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A diverse fleet is their course for success

Ocean5 Naval Architects designs recreational and commercial boats for an increasing number of clients


In the last three years, Ocean5 Naval Architects has quietly designed and engineered everything from pod-powered fishing boats to helicopter decks for 600-foot ships to 50-knot ballistic-protected patrol boats.

The small Stuart, Fla., firm’s consistent diversification has carried it through the long recession. Like a growing number of marine businesses, Ocean5 has enlarged its range of marine projects and branched out to others.

“We’re not sitting still,” says naval architect Robert Kaidy, 41, who founded the business in 2007 with partner John Canada, 39, also a naval architect. “We’re constantly adding tools to the tool bag and trying to add services and trying to be smarter in this market.”

The company works with about a half-dozen well-known production boatbuilders, including Boston Whaler, Pursuit and SeaVee, but it also takes on custom jobs. For instance, the group has penned a couple of fast cruising power catamarans. The Quiet Thunder cat will be a waterjet 66-footer that is expected to hit 60 knots. “We don’t think there’s anything like it on the market at that size and with that speed,” Canada says. “It has the appointments of a yacht, but it has the performance of waterjets. The customer wanted to island-hop at high speed, as well as beach the boat and operate in a shallow-draft environment.”


The Ocean5 team, located on the St. Lucie River (, includes naval architect Justin Cubberley, senior design engineer Christopher Gratz, draftsman/programmer Andrew Lawrence, office manager Elizabeth Skiles and two part-time employees — CAD draftsman Clay Farley and government sales representative Bud Skiles.

Although the Quiet Thunder cat is still in the design phase, the Gemini 52 catamaran was showcased last fall at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. This is a big, fast cat, topping out at 43 mph with twin 900-hp Yanmar diesels connected to Arneson surface drives. She cruises from 22 to 25 mph. Meilahn Custom Yachts, of Stuart (www.meilahn, built the Gemini.

“We contacted Ocean5 because we were interested in making sure that we maximized performance for this prototype,” CEO David D. Meilahn says. “Ocean5 takes a team approach through one lead person. In this case, John Canada was our lead, but Rob Kaidy was always on call and participated in sea trials, brainstorming discussions and technical decisions.”

With an LOA of 52 feet and a 19-foot, 6-inch beam, the catamaran’s voluminous interior stands out as a selling point. But Meilahn wants the boat to have even more space and has decided to lengthen the hull from 52 to 60 feet. Ocean5 is handling the design and the working drawings and is overseeing the five-month project, Meilahn says.

Starting from the end

Ocean5 begins every project with the end in mind. “We ask the customer, ‘What does success look like?’ ” says Kaidy, who began his career working on military ships before hooking up in 1997 with the engineering department at Fountain Powerboats. “When do we pat ourselves on the back and say we really did it and call it a huge success?

“So at the beginning of the project we try to literally define what success is going to look like at the end of the project,” he adds. “It’s such a simple thing. Customers tell us no one has ever asked that question, but we ask it every time.”

The firm also has experience with custom monohulls, such as a Whiticar 77 sportfisherman and a Whiticar 30 walkaround express fisherman ( Refits, additions and modifications are also an important part of the workload. For instance, Ocean5 designed a tender-lifting fixture for the 141-foot Hike expedition vessel; a floating platform and ladder for a 164-foot Benetti motoryacht; and a structural analysis of the davit system on the 201-foot Astilleros Celaya motoryacht.


It also completed a refit of a Hinckley T55, which entailed designing and engineering a custom carbon fiber electronics mast, a swim platform with staple rail and an aft lower hardtop that integrates with the bridge for an aft-deck installation of a davit and dinghy.

“We can do A to Z, but not all companies need everything, and we understand that,” says Canada, who broke into the marine business right out of college in 1995 as a production engineer and CAD drafter for Sea Ray.

Canada and Kaidy first worked together at US Marine/Bayliner Marine Corp. in the late 1990s. Canada was a development engineer, and Kaidy was the manager of naval architecture, marine engineering and product testing.

“We had 115 models and, I think, 15 brands,” Kaidy says. “John was already there when I arrived. It was the largest engineering department in the small-boat world. … We had 115 employees in our department and 10 plants throughout the country, and we were building 32,000 boats a year. We were the largest builder of boats in the world and competing head-to-head with Sea Ray. We got some fantastic experience.”

Kaidy then moved to now-defunct Outboard Marine Corp. — and brought Canada along. There the duo executed the rebranding of Chris-Craft. They designed the 40 Roamer inboard yacht, 26 and 28 Constellation sterndrive cruisers, and the 22, 25 and 28 Launch sterndrive runabouts.

“It was a significant departure from Chris-Craft’s existing line and a return to the traditional brand heritage,” Kaidy says. “We’ve been at some boat companies that made some exciting changes, and we’ve gotten the opportunity to lead those changes. We’ve had these sort of ‘Forrest Gump’ careers, being at the right place at the right time.”

From sea to sky

In 1997, about 80 percent of Ocean5’s business was in the recreational marine industry, and 20 percent was with business partners outside the industry. Now it’s a 50/50 split.

