigerian Navy, which has ordered three more to
protect oil platforms and perform Coast Guard duties. The company
is now building two boats for the Boston Police Department. The
price tag for each is approximately $250,000 and includes training
for personnel who will be using the boats.
Lt. Aldo D'Angelo,
commander of the Massachusetts State Police Marine Section, says
that, among other tasks, his agency's two new Night Cats will be
escorting LNG tankers into Boston Harbor "This will give us the
capacity to intercept particular threats," he says, adding that
"95 percent of our fleet is over 25 years old."
As a small
company employing just three full-time employees, Intercept's current
success, notes Goudey, is a testament to dogged marketing and Perette's
faith in his product. "He's faced a long, hard road," says Goudey.
"It's satisfying to know that our tests played a pivotal role in
getting the attention of federal agencies, and getting these boats
where they're needed."