Clearing the Air

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, boatbuilders and suppliers are figuring out how to design better air-purifying systems
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Tom Carroll Sr., the president and CEO of Viking Sport Cruisers, has battled severe sinus problems almost his entire life. He couldn’t have forced hot-air heat at home because the dryness would lead to infections. Eventually, he took a contractor’s advice and installed air-handler devices that remove allergens. After that, breathing became much, much easier.

When Covid-19 emerged, Carroll had an unusual baseline of knowledge about problematic air particles. “My wife, who has a background in toxicology, came to me and said the units we’re using on the house actually remove virus and bacteria,” he says. “I had never paid any attention to that. So a couple more phone calls. I have a daughter who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and we got to talking about viruses, what you can do and what you can’t do.”

By August, Princess Yachts, which Viking Sport Cruisers distributes for the Americas, had announced the availability of its Yacht Safe Marine Air Purification System as an option on every hull delivered after Sept. 1. The system was among the first, along with Azimut’s BCool air sanitizer announced in July, to try and give boat buyers peace of mind about being inside a vessel’s enclosed spaces during the pandemic.

Princess Yachts will offer its Yacht Safe system on its entire model lineup.

Princess Yachts will offer its Yacht Safe system on its entire model lineup.

And more such devices are coming. Dometic, for instance, has a new air-purifying product in the works. Ned Trigg, executive vice president for Dometic’s marine division in Pompano Beach, Fla., says this product will use the same technology as the company’s Breathe Easy, but will be more efficient and easier to retrofit, with availability likely in the first quarter of 2021. “The aftermarket is going to eat this up,” Trigg says. “It’s easy to install. For those consumers who are really sensitive, this is going to be a great product.”

Indeed, Carroll says, there is significant consumer demand for air-purifying systems. Boat buyers are choosing to add the optional Yacht Safe system, which he says is priced “very slightly above cost,” to about 80 percent of the Princess hulls scheduled to launch by July 2021. “We’re maybe a month or two months away from starting to open it up to retrofitting on existing models,” Carroll said in mid-October. “As soon as we can ramp up production, we’ll get it out there.”

Ramping up production is only half the battle. Just as with the Covid-19 vaccines that laboratories worldwide are rushing to create and then mass-produce, the challenge of getting air-purifying systems to all boaters who want them began with figuring out how to design the systems. Home devices can’t just be plopped into boats. They’re usually too big, and their technology — catalytic ionization — has a potentially hazardous byproduct: ozone.

“High concentrations of it are dangerous,” Carroll says. “If you put a device in a house, you have one device that’s treating 2,400 square feet of house. The ozone concentration is minimal. It’s way below the threshold. However, if you’re on a yacht, whatever device you put in a stateroom, you’re only treating that one stateroom. Now you’re introducing ozone at levels that are concerning.”

High concentrations of ozone can be dangerous not only to human health, but also to the boat itself, according to Trigg. “Ozone has the potential to break down natural elements like rubber,” he says. “That’s the last thing we want to be connected with. There’s a lot of seawater hose with rubber material, for instance. We don’t want to break down those hoses.”

The builder said new buyers are choosing to add it to about 80 percent of the Princess hulls scheduled to launch by mid-next year.

The builder said new buyers are choosing to add it to about 80 percent of the Princess hulls scheduled to launch by mid-next year.

But if that byproduct can be managed, both men say, the results can be effective. Carroll says that with catalytic ionization, devices have a type of ultraviolet light projected onto a catalyst that creates negative ions. Those ions, in turn, do two things to purify the air.

“What negative ions will do, when they’re in the air with these nanoparticulates, they will actually cause them to accumulate so that they’re no longer so small, and they will fall out of the air,” Carroll says. “The $65 word is agglomerate. They will take these submicron particles, make them congeal, and they will do one of two things: either fall out of the air completely or become filterable, so that a filter can grab them. That’s one step.

“The second step of ionization — which is the more important one — is negative ions will attach themselves to pathogens, either viruses or bacteria,” he adds. “And because they are negatively charged, they will rob the pathogen of the life-sustaining hydrogen that it needs to survive. They kill it by destroying the DNA of the virus or the bacteria.”

The Princess Yacht Safe system engages this process by dividing a boat into zones. A 95-foot boat, Carroll says, has 11 zones. A 45-footer has three zones. A purifier device is placed in each zone. “If you picture one of those larger iPhones, it’s about that size in length and height; the width is maybe three times the width of an iPhone,” he says. “It’s on its own circuit. We run most of them with 220 volts. They draw very low electricity — less than 1 amp — but we run them with 220 because we run the air conditioning systems with 220.”

Azimut Yachts’ Marine Mechanical Ventilation System premiered on the Azimut 25 Metri (both photos). It’s based on a NASA patent, and imitates natural photocatalysis, which combines the sun’s ultraviolet rays, air moisture and natural metals to generate oxidizing ions.

Azimut Yachts’ Marine Mechanical Ventilation System premiered on the Azimut 25 Metri (both photos). It’s based on a NASA patent, and imitates natural photocatalysis, which combines the sun’s ultraviolet rays, air moisture and natural metals to generate oxidizing ions.

When the owner turns on the boat’s air conditioner, the Yacht Safe system activates. “We tell our customers that if they have their systems installed on their boats, keep the fan running all the time, even if you don’t need air conditioning,” he says. “Just circulate the air flowing, even at low speeds.”

The prototype test, Carroll says, showed good results. His team placed petri dishes on a Princess stock boat without the system, then locked up the boat for three days. They returned to find samples filled with visible bacteria. Then they installed the Yacht Safe system and repeated the process.

“When we went back after three days, looking at one dish versus the other dish, it was like a 90 percent improvement,” he says. “A petri dish will not pick up viruses, but it will pick up bacteria, so we were seeing bacteria. The idea is, when you look at some of the lab reports on this technology, it will knock down both viruses and bacteria. If you look at airborne mold, it will take out 99 percent of it. H5N1 and H1N1, 99 percent. Feline coronaviruses, 99 percent.

“We put in a disclosure about Yacht Safe that it is not a medical device. It has not been tested on Covid-19, because nobody has been able to test Covid-19 yet with this technology,” he adds. “But the virus that is Covid-19, it’s a coronavirus. So we can see what this has done with other coronaviruses.”

Azimut also stops short of claims that its system can eliminate the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Instead, the builder says that its Marine Mechanical Ventilation System, which premiered on the Azimut 25 Metri, is based on a NASA patent.

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According to Azimut, the system dilutes contaminants by introducing new air from the outdoors, and cleans the air through a process called photocatalytic oxidation, or PCO. That process imitates natural photocatalysis, which combines the sun’s ultraviolet rays, air moisture and natural metals to generate oxidizing ions.

As different technologies evolve, both Trigg and Carroll say, most boat buyers likely will want some kind of air-purifying system on board, even after the pandemic abates. “I think people are going to be a hell of a lot more aware of what it means to have clean air wherever you are,” Carroll says.

In fact, Trigg adds, builders likely will have to forget about offering air-purifying systems as options. “I think some of this is going to stick forever with people,” he says. “I think this will become standard.” 

This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.

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