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31 August – 2 September 2021
by Curtis Hand, images and video from event speakers and sponsors

High speed boat (HSB) experts from around the world have been meeting biennially in Gothenburg Sweden to discuss topics related to police and armed forces waterborne special operations since the forum began in 2012.  Although suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19 travel and assembly restrictions, the High Speed Boat Operations (HSBO) Forum emerged from its forced hibernation fresh and stronger than ever.

This  by invitation only  (BIO) forum brought together experts on HSB operators, researchers and suppliers from around Europe, the USA and as far away as East Asia came this year to benefit from expert insights on concerns, doctrine, health effects, materiel impacts, regulations, safety and strategies.  The HSBO Forum was initially set up to address “causes and cures” to a growing problem of impact and stress injuries to combatant, emergency and police boat crews travelling at high speeds in a special operations boat (from combat boats to RIBS / RHIBS).

The HSBO Forum routinely addresses causes and effects of short and long-term injuries sustained during HSBOs while exploring preventative measures to limit or reduce injuries to personnel.  Often the discourse is extends beyond that of armed or emergency forces and discusses deaths and maiming of untrained civilians travelling at high speeds in pleasure boats without a clue about the safety measures that should be in place to stem dangers to life and limb.

Such luminaries speaking at the four-day BIO 2021 HSBO Forum included…

Chris Boyd (left), chief executive of The Royal Institution of Naval Architects shared the RINA’s vision on “High Speed”, which ranged in topics from reduced nitrogen, sulphur and carbon emissions to safety and new technologies to reduce injuries and damaging whole body vibration – a perennial key element of the HSBO Forum.



Dr Karen Kelly (right), of the US Navy Naval Health Center, who presented the latest findings relating to the quantification of cervical and lumbar spine kinematics and muscle physiology in swift boat combatant crewman and its impact on their performance as war-fighters immediately and over time. Her team’s research included the ways they compared the body under stress and at rest, before and after missions, and contributions to, and solutions for reducing, injuries.

(Ret) Chief Warrant Officer (right) Ron Carpenter, formerly of the US Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC) presented his independent research and explain the long term health effects of HSBO on veterans who already served on fast boats. (More than 90% have some form of lasting pain and disability / injury as a result of their duty on HSBs.)  In his presentation “Human Impact Exposure On-board High Speed Boats”, he highlighted that more than 50% of all HSBO-related injuries are spinal related (back and neck), followed by head, leg/foot, torso and then arm / hand.  This speaks to the design of the boats as much as it does the way in which boats are outfitted / equipped and the HSBO are conducted. Carpenter reported that High Speed Boat (HSB) operator injuries are more common and severe than earlier reported – including the number of head injuries, nearly half of which include some significant level of impaired mental capacity. HSBO lateral impacts account for 80% of boat operator injuries and impacts containing lateral forces account for four times more injuries than purely vertical impacts.

Prof Steve Myers, research chair, NATO Science & Technology Organisation, presented his team’s multi-nation study on human impact exposure on-board high speed boats. However, they focus on the nature of HSBO by examining the characteristics and nature of HSBO and what needs to happen across NATO to reduce HSBO-related injuries.  Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden the UK and the USA participated in his NATO task group’s research project NATO HFM-344 (RTG).  What it is aiming to do is instigate a study to routinely collect pain and injury data from HSB operators across multiple nations (that use different HSBO watercraft and equipment), ingest this data into a centralised NATO database that provides a resource for understanding and finding solutions for HSBO-related maladies – including operational, educational and technical solutions to improve the condition(s) of NATO’s HSB operators.  So, he said more nations need to appoint members to the HFM-344 through their national representatives at NATO.  They will soon commence activities that include: identifying suitable opportunities for data collection; agreeing minimum data collection requirements; registering data the activity as a clinical trial (increases the ability to disseminate findings); designing and commissioning the database; and, identifying other exploitation routes.

Capt Andrew Moll (right), Chief Inspector of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (UK), drew participants’ attention to the civilian death and injury toll, underscoring the need for greater safety measures that included mandatory training, safety mechanisms and changes in design to prevent civilian death and dismemberment occurrences – which are currently on the rise. Capt Moll made a “watertight” case for greater regulatory controls and on-board safety devices with some chilling facts, statistics and videos.

Dr Arash Eslamdoost (left), Associate Professor of Marine Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, shared his team’s research with a device that reduces the resistance of transom stern hulls.  Through this technology, it is possible to put more “push” behind a boat to increase its power while reducing resistance of the water against the hull. He is a leading research scientists in the discipline of applied hydrodynamics, emphasising computational fluid dynamics to understand the flow physics around marine vehicles. His research’s aim is to improve marine craft performance by reducing hull resistance – and also understand the propulsion-hull interaction effects for identifying potential for minimising energy losses in the flow.

Dr Peter Johnson (right), professor emeritus and occupational safety research expert, at the University of Washington brought to the Forum key learnings from the road transportation sector that are applicable to HSBOs with a  short-travel, low friction, passive non-linear suspension solution for absorbing wave chatter and wave shocks.  This is applicable for re-thinking shock reducing seat designs to mitigate shocks ad vibration with half the height of the seat’s suspension dampers and levers, increased performance and reduced cost.


Not all of the HSBO Forum was about impacts and shocks…

RAdm Thomas E Engevall (left), chief of staff, Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) addressed the current and future requirements for amphibious capabilities of the Swedish Armed Forces.  Much of what he presented resonated with most of the attending military as they face similar challenges and requirements, including installing extremely stabilised RWS, using AI, adapting containerised mission modules and adopting unmanned platforms as force multipliers that can operate as a component of future HSB and amphibious operations

Furthermore – throughout the week…

OXE Diesel was designed to cope with high torque outputs (e.g. forward to reverse) from modern power-heads even in the most dangerous of conditions.

Boat builders, engine innovators, hull designers, navigational experts and training and simulation system developers all shared their latest findings and developments with the BIO attendees.

Their presentations and displays quayside and in the exposition hall provided a broad panoramic view of what is available to HSB operators and armed and public order forces.

Yachtwerft Meyer, high-spec boat builders and inventors of the “Meyer Door” on RIBS that easily allow crew members to pull an injured person onboard as well as deploy elements for special and MSAR operations.

Over the next several weeks, MSD Online will post follow up stories and interviews from the 2021 HSBO Forum.  Please check back on our website or get notifications from our LinkedIn page where we will post links and notifications to our website with new HSBO Forum editorial items.