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Inboard Performance Sportfishing?

Volvo Penta’s pod-drive technology is finding a home into an ever-growing number of anglers’ engine rooms.


Spencer Yachts built the first sportfisherman to be powered by Volvo Penta's IPS. She's equipped with twin 435-hp IPS600s.

When Volvo Penta first developed its Inboard Performance System (IPS), with its articulated, forward-facing dual propsets and joystick control, sportfishermen weren’t really a target audience. But times and tides change, and it didn’t take long for the company to discover that IPS could prosper in this market, too—if it were modified to suit the unique needs of hard-core anglers.

Spencer Yachts was the first sportfishing boatbuilder to employ the technology, with a 43-footer that was built with a Core-Cell foam core laid over a jig, then shaped and fiberglassed, (see “Edge of Tomorrow,” May 2007). Although the boat displayed impressive and well-documented benefits such as enhanced close-quarter handling, improved performance, and increased fuel efficiency—1.16 mpg at a 30-knot cruise speed—the question remained: could a forward-facing, propset-equipped sportfisherman perform the specific kinds of maneuvers needed to effectively chase fish?

The answer that came to the manufacturer and builder while they were collaborating on the 43 was a conditional yes. Volvo Penta and Spencer decided that IPS needed to generate more rpm and power in reverse to effectively back down on a fish and so came up with what Volvo Penta dubs Sportfish Mode. To provide enough oomph in reverse to keep an angler’s quarry close at hand, all the team really needed to do was tweak the IPS software since there’s no mechanical connection between the engines and drives and the controls.

Sportfish Mode doesn’t use the ubiquitous IPS joystick but instead goes old school by utilizing either single-lever, top-mount binnacle controls or the single-lever setups found on a typical Palm Beach-style helm. Kent Lundgren, vice president of marine diesel business for Volvo Penta, says Palm Beach-style controls work best because they enable the helmsman to have a comfortable aft-facing position with a lever in each hand, which is the same stance a captain would take when backing down a straight-shaft boat. A binnacle setup will work but the helmsman will have to either look over his shoulder or half-turn towards the cockpit while maneuvering, both awkward positions.


To get a pod-drive-equipped vessel ready to spin on a fish, the helmsman presses a button on the Sportfish Mode panel. This causes the drives to splay out (see illustration below), which enables the boat to spin on its own axis and chase a fish at high speed in reverse using only the engine controls. In triple-engine applications, the software dictates that the center drive provides no thrust. However, it does adjust its position to reduce hydrodynamic drag.

There’s no set maximum rpm in Sportfish Mode—average top rpm is around 2000—but obviously a vessel will only go as fast in reverse as her hull design allows. To go from Sportfish Mode back into a standard-driving mode, the helmsman simply puts the controls into forward and turns the wheel, giving him back full engine rpm.

Lundgren tells me that Sportfish Mode is most often engaged toward the end of a battle when the fish is typically close to the boat. “We’re not going to back up on a marlin for miles,” he explains. Besides, chasing a fish going forward is easier and much more efficient.

Other sportfishing boatbuilders such as Rampage, Albemarle, Calyber, Freedom, Riviera, and others have embraced this technology on some of their recent offerings. To further demonstrate that this system can be effective in a hard-core sportfishing scenario, the team onboard Volvo Penta’s demo boat Penta Gone—a 51 Riviera with IPS—displayed its fish-raising and -catching abilities on the tournament circuit last year, scoring several billfish releases at the White Marlin Open and coming in the money at the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament with an impressive eight sailfish releases.

But aside from the ability to successfully run down a wily billfish, Volvo Penta further modified IPS to clean up the water aft of the boat when trolling, making it easier for fish to see baits. With standard IPS, exhaust exits under water through the drive unit, which aerates the water behind the transom. This is not an attractive situation for any trolling anglers who are trying to present a spread that attracts fish. The solution was to create an exhaust bypass system. This bypass, available on IPS units equipped with Sportfish Mode, enables the captain to flip a helm switch and route exhaust gasses out to the sides of a vessel through ports at the waterline. This option can currently be found on the Freedom 56 convertible (see “Freedom to Fish,” December 2009) and the Spencer 49, which launched at the Miami International Boat Show in February. According to Lundgren, the bypass should keep the water behind the boat clean and pristine at speeds up to about 8 or 9 knots. “After that, you’re wahoo fishing and clean water doesn’t matter as much,” he chuckles.

But there’s one more piece to the evolving IPS-comes-to-sportfishing story, an advancement aimed at anglers who want to ensure they always stay on their favorite hot spot regardless of conditions. It’s called the Volvo Penta Dynamic Positioning System. The press of a button at the helm initiates the system by engaging a special rooftop module that contains two GPS antennas. System software compares the position data collected via the antennas and then automatically and nearly instantly engages the engines and pods to make sure the boat stays put, within a very small radius. Lundgren says that the goal was to keep a boat within five degrees and 30 feet of a waypoint. He adds that, on the East Coast, the success rate has actually averaged to within a couple of degrees and about six feet. However, depending on your location in the world—and how many satellites you’re connecting with—the positioning system’s accuracy will vary. In any case, the system should really appeal to bottom fishermen who want to sit over wrecks and reefs, but it will also help when just waiting for fuel dock space and bridge openings.

While Volvo Penta’s IPS may not have originally been planned to have a significant presence in sportfishing, the company’s willingness to modify the system to suit the sport’s unique needs is increasing IPS’ appeal to an ever-growing fan base. That is, unless you’re a fish.


This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.