Engine Innovation

Why We're Fitting Our Vessels With Jets In Place Of Props

Prince of Whales Whale Watching is constantly searching for ways to update its vessels and lead in innovation. Its newest in-operation vessel, the Salish Sea Dream was fitted with jets in place of props to propel it on the water safely and efficiently. We chatted with Ian Kyle, captain of Salish Sea Dream and specialist in vessel manufacturing on what he’s excited by as the company moves into their 25th year. 

“The biggest thing we’ve moved to is jet propulsion where we’ll have nothing in the water that can do any damage to any mammal.”

“The biggest thing we’ve moved to is jet propulsion; so that means we have nothing in the water that can do any damage to any mammal,” Kyle tells us on a warm day in Victoria. “It essentially draws water up through the hull and streams it out the back; that’s what we use for propulsion.”

The Arneson surface-piercing propeller that they are replacing on most of their vessels was designed as an offshore racing propulsion system, so it’s speed-efficient but its propellers hang down into the water and spin at high speeds. With the mammals in mind, the company wants to switch over to a new style. “Moving to jet propulsion is a big safety feature for what we’re looking at. Since we’ve moved to jets and twin hull, we maintain efficiency and add redundancy,” he says, expounding that this also adds vessel solidity. “The Catamaran hull has much superior stability; you can load all the passengers on one side and the vessel will stay the same level,” the captain details.
Whale Watching Vessel Prop Engines
Prop Engines Soon to be Replaced
Kyle is a fan of the engine and hull design on the Salish Sea Dream and its sister-ship, the Salish Sea Eclipse (currently being built), for other reasons as well. “We can go through much more substantial seas compared to the mono-hulls,” he adds. “It cuts so cleanly through the water.” This means the company is not restricted by weather, so whale watching can continue no matter the dark hue of the clouds above.

“Jet efficiency means fuel efficiency.” – Captain Ian Kyle

Jets and props also have different sound frequencies, which, while not precisely what affects mammal communication, is still something to consider. “One is the sound of aerated water and the other is the sound of a propeller cutting through the water, pushing.” Still, most of the time they’re near the whales, Ian Kyle assures, “regardless of what propulsion system [we have], we reduce the speed of the engines.”

“When we get there and we want to view wildlife, we’re often shut down and we drift.” The naturalists or onboard guides can then put a hydrophone over the side and listen to what is going on below the water. The Zodiac-style RHIBs are also being fitted with hydrophones which helps for discovering how nearby the whales are. This is where the magic happens!

“We have six hydrophones ordered and we’re wiring the vessels right now so we can plug them into the stereo,” he explains. Then they can be piped over the vessel. “There will be a hydrophone per vessel and you can put them off either side. We’ll have them added to the Zodiacs as well,” Kyle reports.

Salish Sea Dream Captain Ian Kyle (Right) and Colleague
The eco-adventure company’s newest vessel, the Salish Sea Eclipse, is currently being purpose-built at ABD Aluminum Yachts in North Vancouver, under the Second Narrows bridge. When asked what excited him about the construction of this new vessel, Ian Kyle has much to say. “We’ve gone to a different style of jet and we’ve gone to a different propulsion unit. This should be more efficient judging from what we can gather from the specs.”

“We’re around 34 knots, which is quite fast for a boat of that size.”

Jet efficiency means fuel efficiency. “Throughout last year what we’ve done is we took our speed curves and we adjusted the pitch of the impellers. We went to a super-pitch impeller, so we’ve got more speed now,” he explains. “The jet is reflective of your [fuel] efficiency.”
Salish Sea Dream
What rouses the captain and former coast guard further about their new vessel is time-sensitivity. “It’s all about turn-around time for engineering. It’s about easy extraction of engines and easy overhaul of certain components,” he extols. “We have a lot of redundancy in all the pumping systems and wiring systems so that we don’t have any downtime.” This means guests can count on the Prince of Whales for their Whale Watching adventures to be consistent.

“It’s above-board to have purpose-built, as well as mindfully built, vessels and this is something the Prince of Whales Whale Watching is a leader in.”

The captain continues on with the many positives about Prince of Whales Whale Watching founder Alan McGillivray’s vessel design. “We have better locking mechanisms so we find we don’t have failures. We’re also going to a different manufacturer for jets so they should be a little more efficient, we should be able to get higher speed consistently, and better fuel efficiency.” He mentions that they have also repitched the impeller on the Salish Sea Dream so they’re now, “up a couple of knots”. We’re around 34 knots, which is quite fast for a boat of that size.

Steady In-Cabin Tables, Prime for Colouring Inside While Whale Watching Through the Windows

“The comfort is there”, Kyle adds confidently. “It expands who we can bring on board. We can have children colouring while they look out the window; we can have grandparents stay warm inside the cabin while the more adventuresome members of the family go outside and experience that open-air effect.” 

It’s above-board to have purpose-built, as well as mindfully built, vessels and this is something the Prince of Whales Whale Watching is a leader in. We can certainly tell!