Students Create Oyster Harvesting Boat Design at futures studio

students in water

“Getting into the bay and putting my hands on oyster cages with oysters in them was a highlight of the semester!” said third year industrial design student Henry Meehan. Meehan and his classmates from futures studio in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) recently studied shipbuilding and oyster farming to create a new oyster aquaculture workboat design for the Auburn University Shellfish Lab (AUSL), located on Dauphin Island near Mobile, Alabama. Professor Randy Bartlett led this collaborative effort between futures studio, AUSL and shipbuilder Silver Ships Inc.

AUSL, which is a part of Auburn’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, has a mission to provide research and instruction in shellfish ecology and production. Students there study a variety of marine life with the current focus on the Eastern Oyster. AUSL’s facilities include an oyster hatchery, a nursery and two farm locations near Mobile Bay. Silver Ships is a shipbuilding company in nearby Theodore, Alabama, that builds aluminum workboats for a variety of industries, including commercial fishing, police and fire organizations and the U.S. military. Currently, AUSL operates one of the first boats built by Silver Ships over thirty years ago. This boat was originally intended for a variety of research tasks but wasn’t specifically designed for working in an oyster farm setting. AUSL wants a new boat design that will be more specific to the needs of the oyster farm.

The third year industrial design students at SIGD’s futures studio, an off-campus instructional site in Mobile where students can complete a semester of undergraduate or graduate studies, began the semester by researching oyster farming. They boarded two of Silver Ships’ boats and visited AUSL’s oyster farm to learn about the research, farming gear, challenges and needs in a boat design used there. Since all SIGD faculty members and students were new to boat building, they also got a lesson in shipbuilding and design from Silver Ships employees, including a naval architect and a marine designer.

By the end of the semester, the students had produced two very different models: one small 27-inch scale model and one large 27-foot boat deck full-scale mock up. AUSL staff members had asked for a large work area on the deck of the ship to conduct oyster research. The students created removable rails for water access, storable tables for oyster processing and a submersible platform for researchers to stand in the water off the side of the boat. “We were not trying to figure out how to better harvest oysters,” Bartlett explained. “We got the wish list from AUSL and we simply applied their wants and needs to the boat design. “

Silver Ships is now examining the students’ models and will prepare a price quote for AUSL to consider. The oyster harvesting boat plans are customizable and based completely on what AUSL requested and the students designed. “Ultimately we had to depend on the Shellfish Lab to communicate what they wanted,” said Bartlett. “This was a great experience for our students who were basically serving two different clients.”

Related people:
Randall Bartlett