What goes into building our boats.
Starting with a traditional Carolina sportfish look, Lightning Yachts uses modern construction methods and materials to create the most advanced hulls on the market today. By using these techniques, the boats are not only lighter but stronger as well and have the added benefit of tremendously increased longevity with materials impervious to water. A few of these materials and methods are:
Lightning Yachts uses Endurance Technologies advanced epoxy resin systems. These resins and hardeners are custom blended for each specific application. We have resins for high temperatures like black windshields, fuel and ethanol impervious resins for integral tankage, NSH certified resins for integral potable drinking water tanks and a wide range of resin/hardener combinations we use to fit the task at hand like long open time formulations for large vacuum bagging and infusion. All of the resins we use are also the highest elongation available which means they can flex more than brittle quick cure resins. This allows us to take advantage of high performance fibers like Kevlar.
This cloth, while about four times as expensive as the “regular” cloth used by most builders, takes advantage of the high-elongation epoxy resins’ ability to flex and absorb impacts and stress loading without catastrophic damage. While not technically “bulletproof” because it’s in a resin matrix, the puncture resistance is roughly four times greater than e-glass. At an average additional cost of $5K for a 60’ hull to add the Kevlar, the peace of mind knowing you’re four times less likely to put a hole in the hull from the inevitable debris impact is very comforting! We’ve received numerous thank you calls from owners and captains after they’ve accidentally hit objects like logs and other floaters!
We only use the highest quality biaxial stitched fiberglass fabrics. Depending on application we use different weaves to keep the fiber strands oriented in the right direction to do what they’re supposed to and not wasted. We also don’t use chopped strand fibers (same as chopper guns spit out in cheaper molded boats). CSM was developed for polyester resin systems and are a complete waste when using epoxy. On our average glass job, by omitting the CSM we can double up on the structural fabric for the same weight and thickness and create a panel twice as strong at the same time!
This structural core material is used in an increasing number of places as we find and prove new ways to use it. It comes in a wide range of densities, thicknesses and can be perforated (for vacuum bagging), scored or heat formed for complex shapes and also in high temp versions for hot locations. It is a true closed cell foam and can never absorb water, unlike the cheap two-part expanding foams common in production boats. We use it for things like bulkheads, hull sides, cabins, boxes and even in some cases entire hulls! When we started using it, virtually no one in the marine world even heard of it but now many mainstream builders have followed our lead and do as well. Major aircraft manufacturers have used it for even longer (guess where we found out about it 🙂 ) and many Boeing and Airbus fuselages and interiors are completely foam cored!
We’ve found this material to be the best currently available for decking core, every boat we’ve built has had more and more decks built with it till now all decks are honeycomb. As with any core we use, it’s main benefit is being light weight but the honeycomb has superior compression strength and excellent low frequency sound deadening properties that make for a much quieter boat overall.
Sometimes you just have to be tough! Lightweight cores are well and good but there are places you need more. Things like cleats, chair bases and tower legs have tremendous loads at times so we use these high density cores in those locations so things stay put. On really severe places we even bury in backing plates of aluminum sandwiched in the high density foam, then we drill and tap to mount the part.
Tricell (Tripanel) honeycomb is an epoxy-impregnated honeycomb panel we use for virtually all of our interior parts. It’s lightweight, easy to score and bend and simple to machine and veneer. We were the first to use this material for boat interiors and have become very proficient in creating quite complex cabinetry that looks old world but weighs a fraction of solid wood.
Again following the aerospace industry (mainly Gulfstream), we were the first to incorporate honeycomb backed panels using thin layers of granite, marble, quartz and solid surfaces fused to the core to make a lightweight top of floor for 1/4 or 1/5 the weight of traditional tops. Whatever your selection of materials, we can have it sliced and made into a lightweight panel indistinguishable from solid.
All of our new boats are now designed on a state of the art CAD system where we can tailor a hull to a customer’s specific needs. We take things into account like where you’ll fish (typical sea conditions), what kind of fishing and expected performance. Once we finalize a hull shape we use another CAD system to design and verify structural loading that simulates dynamic sea conditions, essentially test running before the first plank is even laid! After the hull design is done we then use yet another CAD software package to figure out where everything is going to go like engines, generators, gyroscopes, fuel tankage, etc. We’re constantly flipping these drawings back and forth with the simulation software to make sure she’s going to perform as designed and there are no unpleasant surprises on splash day! Only after everyone is satisfied with the package does the first physical work begin and that’s having a CNC jig cut to build the hull on.
The art of vacuum bagging (yes it is an art to do it well!) is one of the best ways to build a lightweight structure with a controlled amount of resin and perfect compaction (no nasty voids or air bubbles!). When glassing parts, we regularly achieve 60/40 fabric/resin content which is just about as good as it gets. This means we don’t waste resin where it’s not needed and the panel is compacted and as strong as it can be. We also use vacuum bagging to “torture” parts into complex shapes they normally wouldn’t bend into easily. With vacuum bagging we can make complex curves and corners with very little extra fuss.