Volvo Penta pilots the way

Despite the conservative reputation of the pilot boat industry, Pilotage de la Seine, a French pilot boat station, decided to think outside the box and install Volvo Penta IPS in two of its vessels. The benefits they’ve seen have been extensive — signaling, perhaps, a new era in the pilot boat industry.
Volvo Penta pilots the way
For Pilotage de la Seine, choosing Volvo Penta IPS to propel its boats initially felt like a break with tradition — the pilot boat industry is a conservative one that typically chooses inboard shafts for its vessels. The 56-pilot team of Seine Pilot Station drive ships, mostly transporting cereals and grains, from Rouen and guide them safely down the Seine to the sea. It’s a demanding job — and Pilotage de la Seine can’t afford to make mistakes.

In order to strike an optimal balance between fuel consumption and propulsion efficiency, in 2012 the pilotage commissioned Alu Marine to build a less conventional vessel, a pilot boat that would be lighter, faster and more maneuverable. After learning about Volvo Penta IPS and becoming convinced of its benefits, the pilotage had Volvo Penta IPS 450 installed in the new 12-meter pilot boat, the Colibri, primarily as a test of the system. They were thrilled with the results. “We built the Colibri to see if Volvo Penta IPS might work for us — and we ended up reducing our fuel consumption by 20%,” says Jérémy Gounet, technical pilot manager for Pilotage de la Seine. “Volvo Penta IPS has been a very nice innovation for us.”

With that statistic in mind, Pilotage de la Seine had another, larger pilot boat built by Sibiril Technologies — this time with twin Volvo Penta IPS 650. The Phaeton was delivered to the pilotage’s Seine station in Le Havre in March, bringing the station’s fleet to seven vessels. Built to handle any kind of weather, the 16-meter Phaeton can travel at speeds of up to 26 knots with a full load of 24 tons.

With the new Phaeton now on the water, the Volvo Penta IPS system continues to impress the pilotage, and not just with fuel efficiency. For one thing, there’s less maintenance to perform. “With a traditional motor, we had to keep up maintenance and repairs on multiple components — the engine, the reducer, the shaft, the rudder and the propeller — which could take us two or three days to dismantle and fix,” Jérémy says. “With Volvo Penta IPS, there’s just the engine and the IPS to worry about, which simplifies and shortens our maintenance time — it only takes five hours to change an IPS unit. The 24-hour parts delivery Volvo Penta offers helps get us up and running quickly, as well.”

Having one complete system from one manufacturer means one point of contact when it comes to repairs. And between the hands-on Volvo Penta office in Paris and the global headquarters in Gothenburg, Pilotage de la Seine has access to considerable knowledge and expertise. “If a boat anywhere in the world has a problem, and we experience a similar issue, we know that our local Volvo Penta dealer will have access to the same solutions and knowledge used elsewhere in the world,” Jérémy says.

The pilotage has also found the engine room to be quieter and easier to access — with the more compact Volvo Penta system, a less crowded layout makes it easier for the pilots to get in and out. And the Volvo Penta IPS joystick driving function — installed afterwards, on top of classic joystick docking — and dynamic positioning allow the Phaeton to easily maneuver alongside cargo ships — a particularly useful feature in extreme weather.

Pilotage de la Seine is the first pilot station in France to use Volvo Penta IPS in its boats, but Jérémy says that since trials on board the Colibri, two pilot stations in Cherbourg and Dunkirk also decided to join the movement, respectively building 12- and 13-meter long pilot boats equipped with twin Volvo Penta IPS 450, one of which is already on the water.

Volvo Penta has seen further signs of increasing interest in Volvo Penta IPS from the industry, as well. “The pilots of France are thinking outside the box by using a smaller, lighter, more cost-efficient boat with the excellent maneuverability that comes with Volvo Penta IPS,” says Jan-Willem Vissers, director of Marine Commercial Europe. “But at the Seawork exhibition in June — where the Phaeton was on the water for sea trials — we were approached by yet another pilot association wanting to test our IPS system. It seems the tide is changing.”