Inflatable boat

Smoother boat rides ahoy thanks to water impact research

Image credit: Dreamstime

Utah State University researchers are working with the US Navy to develop an inflatable speedboat which absorbs the energy of waves to offer a smooth ride, even on stormy waters.

Watercraft are vital in research, defence and tourism, although they suffer from particular sensitivity to the weather. Riding a gently bobbing boat can make many people sick and, during a storm, serious damage is commonly inflicted on cargo, passengers and even the vessels themselves.

In early but valuable steps towards developing a storm-proof boat, researchers at Utah State University have demonstrated how rigid and elastic bodies differ in their behaviour during impact with water.

The researchers used high-speed cameras to capture video of elastomeric spheres – sphere made from viscous and elastic polymers – being dropped into a water tank. The highly detailed footage allowed the researchers to study the unique “splash curtains” above the surface, and the cavities of air below which form after impact with the water.

The team tracked the deformation of the different spheres in order to understand how energy is transferred from the water to the material of the sphere. Analysis of their data could allow them to better predict how soft, elastic materials interact with water.

Deformable and rigid spheres on impact with water

Deformable and rigid spheres on impact with water/Utah State University

Image credit: Utah State University

“Rigid and elastic materials interact with the water surface quite differently,” said Randy Hurd, a PhD candidate at Utah State University, and lead author of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics study. “When an elastic body impacts the surface, the material deforms and oscillates significantly which changes the water-impact physics compared to a rigid body.”

According to Hurd, the ability to predict how various materials interact with water upon impact is a vital step in understanding how best to approach the development of watercraft which can provide a gentle ride on a choppy ocean.

Hurd and the rest of the Utah State University team have been working alongside the US Navy and other organisations which frequently use watercraft in rough, stormy seas in order to eventually design an inflatable speedboat which can provide a smoother ride for passengers and cargo.

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