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Reviving old modes of transportation


Comments / 1111 Views / Tuesday, 16 October 2012 00:00


Professional accountant turned boat designer aims to revive passenger boat transportation

While many are keen to leave the past behind, for I.S.W. Karunathilaka, his battle during the past few years has been to revive an ancient transportation mode in the country –passenger and cargo boats in the local waterways.



Influenced by his grandfather who ran a successful passenger and cargo transportation service back in 1915, Karunathilaka has been trying since 2006 to revive the mode that was slowly erased from the local transportation system since the introduction of the road network in the mid 1940s.

“My grandfather’s boat service ran from Ratnapura to Chilaw starting from the infamous Kalu Ganga going through canals such as Keppula, Bolgoda and even Kelani River falling to Negombo and then subsequently to Chilaw,” Karunathilaka said.

“I wanted to revive this system again as it is now widely used in other countries for various purposes including tourism.” With the industry ready to flourish, this, he said, would be an ideal attraction for those who would like to enjoy the beauty of the country in quiet, scenic surroundings.

However, things did not come easy to Karunathilaka. With the implementation of the Environment Act, he was told that he would not be able to legalise his business as those that have the potential to harm river and canal banks are prohibited. “I really wanted to make this work,” he said. “That is when I started developing what I now call a ‘waveless boat’ with many additional safety features.”

Having received a Presidential Award in 2008 for this eco-friendly innovation and later in 2009, the International Silver Prize at the Seoul International invention Fair (2009), Karunathilaka today is among the six nominees of the Ray Awards to be held on 17 October.

The difference mainly lies in the shape of the boat, he explained. Not as symmetric as the usual boats, the waves are created and smoothen out in the hull itself, thereby creating no waves and little ripple on the water. This also saves energy.

In boats that are usually utilised for this purpose, the energy is carried towards the river banks through the waves. “In the normal boats, 80% of energy is wasted through the waves. I have taken steps to stop this along with other energy efficient methods which make the waveless boats conserve 50% more energy when compared to the others.”

The boat is also unsinkable. He explained that the there are no airspaces that are found in other boats in his creation and that it has been replaced with foam which prevents water filling up the boat.

Gravity point variation is kept at a minimum so that there will be less rocky movement in the boat. “From the special door I have put in place, this invention consists of various smaller inventions.” However work is still not complete. Currently running on 15 HP, the boat needs to be upgraded to hold a 45 HP for commercial use.

Only one boat is now in operation and is used for sightseeing in Kalutara. The plan now is to launch this as an alternative passenger transportation. What is stopping him are financial difficulties.

He has been commissioned to start a passenger boat service in Nagadeepa by President Mahinda Rajapaksa which should have ideally started by now. “The process is being held up due to some monetary issues. I hope to complete this soon.”

Karunathilaka also hopes to take his invention to the international market in the near future. “I believe there will be great demand for this in the overseas market as boats are now being utilised widely for tourism etc.,” he said.

“I have come along way since the beginning. As a kid I was always interested in creating new things. In the 1970s when I was still schooling, I replaced the basic petrol line with a gas line and created what I believe was the first gas converted car. It was not done commercially and was not very practical. However inventing is in my genes,” Karunathilaka asserted.


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