Articles & Case Studies

ARC-Boats delivers real benefits for the Environment Agency

Posted: Tuesday 30th September 2014

The ARC-Boat, developed by HR Wallingford, is a remote controlled boat used to deploy river, estuary and reservoir survey technology. Two-years after its introduction, we look how it has been delivering value for the UK Environment Agency.

Meeting the needs of end-users

International environmental hydraulics specialist HR Wallingford worked in partnership with the Environment Agency to develop the ARC-Boat, a remote controlled boat that is used to collect river, reservoir and estuarine data such as flow rates, depth and suspended sediment concentrations. The boat is in use internationally, and users include regulatory bodies such as the Water Survey of Canada and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand, as well as the UK Environment Agency.

HR Wallingford started developing the ARC-Boat in 2011 when the Environment Agency asked them to design a boat that would improve on the performance, reliability and ease of use of previous craft used. The two organisations worked together to ensure the boat met the needs of the end-users.

The ARC-Boat’s V-shaped hull was designed by naval architects to give optimal manoeuvrability and minimal air entrainment, ensuring that the data collected is of the highest quality. It can be equipped with GPS, and features a ‘moon-pool’, a sealed instrument holder with an open base, that can be adapted to carry a variety of instrumentation including Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), sub-bottom profilers and echo sounders. The boat also has the potential to carry multi-parameter probe systems, further broadening its potential application.

The operational boat is just under 2 m in length, but the bow can be quickly detached from the main hull to reduce the length to 1.2 m. This allows the boat to be transported in two parts, and as a result it will fit in to an average sized car, eliminating the need for trailers or specialist vehicles.

There are grab handles fitted to the upper deck of the boat that allow it to be safely deployed from the most difficult locations and the independently controlled propellers and twin rudders deliver excellent manoeuvrability even in the roughest conditions. The boat employs an industry standard remote control with a range of up to 200 m and Bluetooth communications for data transmission to an onshore laptop.

Significant operational benefits

The ARC-Boat was launched in 2012 after rigorous testing which included running it at the national centre for white water rafting in Bala, north Wales. The Environment Agency placed an initial order for 17 and the ARC-Boat was subsequently awarded an Environment Agency Project Excellence Award. As the ARC-Boats prove their value in operation, the Environment Agency’s fleet continues to grow, and they now have at least one boat in use by every area office in England and Wales.

“The ARC-Boat has delivered real operational efficiencies for us,” explains Nick Everard, technical adviser in the Environment Agency’s hydrometry and telemetry team. “It’s extremely easy to set up and operate, so we can now survey more sites in less time. Before the ARC-Boat was available, it would take four or five people a full day to survey just one site. Now it’s possible for two people to survey up to six sites in a day.”

As the boat can be operated by a single user, once it is in the water it is feasible for one person to complete a survey, freeing the second person to carry out additional work at the same site. As a result productivity can be increased up to ten-fold at locations where manned boats and large teams were previously needed. Used from the safety of the river bank, the ARC-Boat has helped improve safety for Environment Agency personnel, eliminating the need for them to go on to the river or access bridges or other potentially hazardous locations.

The ARC-Boat has also help to achieve significant cost savings for the Environment Agency. As it can be deployed almost anywhere on the river, survey personnel can now choose the site which will provide the best data rather than being limited to areas where they can gain easy access or appropriate infrastructure is in place. This ease of deployment has removed the need to invest in or maintain costly cableway systems – fixed structures where flow survey equipment can be pulled across a river to collect calibration data for flow gauging stations.

“Unlike the ARC-Boat, cableways are positioned at fixed locations,” explains Nick. Cableways are relatively expensive to build and maintain. “A large cableway installation would perhaps cost between £50,000 and £100,000, and would need ongoing maintenance. The ARC-Boat has allowed us to shelve plans for cableway system upgrades and keep flow monitoring stations in operation where cableways have had to be removed.

“With the ARC-Boat, we have been able to improve operational safety and efficiency, and save money. It has been a real success story for us.”

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