Do these unique drive sys­tems of­fer the ap­peal they once had?


The first boat­builders in­stalling pod-drives in the early to mid2000s weren’t putting them on sport-fish boats. The first Amer­i­can com­pany to in­stall the Volvo Penta In­board Per­for­mance Sys­tem was ac­tu­ally Tiara. I had the op­por­tu­nity to run sev­eral dif­fer­ent boats at Volvo’s test cen­ter in Gothen­burg, Swe­den, dur­ing the com­pany’s in­ter­na­tional press launch, and there is no doubt I was in­trigued by the sys­tem.

Pod-drives are not a new con­cept. I had seen mas­sive tug­boats us­ing a sim­i­lar pod-drive sys­tem for their tightquar­ters work, push­ing huge con­tainer ships into the wharf. But this was a first for the recre­ational seg­ment of the marine in­dus­try, and there was a lot of buzz and ex­cite­ment. The big­gest thing mar­keted to pro­mote the sys­tem was its ef­fi­ciency com­pared to a reg­u­lar shaft and prop sys­tem, as well as joy­stick ma­neu­ver­abil­ity. Pods op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently of one an­other to pro­vide vec­tored thrust in any di­rec­tion, which makes the ves­sel in­cred­i­bly ma­neu­ver­able.

Af­ter the tests in Swe­den, I then did a leg of the trip on that first Tiara Volvo demo boat, head­ing west in the New York State Canal from the Hud­son River to the Great Lakes. At that time, the com­pany boat was a 38-foot ex­press cruiser with a pair of Volvo D6 370 hp diesels matched to IPS 500 se­ries drives.

The New York State Canal is just one of the many great scenic boat trips North Amer­ica has to of­fer, and the nu­mer­ous locks cre­ate a lot of tight-quar­ters ma­neu­ver­ing. The pod-drives gave us the abil­ity to man­age the nar­row locks and small mari­nas along that route with­out a bow thruster.


Ea­ger to fish with them, I was along with Ed Szi­lagyi, then Volvo’s boat­builder in­stal­la­tion liaison and com­pany cap­tain, on that same Tiara demo. The boat had a set of out­rig­gers, and fish­ing out of Beau­fort, North Carolina, we caught the first bill­fish ever with an IPS drive sys­tem. We raised sev­eral white marlin, and caught a cou­ple for our ju­nior an­glers that were fish­ing with us for the day. Prior to head­ing out with the boat, there was a lot of talk on the dock about whether the new drives would raise fish or scare them away.

Our white marlin came in hot on the teasers we fished up close to the boat.

As we have seen many times with sail­fish, I am cer­tain one of the marlin swam along with us be­tween the teaser and the boat, look­ing at the wheels and not at the bait we had moved into po­si­tion to switch him over to. Af­ter that, it wasn’t up for dis­cus­sion any longer: The marlin didn’t mind the pods at all. Ob­vi­ously, you have run over fish to get a bite, but we proved that pod-drives were no fear­some thing.

Within a year or two, Paul Spencer built a 43-foot ex­press with IPS drives that we fished in a tour­na­ment. That boat was an ag­ile-han­dling rig for sure. How­ever, I think the best ap­pli­ca­tion I have run to date was a 39-foot SeaVee with pod-drives. The 390 with Volvo 600 IPS drives was ab­so­lutely one of the most fun and out­ra­geous-per­form­ing boats I have ever driven.

I had SeaVee owner Ariel Pared with me when we pulled away from the dock side­ways, crab­bing away briskly from our side-to moor. Once off­shore, I spun the boat in a com­plete 360-de­gree ro­ta­tion

on its own axis in less than 14 sec­onds.

We backed around and spun both ways with speed I have only seen once or twice be­fore. I sim­u­lated back­ing through a slalom course in re­verse, mov­ing faster than any an­gler could ever gain line. The boat never missed a beat, much to Pared’s ela­tion. SeaVee no longer builds in­board boats, but that was a neat one.


Along with Volvo, who now makes the IPS drives from 260 to 1,000 hp, Cum­mins and MerCruiser part­nered to join the fray with their Zeus pod-drive sys­tem, com­plete with SmartCraft mon­i­tor­ing and sys­tem man­age­ment that in­te­grates the ves­sel’s elec­tron­ics, propul­sion and on­board sys­tems. The Zeus sys­tem pro­pel­lers are on the back of the pods, as op­posed to the Volvo IPS, which are on the front. Cater­pil­lar also of­fers a pod con­fig­u­ra­tion with its CAT Three60 Pod 650, which is es­sen­tially a pod-drive mar­ried to a C8.7 en­gine.

Al­though there are claims of 30 per­cent ef­fi­ciency gains in cruise and top-end speed as well as fuel sav­ings, the re­sults vary from boat to boat when com­pared to straight shaft and prop con­fig­u­ra­tions. The sport-fish­ing world has seen builders such as Spencer and Win­ter Custom Yachts in­tro­duce sev­eral pod boats.

While there has not been a flood of ac­cep­tance in the sport-fish­ing mar­ket for pod-drives, the cruis­ing mar­ket has seen a larger num­ber of own­ers mak­ing the tran­si­tion away from con­ven­tional shaft-and-wheel boats. There are many fac­tors that go into all of this, not the least of which are ser­vice and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to re­pair the sys­tems, parts avail­abil­ity and costs for pur­chase and main­te­nance. Like most ev­ery­thing, mak­ing the de­ci­sion to go con­ven­tional or pod is a per­sonal choice.

With its for­ward-fac­ing coun­ter­ro­tat­ing pro­pel­lers, Volvo’s IPS pod-drive is a unique sys­tem.

Be­cause they op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently, pod-drives can be con­trolled via joy­stick for su­perb ma­neu­ver­abil­ity.

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