Once reserved for military and special-forces craft, shock-absorbing seating is crossing over to the recreational market.

In For a Shock

Shock-mitigating seating equals comfort, safety and more time spent on the water.

My first experience with shock-absorbing seating was at an event in New York City well over a decade ago. Zodiac was debuting their CZ7, a 23-foot RIB that shares a hull with the builder’s line of professional craft used by Navy SEALs and the U.S. Coast Guard. After a brief on-the-docks presser at Chelsea Piers, we took to the water.

What followed was a blistering, 30-minute sortie on the Hudson River at speeds over 45 knots. As the captain executed hairpin turns at WOT, blasted through the wakes of ferries and looked to jettison his crew of journalists, I sat, unfazed, at the co-pilot jockey seat, then at one of a pair of saddle-like seats just aft. The CZ7’s Swedish seat manufacturer, Ullman Dynamics claims their line of semi-active, shock-mitigating seats absorbs 70 percent of the force associated with wave impact. While I cannot quantify that, I do recall feeling comfortable and secure no matter how the captain handled the RIB. Post-event, I expected to see shock-absorbing seating become de rigueur in the recreational industry, not just in the high-performance niche. But it’s taken some time to catch on.

As of late, the trend seems to be gaining some traction. High-end RIB outfit Technohull debuted their flagship 45-footer earlier this year with a quartet of air-spring-equipped, shock-absorbing seats built in-house and finished in buttery leather. My colleagues recently returned from the Pacific Northwest and two of the vessels they spent time on board—the Life Proof 31 and the Tactical T40—featured custom suspension seating from Shockwave. And perhaps today’s biggest market, large center consoles, is starting to incorporate suspension seating, with South Florida’s Intrepid and Bahama Boatworks offering Shockwave on their option sheets.

Military and special operations craft have been the focus of Shockwave’s business for decades. “That market has been our bread and butter,” Shockwave Sales Manager Keegan Moynihan told me. In late 2017 the British Columbia-based manufacturer launched a recreational sector with the S5 Marine Suspension Module, built with the same military specs as their other products with a marinized RockShox (the same you’d see on mountain bike suspension) providing 4 inches of travel. Moynihan also mentioned that the Pacific Northwest market has been “the most ripe,” and the company’s modules—they have complete seating packages as well—are offered as options on both production and custom boats built in the region.

While Shockwave utilizes RockShox and Fox springs on its own custom module compatible with any marine seat (“Builders are fabricators; 85 percent of them retrofit their own adaptor plate,” said Moynihan), other manufacturers offer a variety of modules and seating options. Stidd chairs are available with a nitrogen-diaphragm shock inside the pedestal, offering shock-absorption within the same footprint of their popular pedestal seats. Seaspension has a proprietary coil-over-spring and valving shock system within the pedestal—the most common type of boat seating—in solo, dual, bench seats and triple bolster applications. With a design to bolt directly to a vessel’s existing hardware, the seat can be upgraded with suspension and retain the original hardware, a choice that is attractive to many boat owners.

It’s a market ripe for growth. There are several other outfits that manufacture a variety of shock-mitigating systems for commercial, recreational and by far the market share leader: military and special operations craft. Tactical went with a military-spec custom Shockwave S3 seating with 8 inches of vertical travel on their genre-bending T40. Perhaps that seems like overkill. But with owners who plan to use the boat from the Inside Passage to the Med, why risk spilling your vino while in Portofino?

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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