Safety programme ensures work never stops for Shotover Jet engineers
While Queenstown tourism pioneer Shotover Jet is busy ensuring thousands of holidaymakers experience the power and thrill of their Big Reds this summer – spare a thought for the guys in the engine room out the back.
As with every well-oiled tourism operation that appears to run effortlessly, this one is literally ‘well-oiled’ – by the team of maintenance technicians who beaver away largely out of sight with the aim of delivering a safe, reliable fleet for the ultimate customer experience.
Central Maintenance Manager Brett Dingle is responsible for ensuring that Shotover Jet’s fleet of seven state-of-the-art boats are on the water as much as humanly possible, as well as keeping on top of a highly-tuned maintenance programme for the company’s fourteen other boats from Dart River Jet, the Hollyford Track and Huka Falls Jet.
– Dingle – who has worked for the jet boating company for seven years -- has seen his role evolve from initially looking after just the Big Reds to now co-ordinating the servicing and technical developments of the fleets for all Ngāi Tahu jet boat operations.
When a Big Red or another boat is in for its annual service after each 1,000 hours on the water, it is literally stripped down and deconstructed to bare metal. Then every inch of the hull and its critical components are checked before being re-constructed from the ground up.
“We fully strip the boats down for leak testing and structural repairs, there’s a full service on the jet units, engines are checked over for any wiring issues, steering systems get replaced, fuel tanks get removed, cleaned out and pressure tested, then there’s the replacement of any of the 50 ‘life limited’ critical parts that are due before the boat is re-assembled and goes back on the water for performance testing,” said Dingle.
A ‘central maintenance’ team of six plus Brett takes about four weeks to complete the service – that’s around 500 man hours going into each service to ensure the boat is safe and ready for another exciting year’s operation.
In a rolling programme, they carry out 11 full annual services a year, only taking time off at Christmas and New Year when Shotover Jet is at peak capacity.
“In the past, the individual businesses used to maintain their own boats with help from ourselves, but now we’ve developed a state-of-the-art central maintenance facility at the Shotover Jet base that’s the ‘one stop shop’ for all the businesses to bring their boats here,” said Dingle.
“Before they come to us, each of the businesses will have carried out interim services for every 100 hours of boat life, and as the hours clocked up get higher there are different items that will be checked and maintained or replaced.
“Specific components such as the steering system are periodically checked by an independent engineer who performs non-destructive tests, looking for any micro cracks that may lead to faults.
“In addition to the annual boat audits carried out by a Maritime New Zealand representative we also have the local harbour master pass his eyes over each boat when their service is complete. During the year each of the Ngāi Tahu businesses carry out peer reviews on each other as two pairs of eyes are better than one.
“The whole drive is about predictive maintenance, picking things up before they get to the ‘broken’ stage,” said Dingle.
“Even our oil is removed from our boats every 100 hours and sent away for analysis to see if they can check for minute particulates that might identify premature wear or contamination. Dealing with an issue at this stage could prevent a bigger fault occurring at a later stage.
“No matter what though, once one of the 50 critical parts reaches its specific life limit, it’s removed and destroyed by running a bandsaw through it.”
Life is not all about servicing though – the engineering team works on technical developments as well.
“The new Shotover Jet V8 engines have been exceptional for us; we developed a new version of the Big Reds 18 months ago and we’re in the middle of doing the same for Dart River Jet and Huka Falls Jet as we speak,” said Dingle.
And while they might be working behind the scenes, that doesn’t mean to say they don’t see and appreciate the end results of their labours.
“We take a great deal of pride in that, it’s something that gets us all out of bed in the morning,” said Dingle.
“I’ve been in engineering-related industries over the last 20 years and this is the first one where you immediately see the results just by walking out of the workshop; happy customers screaming and laughing on the river gives us all a real kick.
“It’s quite rewarding to see that and what we’ve done over the last seven years with the reliability of the fleet.
“There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into ensuring the safety of those boats is maintained, and I guarantee my guys would lose sleep at night if they didn’t think the job was done properly.”
Shotover Jet, Dart River Jet, Huka Falls Jet and the Hollyford Track are 100% owned and operated by Ngāi Tahu Tourism, one of New Zealand’s premier tourism operators.