The SuperOutrigger, Nathan Daniel’s Final Invention

Artist’s conception of a full-size passenger-carrying SuperOutrigger

In a footnote to last week’s blog post, I promised I would soon write about the SuperOutrigger, an oceangoing vessel that my father, Nathan I. Daniel, invented. Although some basic information about the SuperOutrigger is included in the tribute I wrote to my dad, I think it’s time to provide interested readers with further information.

My dad came up with the SuperOutrigger concept in the late 1970s as he pondered the question of why people wishing to travel from one island in Hawaii to another could not take a ferry over the relatively short distances involved (typically about 100 miles) but had to fly instead. He came to the conclusion that no existing vessel type could provide a ride that was fast and economical enough to compete with airplanes and travel smoothly enough in rough water to keep most passengers from getting seasick.

Dad had moved to Hawaii in 1974 after the death of my mother. Born in New York City in 1912, he had moved to New Jersey in 1941 and founded the Danelectro Corporation in 1947. By the time my mother passed away (five years after the closure of Danelectro), he was ready to leave the Northeast for warmer climes. He found that coughs lingered long after his wintertime colds and wouldn’t disappear till spring. He had also grown impatient with the arthritis in his fingers, whose discomfort would disappear only with the return of warm weather. That’s what prompted him to move 5,000 miles to balmy, beautiful Hawaii, where he happily remained till his death in 1994.

Once in Hawaii, Dad found the lack of ferry service puzzling. He believed the beauty of Hawaii’s waters — verdant mountains steeply rising out of a deep-blue ocean — would turn an  interisland ferry voyage into a memorable experience. He had also read about the efforts of at least one member of Hawaii’s Legislature (Sen. John Hulten) to restore interisland ferry service.1

After developing the SuperOutrigger concept (more on this below), Dad had a small prototype built and tested in 1978-79. He earned a U.S. patent for the invention in 1981. For the next few years, he worked to find a way to get full-scale SuperOutriggers into regular passenger service. When, for personal reasons,2 I left the U.S. Foreign Service at the end of 1985, Dad and I agreed that I would move to Hawaii and work as his partner in a redoubled effort to get a SuperOutrigger into commercial service.

This partnership was a natural idea for us both. My dad was a genius. His most salient intellectual strength was his uncanny ability to frame a problem — particularly one that required a fundamental understanding of physics — in such a way that its solution would become evident. I knew Dad’s strengths, and I knew this was a million-dollar idea. (His first such ideas had made a success of his musical instrument amplifier and electric guitar business, Danelectro, which he had built purely on the strength of his innovativeness.) When he explained the SuperOutrigger concept to me, I knew it was both revolutionary and extremely promising.

The Concept
In the case of the SuperOutrigger, Dad framed the physics question like this: “What sort of a ship could combine three characteristics — high speed, low construction and operating costs, and great stability in rough water?” Until he came up with the SuperOutrigger concept, there was no such craft afloat anywhere on the planet. A few existing vessel types offered two of the three required qualities, but none offered them all. Most vessel types were too expensive, too slow, too unreliable, and/or they made passengers seasick.

Dad realized that what was needed was, as he put it, a “big little boat,” that is, a vessel whose “footprint” on the water was large, like that of a cruise ship, but whose structure and weight were much smaller, thereby making the craft fast and economical.

The SuperOutrigger concept grew out of Dad’s figuring out what it would take to build a “big little boat.”

Nathan Daniel next to the demonstration vessel docked in Honolulu Harbor. (Barrels on the deck are filled with water to simulate the full passenger load that would normally push the hull to its optimum level of submergence. Downtown Honolulu is in the background.)

First, he separated the vessel’s payload area from a fully enclosed hull whose only function was to provide flotation. Like a railroad train, the hull could be long and slender, yet still carry a heavy payload. It would ride low in the water. Both its length and its low freeboardwould give the vessel great stability against pitch.4

The payload area, i.e., the passenger cabin, would be mounted high above the water on a triangular truss (a geometrically strong yet economically built configuration) whose bottom-most element would be the hull itself. Waves would lap over the top of the hull but pass through the truss without pounding against the passenger cabin, held high above.

The SuperOutrigger would also need stability against tipping over sideways or rolling from side to side in heavy seas. That function would be provided by a smaller outrigger hull mounted a good distance to the side (“abeam”)of the main hull.

