By Jeff Hemmel
The U.S. Coast Guard Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety has confirmed it will be presenting BRP with its Boating Safety Award for the braking component of the company’s new iBr (Intelligent Brake And Reverse) system.
Scheduled to be presented at the forthcoming Miami Boat Show, the award will be given to BRP for “its commitment to improving boating safety through the introduction of an industry-first electronically controlled hand-braking system” on two of the company’s 2009 models.
Marketing Or Technology?
While some industry observers will note that braking by way of the reverse bucket is nothing new, Sea-Doo’s attempt to control that function via computer is certainly newsworthy. Pull the reverse on a normal PWC at cruising speeds and the results are unpredictable at best. Typically the bow dives suddenly, creating a wall of water that quickly soaks driver and passenger. In the worse-case scenario, that sudden halt of forward motion could even launch the driver over the bow. Even if you could control the craft, Coast Guard officials argue that dropping the bucket is next to impossible at higher speeds.
“You can’t pull the reverse bucket at 50 mph,” contended Phil Cappel, chief of the Recreational Boating Product Assurance Branch for the USCG. “This thing is done through hydraulics. It’s much more sophisticated than that.”
How sophisticated? Here’s the Cliff Notes version. First, an onboard computer — iControl — is factored into the mix. Pull the reverse lever, and the first thing that onboard brain does is momentarily limit the force of water funneling through the pump. This allows the reverse gate to drop rapidly into position without excessive force. Once fully deployed, that same computer brain then resumes the flow of water through the pump, where it is then carefully directed through outlets in the reverse gate. Thrust is redirected forward, and the craft slows rapidly in the water.
Yes, you can still get wet if you hammer the lever at full speed. The amount of force through the pump, however, is controlled by the position of the reverse lever. Just like a driver wouldn’t slam on his brakes full force in a car, Sea-Doo operators learn to feather the reverse lever, applying it quickly to rapidly slow the craft, then releasing some of the pressure before the nose dives and the soaking begins. Most early testers have found it to be a system that is very intuitive to learn, and quite effective in operation.
“They actually had the setup with the cones that the Society of Automobile Engineers developed for testing off-throttle steering,” noted Cappel of the Coasties test of the system. “With the brake, you didn’t even get into the course. You avoided the whole thing by about 50 feet; you never even got up to the first buoy. If you applied the brakes and turned, it was remarkable.”
Sea-Doo’s newly introduced suspension also was considered key to the system. “If you didn’t have something to level you off, it might throw you out over the handlebars,” suggested Cappel.
A Brake From The Past?
So yes, the system is more than marketing hype. But as to current industry rumors — that since the system is a safety advancement, Sea-Doo will be forced to now add the system to any new model and be compelled to share the technology with its competition lest they open themselves up to a liability issue — Cappel says no on both fronts.
“That’s not true, but that’s always the risk the manufacturer takes,” said Cappel. “It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. They (BRP) are planning to introduce it onto the other models, but they have to start somewhere; they can’t just do the whole line at once.
“That was the Honda case (Editor’s note: Geier et al v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., et al, 1999). Where Honda had the technology for air bags, but was sued for not having them on a vehicle. Just because you have the capability, doesn’t mean you have to do it.”
Already, however, it appears others might potentially profit from the positive buzz Sea-Doo has received. Currently, Florida-based PWC Industries is shopping a patent dealing with a hand-actuated braking system for PWC. In fact, a member of Cappel’s staff was actually in Florida testing the product at the time of this interview. That system uses a mechanical lever-cable combo to deploy twin flaps mounted to a PWC transom.
Though Cappel notes the system is not nearly as sophisticated as the Sea-Doo “intelligent brake,” clearly the Coast Guard is growing increasingly interested in the possibilities.
“I think the pressure is definitely on the other manufacturers,” acknowledged Cappel. “We’re trying to help that out by giving BRP this award.
“We’re basically saying, ‘Come on guys, these people did it. You can too.’”