A rendering of the Navatek Sea Blade hull for small craft that must operate quickly in rough water. Most of the engineering effort has gone into the detailed design of the submerged portion of the hull. Credit: Courtesy of Navatek

An advanced ship design company has been awarded an $8 million contract from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research to design safer hulls and hybrid-electric propulsion systems for small but speedy boats known as planing craft.

The company also expects to add 28 jobs over the next year to its current 22 in Portland, according to Navatek spokeswoman Maggie Craig. She said the project aims to reduce injuries by those using the boats, including Navy SEALs.

“High-speed craft rely on highly experienced human operators for the best performance,” said Dave Kring, Navatek’s vice president of science and technology. “Even then, passengers often experience severe, injury-inducing rides that cannot be countered through classical control methods.”

He said advances, including artificial intelligence techniques, will lead to new ways to control small craft. The improvements are expected to help human operators and even allow for unmanned operation of small boats.

Craig said the three-year contract will run until 2022. Work on the contract started April 12, 2019.

Front Street Shipyard of Belfast is already constructing a 36-foot planing craft for the project.

The University of Maine in Orono, also a partner, will research new materials for hulls. It also will make hull molds on new 3D printer that was announced by the university with great fanfare in May.

Navatek, which is based in Hawaii, has offices in Portland and Orono, as well as South Kingston, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C.

Kring said Front Street will build the Navatek hull designs and collaborate on at-sea testing.

The new advanced composite hulls will improve performance and reduce noise, he said.

“The science and technology advances from this research will benefit all of the Navy’s small craft programs,” he said. “Along with new hybrid-electric propulsion development, this will enable special operators to perform critical new missions.”

Navatek plans to hold a press event in Portland on Aug. 6 to announce work on the project with speakers including Sen. Susan Collins, Navatek owner and CEO Martin Kao and Front Street owner JB Turner.