Riding the waves

Riding the waves

Rutter technologies moves closer to predictive sea state technology

The validation of nearly 10 years of research and development came pretty quickly for Stephen Hale (above) as he stood at his booth at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle last November. The vice-president of Rutter, a St. John’s, N.L.-based ocean tech outfit, was manning the booth to show off the company’s latest product: the sigma 6 WaveVision system, which can warn vessel operators if a large, possibly-damaging wave is heading their way.

According to Hale, a fisherman who worked in Alaska looked at the equipment and said, “I could have used this two weeks ago.” A rogue wave had crashed over his boat, sending two of his crew hurtling across the deck. One dislocated his hip and had to be airlifted out.

The WaveVision system uses radar to measure the height of each wave within a one-kilometre radius of the vessel. The system can be programmed to sound an alarm if there’s a wave nearby that’s beyond a certain height, or even beyond a certain percentage higher than the others. It’s a compliment to Rutter’s WaMoS II system, which gives a reading on the general sea state of the area around the ship.

Climate change is making the oceans more unpredictable and less safe, with increasing water temperatures and more frequent storms. As Hurricane Dorian blew through Newfoundland, a buoy owned by the province’s Marine Institute picked up a reading on a 100-foot, or 30-metre, rogue wave just off the coast of Port aux Basques, on the west side of the island. As the storm churned away offshore, there were several other readings of waves reaching 20 and even 25 metres high.

Rogue waves don’t necessarily have to be monster walls of water that can wipe out seaside towns, says Hale. Whether it’s 30 or three metres high, crews calibrate their behaviour to the sea conditions and if a wave surges up bigger than the others, it can cause serious damage to a boat or to a crew, he says.

On the other side of the spectrum, boats looking to deploy an ROV or life boat need clusters of calm water and low-lying waves. WaveVision can pick those up too, he says.

Impressive as it is, the WaveVision technology (which had been in development for over a decade) is but a step toward the ultimate goal of being able to predict wave sizes and sea states before they rise up. “We’re currently in trials to predict when those large waves or calm spots will hit,” says Hale. That system will predict not only the wave behaviour, but how the vessel could be affected by the waves, and be able to flag whether or not it’s safe to go ahead with an ROV or equipment deployment, he says.

For now, the very first WaveVision system should be out on the water in a few weeks, off the shores of Alaska. Hale says he chose to launch the new tool in Seattle at the Pacific Marine Expo because many Alaska fishermen keep their boats in Seattle. Fishers in Alaska, he notes, have a lot in common with their Atlantic Canadian counterparts. “They’re similar to here, with very, very, very rough sea conditions,” he says.

Back in St. John’s, where the bulk of Rutter’s 30 or so employees are based, there’s a large wave taking shape that Hale is particularly happy about: the Atlantic Canadian ocean tech wave, fueled by the Ocean Supercluster project.

“It’s an exciting time here in Atlantic Canada,” he says. “Even if a company doesn’t have a project that goes through the cluster, it’s created a lot of excitement. A lot of talk in town, a lot of companies talking between themselves, which really wasn’t happening to the extent that you’re seeing now. It’s been fantastic for the local tech business.” •

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