Government agencies are always under pressure to use taxpayer money effectively. So when a navy decides to replace the workboats in its aging fleet, it’s a smart move to select vessels that can be quickly reconfigured to handle multiple duties. When those boats are manufactured from composite materials, the navy gains additional benefits due to their light weight and durability.

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) took this route in 2017 when it awarded a contract to Atlas Elektronik UK (AEUK) for the supply and support of up to 38 SEA class workboats for the Royal Navy. AEUK selected Norco, a specialist in large composite structures, as its primary boat builder.

Since this is a large-scale boat replacement for the Royal Navy, the MOD went with a completely new design. The AEUK’s SEA workboats feature innovative modular units on the back of their decks that can be quickly removed and replaced. Each interchangeable unit is equipped for a specialized operational role, such as dive support, Arctic exploration, officer training, hydrographic surveying, logistic re-supply and passenger transport to aircraft carriers. Any module can be used on any workboat.

The SEA class boats will include twin diesel engines and jet drive that will enable them to travel at speeds in excess of 25 knots. They can operate in Sea State 4, which includes waves from four to eight feet. Each boat will come equipped with modern navigation and communications systems and the same steering and control system. That will make it easier for naval personnel to operate any of the vessels. Depending on the model, the boats will be able to accommodate up to 36 passengers and will have two to four berths, a galley, a toilet and a shower.

Norco will build the versatile workboats at its factory in the coastal town of Poole, England. “We have been in the composites business for 30 years, working with local companies on the south coast producing small and large composite assemblies,” says James Bottoms, engineering manager. “Because of the size and the quantities of materials involved, the project required quite a large composite supplier that could deliver those boats within the time scale required for the contract.”

The AEUK contract runs for six years, but Norco must deliver all of the boats in just four years, leaving time for fit out and testing before they’re commissioned. The manufacturing schedule is even shorter when time for design and engineering is subtracted out.