Front Street Shipyard has been working in collaboration with Navatek LLC on an advanced planing hull for the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research.

In August, ONR awarded an $8 million contract to Navatek, a Honolulu-based boat builder focused on research in hydrodynamics and advanced ship design. Navatek then tapped Front Street Shipyard to produced and test the first of its prototypes.

The contract calls for pursuing new science and technology for safer hulls and hybrid-electric propulsion systems. According to Front Street's website, the modern hull design was derived from Hawaiian law-enforcement boats with the Sea Blade line engineered to perform smoothly on open ocean.

Ships with planing hulls have a bottom shaped to provide additional lift with increased speeds, decreasing drag by lifting forward surfaces out of the water.

JB Turner, Front Street president and general manager, calls it "timing" that he bumped into a visiting Navatek executive on the Harbor Walk this summer.

"I showed him around and we hit it off," Turner said. "We both shared similar views on boat-building and this helped secure our partnership."

Turner said Front Street is building two hulls for testing — a 36-foot and a 42-foot model. "We should have it in the water in four or five weeks," he said Oct. 4. "The hull is built and the deck is under construction right now."

The ship will be tested in sea trials in Belfast, then go to the West Coast for more trials and eventually to Hawaii, Turner said.

One thing that will set this new prototype apart from older small, fast boats, Turner said, is a much "softer" ride. The research comes in response to a high number of neck and back injuries among Navy Seal and Special Command boat operators from slamming-wave impact.

Turner envisions this prototype eventually proliferating the recreational market. Sea Blade X, Navatek's recreational line of boats featuring the planing hull design, is currently listed as "under construction" on the Front Street website.

Navatek has been working with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center to design new materials for prototypes of the new hulls, and plans to use the university’s 60-foot 3D printer, the largest in the world, to print boat molds.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and instrumental in securing funding for the contract, helped announce the grant at an event at Navatek's Portland office in August.

"Maine is home to the best shipbuilders in the world," Collins said, "and our state has long had an integral role in our national security. Navatek's engineering and research strength combined with Front Street Shipyard's composites experience will benefit all of the Navy's small-craft programs."

The Portland office was established in part to further the company's longstanding relationship with the University of Maine and the state's boat-building supply chain, including Front Street Shipyard.

Speaking with The Republican Journal Oct. 4, Turner said composites offer less maintenance and will not corrode. "We are working with Navatek to move composites along," he said.

"Right now there is too much aluminum," he said, "and they corrode like crazy."