Paul Zwaan, owner of Christchurch’s Shark Seats, a maker of suspension seats for boats, is making a splash at the 36th America’s Cup.
Shark Seats owner Paul Zwaan expects to double sales of its suspension boat seats following exposure at the America’s Cup.
The company has about 150 of its suspension seats installed on many of the Salthouse, Rayglass and Q-West vessels working at the famous yachting regatta.
This includes the camera boat, team chase boats, the boats carrying the course umpires and marshals, tour boasts, and Coastguard and the Police boats patrolling the Waitematā Harbour.
Many of these boats built for the cup will be donated to the New Zealand Coastguard when the race is over.
“With the increasing speeds of the America’s Cup yachts, chase boats have had to be entirely redesigned to keep up,” Zwaan said.
“Our hydraulic suspension seats absorb the enormous loads created by travelling at high speeds over choppy seas.”
Shark Seats has about 150 suspension seats on the camera boat, team chase boats, tour boats, the boats carrying the course umpires and marshals, and Coastguard and the Police boats patrolling the Waitematā Harbour.
One of Shark Seats’ biggest global competitors offered to provide the seats for free to Rayglass which had received lotteries funding for the new boats, but “the good old Kiwi company still chose us and paid for their seats”.
“We were too small to offer them for free,” Zwaan said.
“This cup has certainly taken us to a new level. As a result of the credibility this gives us we have also now started selling to navies and armies.”
He had just signed a contract with the Australian Army and had sold to the Indonesian Coastguard and Malaysian Coastguard.
Zwaan, an engineer and ex-research manager at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, has been designing bespoke parts for companies for 25 years. Shark Seats started with him being asked to design a seat for someone keen on boating.
A small player and a newcomer in an international market dominated by four main players, it had been exporting for a few years with customers in the Netherlands, Asia, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Zwaan expects to sell close to 2000 seats next year now the company had secured several navy contracts. Navies tended to buy hundreds at a time.
Shark Seats’ use of lighter weight moulded plastic rather than stainless steel made their seats lighter and more flexible and safer to use as well as a lot less expensive than the majors, he said.
He has invested $1 million in the technology to make them. Most of the components were designed, produced and assembled in New Zealand.“It’s important to realise it’s a safety product first and a comfort product second. It’s there to save you breaking your back, literally, breaking your back or injuring your knees.”
Competitors sold their seats for $6000 to $8000 a piece while Shark Seats prices were much lower, about $1000 to $2000.
“We’ve drastically reduced the cost for people. What’s really cool about it is that not only does it enable recreational boaties to protect their back, but actually navies are buying them which is a bit of a surprise to me. I thought navies were more interested in reputation and longevity in the market.
“But we’ve obviously, with the help of the America’s Cup, got that reputation now that they feel comfortable fitting them as well”.
“The credibility helps get contracts for more serious operators like Police and Coastguard, but the fact that these boats are being gifted to Coastguard puts us automatically into a default supplier of seats to the Coastguard in New Zealand. By far the majority of Coastguard boats will now have our seats in.”
That would help the company draw more Coastguard contracts, especially in Australia where there were many Coastguard organisations.
Hypro Marine, Lymington distribute Shark Seats in the UK.