Cognitive Computing Authors: Pat Romanski, Yeshim Deniz, Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan

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Comparison of Differences between Surface Drives on the Market

There are many makes of surface drives currently available in the marine market. Though all use surface piercing propellers as their means of propulsion, all drives are not created equal, nor do they provide the same levels of performance.

Of the manufacturers, France Helices and Arneson are the two largest in terms of market share. These two manufacturers represent a combined market share of around 80%.

There are two basic types of drives available in the market: Fixed shaft drives, and Articulated (variable trim) drives. The chart below offers a comparison between the different drives, cost excluded. Cheap knock off drives, manufactured primarily in China, Brazil, or other locations, are excluded from this list.

Below the chart is a discussion about why each category matters.

Comparison Table 0713



Trim is, perhaps, the most important aspect of a surface drive. The ability to control trim is what gives vessels equipped with surface drives the ability to operate in reverse, operate in shallow draft situations, plane quicker, maintain bow angle, and operate in rough seas. Trim adjustments can also reduce rooster tail, and minimize the impact of vertical acceleration (slamming). Fixed trim drives were originally designed for racing, with propellers chosen and switched, depending on conditions. Though they can often achieve high speeds, they are unsuited for and limited in  real-world applications, such as one might find in military or commercial use.



A primary benefit of a surface drive is the lack of a rudder that increases drag. Furthermore, the higher levels of maneuverability required in military situations can only be achievedby immediately directing the thrust in the direction required. Any surface drive that uses a rudder, therefore, will be slower and less maneuverable than those without. Note: Many drives also use a cowling that is supposed to direct thrust into the prop stream or to direct the cavitation. France Helices has found, through tunnel testing (scientific proof) that cowlings do nothing more than increase drag, negating any marginal benefits they may achieve.


Emergency Steering:

France Helices is the only manufacturer that includes a third hydraulic pump as standard. This gives a minimum of three levels of redundancy in steering, at negligible cost.


Pre-wired Installation:

All France Helices SDS units are shipped pre-wired, greatly reducing the complexity of installation, the time of installation, and the cost.


Propeller Manufacturer:

On the list above, there is only one maker that is also a propeller maker: France Helices. Indeed, we are often asked to manufacture propellers for other brands of surface drives, other than our own.


Quite simply, leaving manufacturing quality out of the equation, the other manufacturers are trying to sell surface drives like they are out of a catalogue, using a list of standard surface piercing propellers. Even manufacturers that have acquired propeller companies still do this practice.

Propeller design is a distinct science and specialization, apart from traditional marine engineering or naval architecture. High performance vessels MUST have the propellers designed to achieve that level of performance. This cannot be accomplished by choosing from a list. This is why many complaints against surface drives occur: Primarily due to expensive commissioning nightmares resulting from mismatched propellers. The situation is even worse with the knock off manufacturers. Cheap price does not necessarily yield quality or performance. These knock offs are made with little regard to engineering or know how.

We encounter this situation frequently, usually after desperate calls from the shipyard or owner. Indeed, at a recent event in China, we were approached about a knock off that did not perform. Sure, it looked like SDS. It was copied nearly exactly. However, they tried to sell it with a propeller that was copied from a different drive / boat. The owners still couldn’t figure out why the drive did not work.


Shock Absorbers:

France Helices is the only surface drive manufactured with shock absorbers. These are critical in vessel handling and in minimizing vibration. The laws of physics over-ride wishes and dreams.


Electronic Steering:

The SDS can be controlled by either Hydraulic or Electronic steering, integrating with all major control systems. We also offer automated trim control.


Tunnel Tested:

The France Helices SDS is the only surface drive on the market that has had all drive and propeller designs tested in a cavitation tunnel. Why don’t all makers use this procedure? Two reasons. The first is cost, since tunnel testing is extremely expensive (We have spent over 1 million Euros tunnel testing in the last five years. Secondly, since the other makers are not propeller makers, the ability to understand the value of the test data is minimized.


Major Class Type Approval:

France Helices’ products are all classed ABS, BV, and Lloyds. In fact, with propellers, in many cases, we are the only maker that CAN be classed, due to the tunnel test requirements.


Naval Architecture:

When designing vessels for high performance, one MUST be able to relate hull to power to gearbox to drive to environment. This is why we have naval architects on staff. This is why we own MDS, our design house. This sets France Helices apart from all of the rest.


Warranty of Performance:

All of the makers above warranty their drives against manufacturing defects, usually for at least one year or more, as does France Helices. However, given France Helices’ technical, naval architecture, and engineering capabilities, these factors are what enable us to warranty vessel speed and performance. If we are given correct information, we guarantee vessel speed. No other manufacturer makes this claim, or can back up their claims with data.






Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By John Miele

I am currently Sales and Marketing Manager, Asia / Pacific for France Helices. Created in 1977 by Paul BEZZI, FRANCE HELICES is today an international company. French marine propulsion leader, FRANCE HELICES is also one of the international leaders. Research and development are a very important part of FRANCE HELICES program, the CAD's department is equipped with the latest computer technology, using most up to date programs. Our engineers and technicians determine from the customers specifications and designs, the type of propulsion system to suit the boat's application. They can also advise on the ideal choice of power and optimum gearbox ratio to obtain the maximum thrust. There are many FRANCE HELICES' inovations and patents such as Surface Drive System (SDS) which enable boats to obtain very high speed with excellent handling capabilities and high quality Controllable Pitch Propeller systems (CPP) for both professional use and pleasure application. The constant research using cavitation tunnel testing, guarantees high efficient propeller blade shape for our customers. More than 20 000 propellers per year are manufactured by FRANCE HELICES workshops. In all sizes from small sailing boats to large fishing vessels to navy boats or mega yachts. The FRANCE HELICES workshops are equipped with modern foundries capable of casting propellers up to 3.5 tons in NiBrAl. They are also equipped with CNC milling machines and CNC lathe machines. FRANCE HELICES has four sites which cover the complete range of production. The development of FRANCE HELICES, supported by shareholders places our company as a leader in the international market and insures a constant development, worldwide, in order to be close to the end user.

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