The Americas Cup is having a positive flow-on effect to many small New Zealand manufacturing businesses. Christchurch based Shark Seats is one such company benefitting from the regatta.
The business has just relocated to larger premises following massive demand for their boat suspension seats. “With the increasing speeds of the Americas Cup yachts, chase boats have had to be entirely redesigned to keep up,” explains Shark Seats owner Paul Zwaan. “Our hydraulic suspension seats absorb the enormous loads created by travelling at high speeds over choppy seas. With the chase boats have to travel at over 50kts, the humans on board are the weakest link in these robust vessels. When fitted throughout the entire boat, our strong, comfortable suspension seats enable the skipper to keep his eyes on the horizon, to react quickly and saves the entire crew from sustaining serious impact injuries.”
Over 150 Shark Seats are installed on many of the Salthouse, Rayglass and Q-West vessels working in the Americas Cup. This includes the camera boat, team chase boats, the boats carrying the course umpires and marshalls, Coastguard and the Police boats patrolling the Waitematā Harbour.
“Shark Suspension Seats provide our crew with comfort and safety on board.” explains Graham Goff, captain of INEOS Team UK’s pitlane boat. “We simply couldn’t work without them, that would be just untenable at the speeds we are travelling at.”
Shark Seats and most of their components are designed, produced and assembled right here in New Zealand and are shipped all over the world, even as far north as Iceland. Clients range from recreational boaties wanting a good looking seat that also protects their spines or knees from injury when heading out fishing, right through to the Indonesian Navy, Philippines Police, Malaysian Coastguard and the Australian Army. These customers order hundreds of seats at a time to fit out their high speed RHIB’s, used for safely transporting personnel at high speeds.
The company was formed back in 2011 when Zwaan’s design business Zetec Ltd, was approached to develop a more cost effective suspension seat solution. With decades of relevant experience as head of Research at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, and head of Design at Zetec Ltd, Zwaan took a high-volume, high-tech approach and made a significant $1m investment in the tooling and moulds required to build the seats.
Zwaan says “Finding locally based companies with the expertise to produce the components was the next challenge. After overcoming these initial start-up hurdles, Shark Seats was formed with the first sale going to the New Zealand Navy in 2013”.
Since then the company has grown its capacity to produce thousands of seats and has recently moved to a 400m2 warehouse in Phillipstown, Christchurch, “Our point of difference is the investment we’ve made in the production of our seats,” Zwaan explains. “The more we produce, the cheaper the production becomes, meaning we can offer a superior product at a smaller price and half the weight of our competitors. The moulding machine located at Talbot Plastics can produce up to 1000 seats in 24 hours if needed.”
With the Health and Safety of crew being at the forefront of most fast commercial and recreational vessel owners and builders minds, Zwaan has a vision of making boat seating safer and attainable for all boat owners and operators, so that they can become standard issue to avoid injury, just like seat belts in cars.