Pilot Boat Review - Norman R Wright & Sons

Pilot Boat Review – 14.2m XLW Class by NRW

Norman R Wright & Sons -14.2m XLW class Pilot boat review

Designing the ultimate hull is where this project started, a custom pilot boat that ticked the boxes of crew safety and efficiency but thats as far as the thinking inside a box went. The length was the only defined parameter. Expectations set were for a comfortable, safe vessel that can operate very efficiently in a wide range of conditions, focusing on the simplicity of maintenance and serviceability.

The Norman R Wright and Sons team knows that the pilotage business owners often are or have been pilots themselves. They have an invested interest in vessels that can operate in various conditions,  with reduced operating costs, providing superior crew comfort and fewer injuries and less downtime. A safe boat minimises injury, a comfortable boat minimises fatigue, and a practical boat minimises downtime. Tasking Norman R Wright & Sons with designing a new pilot boat meant approaching each of the pillars of the design requirements and assessing if there was a better way of approaching it. 

Like all custom-designed projects at Norman R Wright & Sons, the hull is the foundation for nearly all design decisions. After 1.1 centuries of building commercial vessels in Brisbane, they have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and learnings. History and tradition guide rather than dictate the course of any new project they take on. This project pushed their research and development into new areas of hull design and construction techniques. The result enables the construction of custom-built vessels in the same amount of time as a production boat and is competitive on pricing.

The client dictated the length. At 14.2m, a conventional stem would create a much shorter waterline. Still, Adam Evripidou, the naval architect, was determined to maximise as much of the length overall into the running surface to enhance weight distribution longitudinally for more neutral buoyancy. What he created is the Extra Long Waterline (XLW) hull. Master Pilot Neal Higgs said after running the boat in the sea trials, “What I noticed straight away was that in any chop or swell, how soft riding it is, it carves through the sea.”

The extra-long waterline has created a length equivalent to a boat a metre longer. The extra-long waterline is conventional from the chine down. It adds more buoyancy to the bow, supports the weight better, and minimises the bow’s burying chances. The weight distribution around the centre of buoyancy keeps both ends of the vessel lighter and reduces slamming loads. The result is a vessel that can better maintain cruising speeds in various sea states cost-effectively.

Engine placement and room.

Norman R Wright and Sons place a lot of attention on hull design and design the optimal hull first. Adam, the naval architect, said, “There’s just no compromise in my eyes on the hull; it is exactly how we wanted it to be.” Once they had their ultimate hull, they planned the weight distribution, optimising running attitude and ride comfort. Positioning the engines further forward to the centre of buoyancy has kept both ends of the vessel light. The machinery space becomes much more accessible, meaning any significant works are easier to complete, including fast changeovers of engines. “We created a hatch/bonnet forward of the pilothouse windows. You can see the little wings that hold the hatch down. The whole hatch lifts straight up in reveals the engine room below. There are no shimmying or swinging engines around engine bays, no lifting off wheelhouses. “The new design, it’s as simple as disconnecting the engine and straight out through the hatch. It makes it quick and very cost-effective to keep this boat operating,” said Higgs 

Weight Distribution

Placing the engines forward also enables shallow shaft angles, running aft through tunnels to effectively transfer power to the props. The efficient angle of attack and a shallow draft are real bonuses for operations that require going over a bar. Higgs has crossed the Mooloolaba bar a couple of times in Siabo and found the shallow draft a huge plus. We also took it out to the South Passage bar between Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. Running in very little water, Higgs aimed for swells and waves; several times, we braced for an impact that never really came. Captured on video, the runs out through South Passage are viewable on the Norman R Wright and Sons Youtube channel and worth a look.


The design is suited to a wide range of commercial applications that spend time in shallow waters affected by tides and short fetch swells. Hull number one is in operation, hull two and five will join it in PNG for Port Operations, but the vessels will also be utilised for patrol operations thanks to their shallow draft and maneuverability.

Construction Evolves

A great deal of the research and development time went into the construction techniques of the new pilot boat design. The challenge for customs boat builders is remaining competitive with production motor yacht builders. Norman R Wright & Sons build custom yachts because they can make designs without moulds’ compromises. 


To build to their exacting standards, they needed to evolve the construction techniques, so they spent many months researching, developing and creating a panelised construction method. All the panels were pre-cut by ATL composites on the Gold Coast. The composite foam core panels make up every part of the boat for the entire full length of the hull, pre-cut by the CNC machine and bevelled, cut offsite and bought into the factory, ready to lay over a jig and be bonded together. “This advanced building technique allows us to build a custom boat in-house in the same amount of time as it takes to make a production motor yacht. After over 1000 hours of design and development, we’ve come up with a system that allows us to be very competitive,” said Adam Evripidou, the Naval Architect. The only moulded parts are the engine beds that run from the transom to the bow to create longitudinal stiffness. It enables us to create a monocoque construction, which forms a hard shell, minimising framing. The transom is also cut to shape with extra internal reinforcement, and the bulkheads are a work of art thanks to the precision on CNC cut panels. The outside shell of the hull is laminate with hand laminated reinforcements. Build it up to six millimetres in thickness with different boat areas having different densities of foam. The hull uses 130 kilograms per cubic meter foam. The DMV approved the design as it meets all international standards of the composite design rules.

