Industry » Features » Nautical Structures & the Art of Heavy Lifting

Nautical Structures & the Art of Heavy Lifting

Rick Thomas 140

“It all started purely accidentally.” said Rick Thomas, founder of Nautical Structures Industries, designers, producers, and manufacturers of some of the finest equipment in the yachting industry as we discussed how his company became the go-to powerhouse for tender handling and boarding systems.

“I was a commercial diver in Louisiana, and when the oil fields went pear shaped, well it was time to move on,” Thomas said. That was in 1984 and he went to work in his father’s residential boat lifting company, located in Clearwater, Florida, as he waited for another diving gig to come along. “We sold, installed, designed, and built the systems, fairly simple machines that went in someone’s backyard dock to pick up their boat.”

As part of the boat lifting company, there was also an aluminum products division that fabricated small transom davits and the associated parts for sailboats. Armed with determination and foresight, Thomas landed a contract with Vince Lazzara’s Gulfstar boat company. “We designed traditional looking equipment back then and made that work for hoisting 11- and 13-foot Boston Whalers on board the boats.” said Thomas.

As Boats got Bigger

Then as the boats became bigger, more robust and more stylish, an order came in for a new 63-foot model which prompted Thomas and his crew to design and build a fold down, low profile version. “Concurrently, as the boats increased in length, we began to grow as well and began selling to the aftermarket including applications for Hatteras and others.” Thomas remembered.

NS Passarelle

During this time, the company was known as Davit Masters, with d.b.a. Nautical Structures as the incorporated trade name. That was in 1986. Hitting the road to net some business, Thomas worked his way into several OEM builders including Delta Marine out in Seattle, Washington. “The natural progression of course, with these types of builders, was to design and build bigger and more complicated equipment. This created our focus and direction above and beyond the smaller boat business.” he said.

Thomas and his business partner, Bob Bolline, took stock of the opportunity and pooled their knowledge and expertise to figure out how to build the best possible equipment for any application at any given time.

“To that end, we’ve supplied every Delta yacht built since 1990, as well as Westport Shipyards, Burger, Trinity and others. We have a great track record of coming in and developing a business relationship, understanding what the customer wants and needs, and bringing the proper equipment to fruition. From that, comes the long term relationship so necessary for success and longevity in the industry and especially in this sector.”

Getting in Early with Design

Nautical Structures’ success is largely down to the way it approaches each project, which means getting in early when the design of a boat or yacht is first taking shape. Discussions always involve myriad personnel including the naval architect, the captain/project manager, the shipyard and of course the owner.

“We know what happens when you’re out at sea and our objective is always to figure out how best to position and use any highly specialized piece of apparatus in the safest possible manner in varying, and sometimes unpredictable sea conditions,” Thomas said. “This is a capital piece of equipment built into the very structure of the vessel. It is a very, very important concept.”

Since it began some 31 years ago, Nautical Structures has focused on building strategic partnerships with builders to stay ahead of the curve, always looking ahead to  their next build and the ones after that. “Each and every yacht presents a specialized use operating under a different set of circumstances,” he added. “No two are ever the same.”

Stairs over ocean

Utilizing its vast design portfolio, Nautical Structures has access to both 2D and 3D visuals to match the precise position and space allotted for a particular piece of equipment onboard. Garage configuration, volume, access, and the weight and purpose of a particular tender are all vital considerations in the planning and design process.

“Once we pull all this together, it becomes a design and financial discussion because, while there are a lot of things we can do, the more complex it becomes, the more custom or even one-off it becomes, the more expensive the end product will be.” Thomas noted. “Design, price, impact to the vessel - all of this gets looked at.”

Another important consideration is the doors used to enclose a particular piece of equipment. “We like to design and build them so there will be no conflicts when used in conjunction with one of our cranes. Therefore, we are responsible for the design and it comes off the yacht builder’s plate. It’s just one more thing we take care of.” said Thomas. “Our engineering and fabricating staff is extremely efficient and well-versed in this type of application.”

Further design factors include the placement of hydraulic equipment, rescue boats, folding bow cranes hidden in deck hatches, tender bays, passerelles, transom lifts, and boarding stairs. “Anything we design, manufacture and install is of the highest quality in both concept as well as materials.”

Rick on deck

Thomas and his team have also honed their capabilities with constructions under ‘special circumstances.’

“For a yacht we are working on right now known as the U77 Project, it began in Chili. It was then moved to New Zealand where it went back into production only to be transported to Turkey to have it finally finished off. “One of our cranes was supplied 10 years ago and never put into service and now it will finally be commissioned as the vessel’s SOLAS rescue boat launching crane.”

