What Lies Beneath
Ocean technology testing and research, hydrographic surveying, naval support training, science expeditions, and sensor and data management are all part of LeeWay Marine’s portfolio of services. When your work takes you to the ocean, LeeWay Marine is there already.
With a fleet of four fully-crewed offshore and inshore vessels and an experienced technical team, LeeWay Marine, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in Halifax Harbour, is Atlantic Canada’s leading marine data-acquisition service company.
Greg Veinott, Director of Operations, speaking from the company office in the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) tells us the company was founded in 2015 by CEO Jamie Sangster, who chose the company’s name to reflect its role.
“Lee,” is a nautical term, he says, that refers to an area of the sea which provides safety from high wind and waves because it is protected by a landmass to the windward, while the full name “LeeWay” references the vessels’ ability and scope for moving easily and efficiently. These are qualities that the clients – whether governmental or private – who charter them to conduct surveys or do research, value highly.
Sangster, he tells us, brought to the business twenty years’ experience in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) as a marine system engineering officer and naval architect, along with extensive experience aboard major Canadian warships. Other team members also have relevant experience; some with the RCN, including Mark Decker, Vice President of Fleet Readiness, who served for 23 years as a marine engineer and radiation safety specialist.
LeeWay Marine maintains a staff of 10 on the management side, and at peak working periods, depending on the contracts it has received, could have crews at sea numbering from 20 to 45.
Veinott describes LeeWay Marine as filling a market niche, explaining that, while there are other companies doing similar work, most of them are international companies with massive ships doing large energy and pipeline projects. There are also some very small companies doing diving and construction site work that mainly operate within Halifax Harbour.
“But we have taken the position that we don’t want to be a local company and we have a vision of operating on a national or even international scale. For example, we have been operating off the east coast of the U.S. for the past two years, doing survey work for offshore wind installations, but we’re not at the scale of the large multi-national corporations. We straddle that gap between the small local companies and the multi-nationals.”
As a part of its strategy, LeeWay Marine maintains a mixed fleet of vessels. The LeeWay Odyssey was the first ship to be acquired and remains its largest research vessel, capable of competing for survey work on an international scale. It is a 38-metre, all-aluminum oceanographic vessel with a beam of 7.6 metres, a cruise speed of 12.5 knots and is outfitted for year-round coastal services.
“The Odyssey helped us build the company to where it is today,” Veinott says, “but it is old-school, built in the Seventies with diesel propulsion and mechanical operations, and our vision has always been in the direction of electrification; more efficient power plants on motorized vessels that can get to sites faster, so clients can get the work done faster, which makes it cheaper for them.”
In addition to electrification, the company is looking toward autonomy aboard the vessels, either the vessels themselves or some of the operations aboard.
A modern fleet
Two game changers for LeeWay were the acquisitions of LeeWay Striker in 2019 and RV Novus in 2021.
With a top speed of 55 knots, and cruise speed of 30 knots, LeeWay Striker is the world’s fasted research and hydrographic survey vessel. It has a 500 nautical mile range and can accommodate multi-day operations with six berths for crew and scientists.
RV Novus, designed and constructed by Abeking & Rasmussen of Germany, with a top-speed of 16 knots and a survey speed of 5 knots, is a state-of-the-art SWATH (Small-Waterplane-Area Twin Hull Vessel) with extraordinary seakeeping abilities. Its design supports near-to-mid shore survey operations for charting and mapping, offshore wind development, cable inspection, fish stock assessments and benthic surveying.
“These vessels really underscore the push toward autonomy on board and toward more efficient operations,” Veinott says. “Striker is extremely fast and able to get to the site and do the work way more efficiently than a large boat like Odyssey. It’s also a highly digitalized vessel, and allows us to monitor key control systems, such as the engines, from shore,” he explains.
“RV Novus is about achieving efficiency with power plants. It’s a diesel/electric vessel which allows us to do tests and trials with new technologies that move the vessel toward being fully electric. That’s a big win for us, as there’s no vessel elsewhere doing what we do that is fully electric.”
