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Are Hydrofoil Boats Too Different?

I talked to a boat salesman the other day and he’s happy – the brand he’s selling is still doing well after the big spurt in sales from the pandemic. He had a pretty negative view of the future of hydrofoil boats and didn’t expect customers to get interested in hydrofoil until they saw more of these boats on the water – too different from what they’re used to, he thought. I asked him if that was something he remembered from a business class – the Pareto Principle – 80% of consequences come from 20% of the cause – and he would be right on the mark except it may not happen that way with hydrofoil, that after 20% of us buy into it the remaining 80% would follow. Maybe that won’t apply here.
What has happened, a lot of smaller companies that make the surfboards, kites and some of the jet skis have gotten into hydrofoil and that may be the scenario for change – smaller to larger boats. Because hydrofoil technology is so expensive to put on boats, younger buyers may be the ones to try something their parents are holding back on for financial reasons. Surfboards, kiteboards and jet skis will give the larger boat manufacturers more time to make application of the technology simpler, easier to use and cheaper to put together and maintain.

Back in the 1800s the concept of lifting a boat out of the water by moving it up was investigated by several boat designer/inventors including Alexander Graham Bell. During World War II the Germans and the US Navy used hydrofoil technology on small boats and the Russians, by the 1950s, had assembled the largest hydrofoil fleet in the world.
How this all works – the wing-like extension, the foil, provides the lift by moving the water aside and as the speed increases and there is less hull in the water and more up in the air, the foils become the only contact with the water.
There are advantages and disadvantages to hydrofoil boats. Some of the benefits are comfort, a unique experience for the passengers and increased speed with greater fuel economy. There are more disadvantages than advantages. Hydrofoils are vulnerable to damage, limiting where the boat can be used to large, deep lakes or open waters, deep enough to accommodate the boat and its foils. The skill set of the captain needs to be at a higher level, as he or she has to recognize immediately if adjustments have to be made to keep the hull level. The foil boats are sometimes harder to turn and steer. The high cost will keep a lot of boaters in the “not yet” category. For each boat the foils have to be specifically designed and the hydrofoil boat will require a custom trailer. They are “different” and boaters generally are not drawn to “different.”
So far the best use for hydrofoil boats has been ferries. With established, trouble-free routes, they don’t run in shallow water and run less risk of accidents by hitting the bottom. Accidents are mentioned in most descriptions of hydrofoil boats as the high speed and miniscule connection of the boat to the water can lead to serious passenger injury.

The Japanese ferry that hit a whale not too long ago in the Sea of Japan sent six people to the hospital with serious injuries. In Holland there have been several accidents on high-speed hydrofoil ferries attributed to unskilled captains. The Fast Flying Ferry owners have had several of their ferries hit concrete docks and hit other boats. It was reported by Amsterdam news that most ferries are operated by temporary workers.
The high cost of building a hydrofoil ferry is overcome by the high ticket prices to use the ferry. People who pay the high ticket prices are not unhappy because the ferry gets them to their destination safely, comfortably and quickly. Now that air transport costs have gone up dramatically to move manufactured goods, more interest is developing in the use of hydrofoil boats as workboats. They are kinder to the marine environment with no wakes and have lower fuel costs.
The Artemis, built in Ireland, will be the first all-electric workboat. The boat was designed to ferry crewmembers to larger ships and can take 12 passengers with a range of 60 nautical miles. Probably intended for the offshore wind business off England and Ireland, the boats will go 34 knots and have a range of 60 miles with recharge time of one hour. The Artemis Technologies Company is a spin-off of the sailing team that competed in the America’s Cup using hydrofoil technologies.
The ARGO will have a capacity of 200 tons, cruise at 40 knots and have a range of 1500 miles. These ships would replace airfreight at half the cost of airfreight and cover the same territory 15 to 20 hours slower. Traveling at 40 knots by using hydrofoil technology will use only a fraction of fuel that conventional ships would use. The ARGO’s smaller size means it can dock just about anywhere.
A fun boat, the 22-foot Hobie Trifoiler designed by Greg and Dan Ketterman, came out in 1994 and by 1999 when they stopped building it, it had sold 180 boats. What made the Trifoiler work was its perfect design. It could handle rough water because its unique sensor system sensed the water level far ahead of the boat, giving the system time to adjust to changing conditions. The rigging of the Trifoiler could be done quickly as a result of doing it over and over and one person could do it without tools. Although Hobie stopped making the Trifoiler in 1999, they still handle inquiries about the boat and used Trifoilers are still being sold. One in Pennsylvania is a 1994 selling for $9,900. It was the fastest production sailboat ever made and could go 46 mph.
There are now companies making surfboards, kiteboards and jet skis that use hydrofoil technology to power assist their products. Most need to use very large batteries. The FLYWAY jet skis use a propeller drive and call it a water scooter. These jet skis sell out as they go on the market. The FLYWAY will have less power need because of its underwater wing. Its handlebar activates its rudder.
The hydrofoil surfboard has brought new attention to surfing, expanding demand for a board that, with a metal hydrofoil under the board, allows for a better, smoother ride and more speed, as choppy water is no longer a problem. The hydrofoil surfboard user feels as if he is floating on top of the water – a better ride and a safer ride. The surfer no longer has to wait for the right moment to get started and the new boards can be used on water without waves.
In case you decide you’d like to try the hydrofoil technology but don’t want to spend a lot to find out you don’t like it, you might want to try putting something together yourself after watching You Tubes to see how other people did it. Google “Making Your Own Hydrofoil Boat.” If you’re serious about building it yourself, Ray Vellinga has written a good reference book for you “Hydrofoil: Design, Build, Fly” that sells on Amazon in paperback for $29.95. It will give you history, theory and explanations of everything you need to start and complete your own boat.