Designing and engineering armed, ballistic-protected patrol boats for Florida company Tampa Yacht Manufacturing has accounted for a big chunk of Ocean5’s commercial work. “We saw a need in this market for shallow-water patrol boats,” Kaidy says. “Tampa Yacht Manufacturing worked with us to design patrol boats that compete in the world market. We’re essentially their outsource engineering department. We provide all their design and engineering. So we’re well-positioned to design boats for both domestic as well as international interests.”

Five Ocean5-designed TYM boats — the 44-foot Fast Coastal Interceptor — are in service in India as patrol boats that protect the country’s borders, Kaidy says. Powered by twin MAN R6-800 electronic turbo-diesels linked to Arneson surface drives, these monohulls can reach 50 knots.

Ocean5 also designs more than just hulls. Its work for Tampa Yacht Manufacturing includes custom shock-mitigating seats for the Interceptor boats. Planning, designing and engineering the propulsion packages for these vessels also falls under its purview. The Tempest 44 Fast Coastal Interceptor, which draws only 26 inches, utilizes UltraJet waterjet propulsion.

Another Ocean5 design now under construction is a 35-foot patrol boat, also diesel-powered and waterjet-driven. “It’s called a Quick Reaction Team Boat,” Kaidy says. “They’re building 17 of those. The hull sides, windows and doors are all ballistic-protected. We can’t say to what level, though. The bow includes a forward gun mount.”

And on the drawing board for Tampa Yacht Manufacturing: a 50 Fast Attack Craft powered by twin MAN 800s with waterjet propulsion. With its forward bow ramp, the vessel is designed for shallow-water operations and beach landings. It will transport 16 crewmembers and have a top speed of 45 knots.

The company’s diversification has brought it from the sea to the sky, Canada says. “We’re designing these very light, high-tech carbon-fiber floats for seaplanes,” he says. “It has allowed us to showcase our abilities with structural analysis using the latest computer simulation.”

In addition to designing the structures, Ocean5 has been analyzing performance using its own proprietary Virtual Sea Trial software for stepped hulls. “These airplane floats are, in fact, stepped hulls,” Canada says. “Aerospace and marine industries share common engineering problems but with a differing set of rules and regulations.”

Whatever the project or industry, the foundation of Ocean5’s work is math — numbers, calculations and computation, Kaidy says. “We’re practicing comprehensive engineering, and when I say comprehensive, I mean we’re conscious of supporting our designs with intensive calculations,” Kaidy says. “As an engineering and design firm you want to minimize risk to the greatest extent possible. You don’t want any surprises at the end of the project.”

Customers appreciate that line of thinking. “They’re diligent in making sure that whatever their calculations are at the beginning, that those calculations are valid at the end of the design process,” Meilahn says.

Propulsion possibilities

They’re number crunchers, indeed, but Kaidy and Canada like to have fun, too — and they do it by getting out on the water. Kaidy grew up sailing and racing on Chesapeake Bay; Canada has been fishing off Florida’s east coast since he was 12. Canada’s stepfather, the late Frank Bolin, a former managing editor of Saltwater Sportsman, taught him how to fish and pilot a boat. Kaidy has turned his interests to fishing as well because of the time constraints of family life.

Among their favorite projects are designing and engineering fishing boats, such as the 77-foot Whiticar and a 43-foot SeaVee express fisherman with Volvo Penta IPS pod power. “If we had our druthers, we’d be designing more boats with rod holders than gun mounts,” Canada says. “We tend to prefer the fishing side. We both enjoy the custom sportfish world.”

Boats such as the SeaVee challenge Kaidy and Canada because the client wants the boat to accept multiple types of propulsion. The SeaVee 430 was designed for pod drives, conventional inboards and outboards. “There are two deck transoms/aft cockpits, and the hull has two sheer trim lines,” Canada says.

The development of propulsion technologies has offered the industry a bright spot amid the doom and gloom of the past few years, Kaidy says. “The pods are definitely game-changing,” he says. “They’ve brought efficiency to the marketplace. The pods have been a huge benefit to the industry, helping take the hassle out of boating.”

But Kaidy points out that other propulsion technologies deserve attention, too, such as TwinDisc with its waterjets, joystick controls and QuickShift transmissions, and UltraJet marine waterjet propulsion and control systems.

“And let’s not forget ZF [Marine],” Kaidy says. Ocean5 worked with ZF and SeaVee to develop the SeaVee 340 IPOD, which, according to ZF, is the first single-pod propulsion application in the recreational marine market.

Except for one model, Ocean5 has designed and engineered the entire SeaVee fleet, which consists of more than a dozen models in five sizes from 29 to 43 feet. And Ocean5 has designed and engineered lifting systems — cables, harnesses and lifting points — for some SeaVee boats that are used as tenders.

Ralph Torres, SeaVee vice president and head of production and product development, worked with Kaidy prior to the formation of Ocean5. “Rob is probably one of the smartest guys I know,” Torres says. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. I’ve worked very close with Ocean5 on all of the designs, starting with the 310, which is now our 320. They’ve been super-flexible with us. We give them our wish list, and they put lines to it. They’ve really been instrumental in helping us achieve our success.”

Ocean5’s achievements stem from its passion for boats and boating. “This is our chosen career — we’re not going anywhere,” Kaidy says. “We love what we do. We always joke around that you better love the marine industry because it doesn’t always love you back.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.



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