My Contributions
My dad was an idea person. Patience with the sort of detail work that would be needed to market his concept was not his strength. He was not the sort of man who patiently suffered foolish suggestions (and we encountered more than a few). The work we needed to do was essentially public relations — getting to know people who could be helpful, creating materials that described the project, doggedly following up leads of every kind. These were contributions I could make.

When I began work on the project, one of the first tasks I set myself was to learn as much as possible about theoretically competing vessel types, most notably catamarans, hydrofoils and hovercraft. When I went to the library to begin research I found almost everything I needed in one authoritative, encyclopedic volume, Jane’s High-Speed Marine Craft and Air Cushion Vehicles,an annual publication. The edition I found was a couple of years old. So I called the publisher’s U.S. agent in Boston to order the latest edition and also to ask what the deadline was for submitting information to the editor, Robert L. Trillo, in England, for the next edition. I was told I might meet the deadline if I sent Trillo our information promptly. Which I did.

Jane’s 1988 edition. (I didn’t take a photo of the 1987 edition because our cockatiel, Birdzilla, chewed up the edge of the dust jacket.)

Several months later, the new 1987 edition of Jane’s arrived in the mail and, to our immense gratification, it included a SuperOutrigger entry based on the information I had sent Trillo. Even more gratifying was a discussion of our concept in Trillo’s Foreword to the book:

During the autumn of 1986 Nathan Daniel’s SuperOutrigger demonstration craft, an asymmetrical form of wave-piercer, undertook further demonstrations in Hawaii. This far from orthodox concept, although based on one of the world’s oldest forms of vessel, the proa, is finding difficulty in being taken up for development in shipping circles. One must remember, however, that it took many years before a company was bold enough to proceed with building the first high-speed catamaran ferry, although it had been technically feasible for a long time. Now there are some 168 in service or on order. [Emphasis added] The inertia of conservatism takes a lot of shifting and progress occurs only when all the right ingredients are in place at the same time; people with vision, a market, money, management, technology, etc. … It is also interesting to reflect that most of the developments in advanced marine craft have not come from the marine world; Sir Christopher Cockerell’s [inventor of the hovercraft] early career was in electronics, Baron von Schertel’s [inventor of the hydrofoil] was in aeronautical engineering and Nathan Daniel was also in electronics. … [I]t is often “outsiders” that break in to bring about progress. [Emphasis added]

Dad and I worked to find an investor or vessel operator that saw the SuperOutrigger’s potential. I developed a detailed business plan for highly profitable passenger-only service between Honolulu and both Maui and Kauai (each about 100 miles distant), each leg of which would take about three hours for half the price of airfare.

SuperOutrigger demonstration craft, with Nathan Daniel (white shirt) at the controls, in Honolulu Harbor. Because the craft is unloaded, the main hull is floating higher than it would in a fully loaded situation.

We also explored using SuperOutriggers as interisland car-and-passenger ferries as well as passenger-only craft to be used for commuter service between downtown Honolulu and suburban communities in both East and West Oahu. In addition, we looked for operators in other parts of the country who might be interested in the vessel. Unfortunately, the response we usually received was, in effect, What a great vessel! But before we invest in one, or put one into operation here (i.e., in any location outside Hawaii), we’d like to see a SuperOutrigger operating successfully and profitably somewhere else. Basically, we might like to invest in the second, but not the first, commercial SuperOutrigger.

Dad and I also sought to interest organizations that might be able to use SuperOutriggers in a range of other applications, such as crew/work boats in offshore oil fields and low-cost helicopter platforms for search-and-rescue operations distant from shore. Also as fishing boats and pleasure craft. These efforts too bore no fruit.

Once it was clear that our various efforts to commercialize the vessel concept were coming to naught, I sought work in public relations, a field that gave rise to my current happy career as a freelance business writer and editor.

More Details About the Vessel Concept
Now that I’ve come to the end of the story about how my dad and I collaborated on an effort to commercialize the SuperOutrigger, what follows — for readers who’d like more information about the concept behind the vessel — are details excerpted from the business plan I wrote in 1987:

The SuperOutrigger is a new type of ship with three key characteristics never before combined in a single vessel: economy, speed and stability in heavy seas. It is also a model of simplicity, both to build and to operate. It employs no costly, trouble-prone high-tech equipment.7

The editor of Jane’s High-Speed Marine Craft, Robert L. Trillo, has made an extensive study of the SuperOutrigger. His conclusion: “There is no other craft type offering this combination of vital characteristics ….”

