Ask any professional in the industry what they think a workboat is and everyone will give you a completely different answer. Some will say that only the vessels with a flat afterdeck and a crane will fit the definition of a workboat, others claim that the definition is wider and that tugs, support vessels and even self-propelled pontoons are workboats. Time for Maritime by Holland Magazine to dive in the world of workboats.
”It is hard to give a clear definition of a workboat, as its name is used to cover so many different types and sizes of vessel. In essence workboats are the daily working environment of seafarers, who come onboard to execute a job utilising the specific design features and equipment of the boat”, says Lodewijk van Os, product director workboats at Damen. ‘‘Dutch shipyards are specialised in workboats, which can, amongst others, be used for dredging support, port operations, and offshore and offshore wind support.” In these three areas a wide variety vessel types are operating for different kind of operations.
Harbour, dredging and offshore
For harbour and terminal operations two different kinds ofworkboat can be distinguished: the vessels that perform general services and the vessels that provide berthing assistance services. The first category includes works such as buoy laying, transportation, pollution control, fire fighting and harbour maintenance. The second category covers among other things towing, pushing and line handling. In some instances several functionalities are combined in one vessel, thereby making them more versatile for operations in and around the harbour.
Offshore, workboats form the support and safety net for the staff working in the oil and gas and offshore wind markets. Crew transport, platform supply duties, maintenance support, diving support, combating oil spills and safety standby are just six of the vast range of activities these vessels are involved in. Workboats also perform seismic and hydrographical surveys offshore to provide us with more information on the seas, the seabed and deeper.
The last branch named by Van Os is the dredging market. Here versatile workboats provide services to self-propelled and non-self-propelled dredgers and dredging equipment such as supplying, anchor handling, maintenance support, survey work, towing and pushing. Van Os adds: ”Damen has been very successful in this market with standardised workboats such as the Multi Cat and the Shoalbuster.”
Next to the above mentioned activities, these vessels also operate in inland waters. Jan Strijdhorst, manager water transport at Royal Van der Wees Watertransporten: ”We have 20 pontoons, six tugs and two seagoing tugs. These tugs, which we suggest are no workboats, will push the pontoon to its destination, where it can be loaded or unloaded by the RoRo method. We mainly transport cargo that is too heavy or big for road transport, think of turbines, transformers or parts of bridges, but we have also transported a Russian space shuttle. There is no particular norm for the maximum weight, but the size of these objects is limited to the breadth of the inland waterways and the size of the locks we pass. Because of this, our pontoons are adapted to still be able to sail with a big load. We have for example a drive-in pontoon, in which the load is placed on the tank top thus reducing the height of the cargo. Also ballast water can be pumped into the tanks, effectively reducing the air draft to within the limits of the waterway to be navigated.”
”At Damen, due to our sales network and shipbuilding and repair locations all over the world, we have a good view on the developments worldwide, enabling us to anticipate to changes in the constant developing workboat market. We can see for example demand for new sizes and types in the 40 to 60 metre length range, for which amongst others we have developed a new utility vessel range. Next to this, we see that the smaller workboats are more often used for operations further from the coast where they compete with the larger vessels. The offshore installation and maintenance markets are also growing.”, says Van Os. Ralph Dazert, market analyst at Holland Marine Equipment, adds: ”I think that the Dutch shipyards can grow in the area of ice strengthening for their vessels, making them suitable for markets like Russia or Scandinavia. Furthermore, I am expecting a growth in the demand for vessels that are equipped with dynamic positioning systems that will make them more versatile.”
Moreover, both men see chances for the Dutch shipyards in the area of cleaner vessels. Dazert: ”In the area of propulsion a lot of profit lies in diesel-electric systems.” Van Os agrees: ‘‘There are a lot of developments in the area of hybrid technologies and LNG propulsion.”
The workboat shipbuilding market seems to be a very competitive one, next to bigger companies like Damen, Neptune Shipyards, Veka Shipbuilding or Barkmeijer Shipyards, smaller companies such as Maritiem Cluster Friesland, Groeneveldt Marine Constructions, No Limits Ships Shipyards and DutchWorkboats are very active. And that is not all. Dazert: ”Next to these, there are a lot more Dutch shipyards that have also been building one or more workboats for their clients. The competition, however, lies not only in the Netherlands, but is coming from Asia where a lot of upcoming shipyards are located.”
Van Os adds: ”Further competition is also coming from countries closer to home. We need to be alert to maintain our position in the worldwide market and to do so we need to stay ahead of the other companies. Continue to develop and innovate is the only way to do so. The Netherlands is still standing strong however, and Dutch shipyards are still considered to be one of the best suppliers of high quality workboats. The Dutch workboat industry is thriving and very dynamic. I think that the one thing that attracts foreign ship owners to the Dutch shipyards is our reliability throughout the whole shipbuilding process.”