Rounding out the fleet is the LeeWay Venture, a lightweight, 7-metre patrol vessel, designed for near shore survey and support work. It’s small and light enough to be loaded onto a trailer and driven around to the Bay of Fundy, for example, to tackle tasks for commercial and government clients, centred around the deployment of sensors that track changes in marine ecosystem health.
In addition, LeeWay Marine crews and manages a fifth vessel, the Ocean Seeker, which is owned by Kraken Robotics, a company focused on the development of high-coverage, high resolution sensors for capturing seabed imagery.
Ocean technology trials and testing
In the beginning, the company’s focus was on ocean technology as Sangster saw a role that Odyssey could play in an already-existing market which involved testing and trialling ocean technology equipment.
“It’s what we cut our teeth on,” Veinott says. “We were surrounded by a number of new technology companies that needed to test and trial equipment, so that was our core business for the first couple of years, but it’s since become a supporting market. Our core business now is surveying, although we still test and trial in the off-season.”
During this season, November to April, LeeWay Marine works with ocean technology companies which have developed equipment in labs, but need to test its operational abilities before proceeding to production.
“We’re able to assist tech start-ups work through issues they may not have thought of. They may have great ideas, but there could be barriers in the design that hinder deployment or recovery from the water. Developers need sea time to prove their designs and ensure operability of their equipment in real sea states.”
Hydrographic & geophysical surveying
Surveying and mapping the seabed is at the core of LeeWay’s operations – important work relied upon by both government and industry. Governments use the data for navigational charts, for fish stock assessments, and for developing and regulating marine environmental policies. Industry, on the other hand, needs knowledge of the seabed to know where to install offshore infrastructure or lay cables.
As a result of flexible, modular designs, clients chartering one of LeeWay’s vessels for research and data collection can request a wide range of equipment layouts and deployment options. For instance, should the survey involve both shallow and deep water, the comparatively large LeeWay Odyssey can provide LeeWay Venture with transportation to the survey field on its deck.
For the past two summers, LeeWay has had two vessels working off the coast of New England, doing survey work for the first commercial-scale wind installations in North America.
“[North America is] 20 years behind Europe, especially the UK [in terms of offshore wind power],” Veinott says, “but now it is projected to be a huge market all the way from Maine down to South Carolina. The eastern seaboard states are all proposing various types of wind power and we see that in the next 10 to 15 years there will be work for us.”
Working 15 to 20 nautical miles offshore, surveyors use various sensors to measure water depth, to search for contour lines so boulders won’t get in the way of cable lines, to bring up samples of the seabed and if suitable for installation, penetrate the seabed up to 30 meters to locate the perfect spot to drill down and put in place pilings for turbines.
When turbines are up and running, there could be further work for LeeWay, as the company would be well-positioned to transfer inspection and maintenance crews out to the turbines.
In ocean research, LeeWay has conducted several explorations with non-profit groups, including a three-week expedition with Oceana Canada in the Labrador Sea in 2019.
The purpose of the expedition was to develop a marine protection plan for that area. The project began by working with the indigenous communities to grasp the size and diversity of the habitats around the Nain Region of Labrador and further north along the coast in Nunatsiavut.
“We were putting cameras down to the seabed and we could drag cameras along it so we could see exactly what’s down there and try to understand the habitat better,” Veinott says. “The part of the expedition that was interesting to us and the crew on-board was having indigenous people connect with science personnel as they worked together to put science and local knowledge and understanding all in one package.”
Defence is another component of the company’s business, but because of the company’s naval connection, Veinott says it’s an exciting opportunity for the team.
“We have taken on deployments with the Navy, as well as the RCMP and NATO forces. We’ve been a target vessel in exercises, and they had to track us down and we had helicopters dropping people on board and others learning how to bring a Zodiac alongside and climb aboard.”
So, what’s it like to be part of LeeWay Marine? That’s a question we put to Veinott, a Certified Project Manager who came to his position three years ago with a business degree from Dalhousie University, a background in business development, market research and marketing, but no ocean experience, unlike the rest of the team. Still, it seems he acquired his “sea legs” quickly.
“I love it here,” he says. “We are a small but mighty team, the work is challenging in a good way, and everyone has each other’s back. I could have gone into banking or finance, but I am much happier here working with innovative people who push the envelope.”