Bow of demonstration vessel’s main hull cutting through the water.

The SuperOutrigger was conceived as the solution to the problem of interisland ocean transportation in Hawaii. When the vessel’s inventor, Nathan I. Daniel, first moved to Hawaii in 1974, he was surprised to find that interisland travelers had no alternative to flying. He discovered the problem was that there was simply no existing vessel, of either conventional or exotic design, that could do the job. Other boats were too expensive, too slow, too unreliable and/or they made people seasick in the rough interisland channels. What was needed was a vessel small in terms of materials and cost, yet large in relation to the waves and thus comparable in stability to big passenger liners.

After weighing different approaches, Daniel came up with the SuperOutrigger concept. In 1978-79 Makai Ocean Engineering built and tested a 30-foot prototype for him. The tests showed a very sea-kindlyvessel that was at the same time fast, efficient and cheap to build.

SuperOutrigger prototype undergoing tests off Oahu’s Windward Coast.
Nathan Daniel is at the bow. (I think this photo, although it is in black and white, beautifully showcases the striking interplay of Hawaii’s land- and seascapes that my dad believed would turn an interisland ferry voyage into a memorable experience.) 

Patent Protection
Daniel received his U.S. patent on the SuperOutrigger in 1981. In 1984 he received a second patent on a variation of the concept. The vessels are now also patented in 11 other countries.9

Jane’s Editor Calls SuperOutrigger World’s Best Fast Boat
Robert L. Trillo, editor of Jane’s High-Speed Marine Craft, visited Honolulu in September 1986 to see and ride a larger, 58-foot-long SuperOutrigger demonstration model, which Nathan Daniel had launched earlier that year.10 In addition to editing Jane’s, Trillo is also one of the world’s most distinguished consultants on high-speed vessels.11 In January 1987, he completed an 80-page technical and economic analysis of the SuperOutrigger. In his study, Trillo compared the SuperOutrigger with all other fast craft types and concluded, in essence, that our craft is the best high-speed vessel in existence.

Trillo says the SuperOutrigger “has a substantial economic advantage over current fast craft.” It permits “comfortable and economic operation in much rougher seas than possible with any craft types currently existing.” Trillo compares our vessel with “all existing fast craft types, e.g., monohull, catamaran, hydrofoil, hovercraft and SWATH12 craft” and concludes that the SuperOutrigger combines “simplicity, comfortable motion in waves, good economics, very shallow draught and [minimal] speed loss in waves. There is no other craft type offering this combination of vital characteristics….”

In the SuperOutrigger entries in the 1987 and 1988 editions of Jane’s, Trillo repeated much of what he wrote in his detailed analysis. Interestingly, in the Foreword to the 1987 volume, Trillo noted that SuperOutrigger inventor Daniel, like Sir Christopher Cockerell and Baron Hans von Schertel, the inventors of the hovercraft and the hydrofoil, came from outside the traditional marine world. The juxtaposition of the three men in the Jane’s Foreword strongly suggests that Trillo considers the SuperOutrigger as great an advance in the field as those two earlier innovative craft.

How It Works
As the illustrations show, the SuperOutrigger consists of a very long, slender cylindrical main hull, a cabin supported and centered high above the main hull by a triangular truss, and an outrigger hull placed far to one side of the main hull.

Bow of demonstration vessel’s stabilizing outrigger hull cutting through the water.

Roll (i.e., lateral rocking, a major cause of seasickness) is reduced to negligible proportions by the great distance between the main hull and the outrigger (100 feet in the proposed first commercial SuperOutrigger). This is three times as far as is common in oceangoing catamarans. Such a wide span can be achieved because the outrigger hull is much smaller than the main hull. This greatly diminishes the racking13 forces on the connecting structure and permits a much greater overall beam.Comparable beam is simply not practical between the two equal hulls of a catamaran because the connecting structure would have to be far too robust and heavy.

The main hull’s great length, 300 feet in the proposed first commercial SuperOutrigger, is one of two major factors in reducing pitch.