After receiving animated drawings of their large knuckle boom and smaller folding crane, Nautical Structures modified the plans to incorporate the 8m passerelle originally designed for the yacht. “And just like this client, many come to us in the same way; here’s the yacht, here’s the tender, what can you do for us?”

Engineering Solutions 

When it comes to backup systems, in the rare event of an electrical failure or other adverse event, redundancy is built into the equipment design. For example, in the big hydraulic power packs, this involves marrying in a couple of DC electric motor/hydraulic pump assemblies to the existing system which can be run through a hydraulic switching assembly powered by an emergency set of batteries. With this added to the equipment, the captain can expect two or three launch cycles out of those batteries.

Established as the go-to provider in the US, Nautical Structures is also active in the Pacific Rim, the Middle East and the EU, with a dedicated European sales manager in place. “With Rob Knoop handling this sector, a person everyone in the European large yacht industry knows and respects, we have poised ourselves to take on in Europe the kind of projects we have become associated with here in the States.”

“We’ve been successful in this market because most of our competition there, while having some of what we have, does not have it all. Therefore, in proprietary equipment designs such as folding and knuckle-boom cranes, we are able to sell to well known European shipyards where our equipment will be designed into the vessel structure.” Thomas said.

In tent 300Clearly the more complex the project, the more enjoyable it is for Nautical Structures’ crew, and delivering value is a big part of it.

“This equipment is expensive and there’s no getting around it,” said Thomas. “But if anything rings true, you get what you pay for. It’s all about supplying the finest innovations in design, engineering, construction, on-time delivery and commissioning for any application. And then there’s our outstanding and dedicated service team taking care of our clients and products anywhere in the world.”

To appreciate their versatility, Nautical Structures’ projects include a 10 ton moment capacity crane with a 12m/39ft outreach for an expedition yacht, a knuckle boom crane for a Hakvoort yacht equipped with an eight ton, 8m/26ft reach, design and installation of all the tender-handling and boarding equipment on the 73m/240ft Perini Grace-E, and supply of the rescue boat and life raft-launching equipment on Luna, a 115m/377ft explorer yacht.

“Those are fun projects.” said Thomas. “You are in with the right people allowing you to do what you do best. Challenge accepted; challenges exceeded.”

Nautical Structures is equally enthusiastic about the technology underpinning its active heave compensation system to complement its linear hoist winches. For bigger boats this will have a profound impact for crews working in seas of 2m/6ft-3m/9ft, during launch or retrieval operations by supplying a non-fouling hoisting component. Originating in the offshore oil industry, so far it has been unavailable in the superyacht industry.

“This will be the ultimate compliment to our sea-proven cranes and will be rolled out on our largest pieces of proprietary equipment first.” Thomas said.

Modern Expertise in Retro Style

Another avenue that sets Nautical Structures apart is their expertise with the classics, having designed bespoke gear for retro yachts such as the 150ft, Proteksan Turquoise built 47.6m/156ft motor yacht Vajoliroja and the Burger built 46m/151ft motor yacht Sycara IV. Both look like early 20th century launches but these are high-tech builds using the latest 21st century technology.

Jeff Brown Tender Garage
Image credit: Jeff Brown

“Making a classic piece of framing look classic takes every bit of what modern expertise and know-how have to offer. The challenge for us lies in making what normally is highly visual, polished stainless steel product, into something that appears to be burnished antique brass.” said Thomas.

On Sycara IV, for example, the big transom door on a stunningly beautiful fantail drops down allowing a Nautical Structures passerelle to be deployed. Since the owner did not want a modern looking crane to launch his fine-looking classic tender from the top deck, they recessed the equipment in a well topside so a periscoping standpipe comes up a little more than a meter and places a modern deck crane in position to work conventionally. They have also carried out refit work for UK-based Pendennis Shipyard on the timeless 71m/233ft Dona Amelia and 42m/137.8ft Fair Lady.

With all this and now a new service hub at the Lauderdale Marine Center, Thomas is justifiably upbeat.  “I truly believe we are the only company in our sector that has the kind of collectivism, the kind of singular thinking and talent that rises to the top when we are faced with a project no matter how small or how complex. Our staff crosses industries and generations which is why, after 30+ years, I keep doing this. With the capacity we have right now, with the worldwide reach we have right now, the only thing we have to do is wait for the next challenge to walk through the door, arrive by email, or have the phone ring.”




For more information about Nautical Structures Industries please contact:

North America +1 (888) 541 6664
International +1 (727) 541 6664

Europe: +31 6 22 636536
Rob Knoop, Director - Europe

New Equipment Sales: +(954) 727 9493
Mailing address: 7301 114th Avenue, Largo, Florida 33773
Website: Nautical Structures

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