Power Options

The engine room standardised design allows plenty of scope for engine choices to suit the needs. This boat is fitted with 400 horsepower Yanmar engines that max rev at 2500 rpm, weighing 835 kilos. These are mechanical engines chosen to keep it simple for the intended operational environment. Engine options are aplenty; hull number three and four will operate out of Brisbane. They’re going to use 400 horsepower engines too, but ones that rev much lower at a maximum of 1800 RPM, the Scania DI 13 that weigh in at 1285kgs. There’s plenty of scope and engine choices to suit operational requirements, thanks to the space available. As Higgs noted, “The engines, they’re easily accessible, and if you’ve got to do any work on them, it’s pretty easy to do it. The pipework for all the bilge systems is good. The access to all maintenance things that would be very tight is excellent.”

The Main Cabin

The main cabin is built as a module and sits on resilient mounts, seven heavy-duty marine superstructure mounts. This method takes out the vibration and noise, which further reduces crew fatigue—asking Higgs if he noticed the difference, he said, “You do notice the difference; you don’t feel any vibrations through the boat in the wheelhouse. And you also notice the quietness. It’s just so quiet, you can talk to each other without yelling, and that sort of thing makes a huge difference to reducing the fatigue experienced from traditional wheelhouses and engine rooms.” A 20 mm air gap separates the cabin and the main deck. This construction technique does add considerable cost but the benefits for crew comfort are outstanding. The great thing is you can build it off the job, fit it out entirely and crane it onto the mounts, further reducing the build time.

The Helm

There is a 360-degree view from the helm, including the engine room hatch aft of the cabin bulkhead. You’ve got a good view of the whole foredeck. With the skylight windows, you’ve got a good view of the pilot ladder and the gangways.

“Ergonomically, the layout of everything is excellent. All your switches, radar plotters and that sort of thing have good placement, so you don’t have to reach for anything. Compared to some pilot boats, it’s nice to have it all at your fingertips. Even under the dash, we’ve got better access. They’ve put quite big hatches or doors that you can get in all under the dash to get to everything quite quickly,” said Higgs.


Engines forward have allowed the cabin to be positioned aft of midships, making for the most comfortable location for the pilot and crew. The cabin configuration on hull number one is for all-day patrols, equipped with a small galley and a dinette that seats four to cater to the long stretches out on the water. Because of these long periods out on the water, installing Daicon domestic air conditioning is chosen for simplicity and effectiveness, enabling them to buy another unit from the local supplier and replace the rooftop one when required. Hulls three and four, destined for Brisbane, the dinette has been replaced with additional suspended pilot seats. Replacing the galley is a bag rack for the pilot’s gear. In either configuration, the vessel can carry seven pilots, the Coxwain and the deck crew member. 


The top of the cabin has a mast, which on hull number one is collapsible for operating in PNG as it has the dual purpose of a pilot boat and a patrol boat. Typically, pilot boats are a few meters longer and still carry the same amount of pilots as this 14.2 meter. Pilot Boat does—the smaller footprint. The positioning of the engines and the extra waterline length allows for a boat built at a better price point. That carries the same number of people. Norman Wright and sons are currently developing a smaller version for other commercial applications designed on the same principles to travel great distances efficiently on smaller engines, greater group comfort for patrolling coastlines, marine parks coast guards, and more.

Deck operations. 

There’s a big emphasis on the safety of the pilots and crew. The decks are flush with no trip hazards. A safety rail runs from the door right to the foredeck. And there’s a sail track with a tether that pilots can hold on to as they navigate the side decks. They can hook on their harness and walk forward with the sail track along with the wide flush 750mm side decks in the rough stuff.


They are typically running with just two crew. Should the deck crew or anyone fall overboard, the aft control station on the starboard side allows the helmsmen to better position themselves for operating the man overboard equipment. Along the transom is the recovery basket at the back, which is a simple deployment by a hand winch for simplicity and reliability when it counts.

Wrap up

Typically, pilot boats are around 16 meters in length and carry the same number of people as this 14.2-metre XLW Pilot Boat. The smaller footprint, the balance, the extra waterline length and advanced construction techniques allow a renowned custom motor yacht builder to build a better quality boat built at a viable price point in a competitive production manufacturing market. Reducing operating costs significantly and enhancing safety and comfort, the new design from Norman R Wright & Sons looks destined to become a familiar sight. 


Keep an eye out for a smaller version in development for other commercial applications designed on the same principles to travel great distances efficiently on smaller engines, greater crew comfort for patrolling coastlines, marine parks and more.

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