The second factor in pitch reduction is that the hulls sit low in the water and thus have very low freeboard.The main hull will normally be about two-thirds immersed; the outrigger will be half immersed. As waves lap against the small remaining above-water portion of the closed cylindrical hulls, displacement increases at a sharply decreasing rate as the water approaches the top. Once a wave washes over any portion of the hull, it can create no further displacement — hence no additional upward thrust — whether the crest passes an inch or several feet over the top.

The tests done by Makai Ocean Engineering showed that neither pitch nor roll in a 320-foot-long proposed first commercial SuperOutrigger would be greater than five degrees in sea state 6 (13-foot significant wave height). Jane’s editor Trillo, who has also analyzed Hawaii’s sea conditions, concludes that “waves of up to five meters [over 16 feet] could be handled comfortably by 300-foot SuperOutriggers.”

The extraordinarily long, slender hulls (the proposed first commercial SuperOutrigger has a main hull length-to-beam ratio of 60:1)14 are also extremely efficient to push through the water. They generate very little wave-making resistance and a correspondingly low wake. In fact, the main hull generates only half the wave-making resistance and approximately 10 percent less frictional resistance than two parallel catamaran hulls of the same diameter but half the length.

Jane’s editor Trillo concludes that the SuperOutrigger “has a substantial advantage over current fast craft.” He calculates that at a speed of 30 knots (35 mph), the SuperOutrigger’s power requirements “in relation to the product of payload and speed (the revenue-earning work capacity of the craft)” of 3.49 shaft horsepower per payload-ton-knot are “less than those of current competitive craft types.”

Because the SuperOutrigger is such a simple craft, it is also cheap to build compared with other vessel types. Unlike conventional ships, the compound curves of whose hulls demand complex fabrication of metal, the SuperOutrigger’s simple, cylindrical hulls can be easily, quickly and inexpensively fabricated. And because it does not rely on dynamic support, computers, movable control planes or other high-tech devices, it is both less expensive and more reliable than SWATHs, hydrofoils, hovercraft and other “exotic” craft types.

Beyond its unique combination of stability in waves, speed, economy, simplicity, reliability and low wake, the SuperOutrigger offers one more critical advantage over other vessel types: safety. The SuperOutrigger is “supersafe” thanks to a number of features. The most notable of these is the use of backup, foam-filled flotation chambers, one just beneath the cabin floor and the other above the outrigger hull, that will keep the vessel afloat even if one or both hulls were to be entirely ripped open and flooded — as a result, for instance, of running over a reef.

And that, if you are still reading, is pretty much the full SuperOutrigger story.


  1. Ferries had been the exclusive means of interisland passenger transportation until, by 1947, competition from air travel drove them out of business.
  2. I had separated from my first wife, and my employer, the U.S. Information Agency, wanted to send me abroad again. I didn’t want to put an ocean between me and my two kids.
  3. Freeboard refers to the vertical distance between the waterline and the top of a hull.
  4. Pitch is the slow up-and-down rocking of a ship as its bow rides over big waves.
  5. Beam — the nautical term for a vessel’s width.
  6. Jane’s High-Speed Marine Craft is one of a host of authoritative defense- and transportation-related publications, of which the best-known is the oft-cited Jane’s Fighting Ships.
  7. When I wrote this plan, computers were not as reliable as they are today. They crashed often enough to inspire a hilarious fictitious message from Henry Ford to Bill Gates — “If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars [that] for no reason whatsoever … would crash twice a day.”
  8. Sea-kindliness refers to a vessel’s smooth ride in rough water.
  9. Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, UK.
  10. He supervised the construction of the hulls in his driveway.
  11. I discovered Trillo’s other job, high-speed vessel consultant, in a list of such consultants published in the earlier edition of Jane’s I had found in the library. In correspondence with us, we learned that Trillo would be attending a conference in San Diego. We arranged for him to fly from there to Honolulu to see the SuperOutrigger for himself.
  12. SWATH stands for Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull. This is a semi-submerged catamaran that relies on computer-controlled adjustment of wing-like fins and the ballast in its twin semi-submerged hulls to achieve great stability in heavy seas. At the time this business plan was written, most SWATHs were being used for scientific research, as they were too slow and uneconomical for passenger service.
  13. Racking force — the twisting force that stresses the structure connecting two hulls that are rocking not in sync, but independently, as a result of a vessel’s taking an oblique (rather than head-on) path through waves.
  14. The 60:1 length-to-beam ratio is comparable to the length-to-diameter ratio of a sewing needle. It generates minimal friction as it moves though the water.
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.