Pod Drive Update: CAT Enters the Fray

Pod drive propulsion has taken the world of boating by storm since Volvo-Penta introduced its IPS pod drives less than a decade ago, and now there's a new player in the field.

20th December 2013.
By Lenny Rudow

When Volvo-Penta introduced the IPS pod drive propulsion system to recreational power-boating, it became a smashing success—and was quickly followed with the introduction of similar systems from MerCruiser-Cummins and ZF Marine (read All About Pod Drives: Volvo-Penta IPS, MerCruiser-Cummins Zeus, and ZF Marine). And it’s no wonder. These new propulsion systems not only provided an efficiency boost and required less space when compared to traditional straight-shaft inboards, they utterly revolutionized dockside handling. “Revolutionized” is a thoroughly over-used word in the boating industry, so we don’t like to utter it, but there’s just no other way to describe how different pods make the docking experience. With these systems you can push a boat sideways, spin it in its own length, and make tiny adjustments in any direction so your boat takes the path of perfection as you slide it into your slip.

Check out this video of docking a Hunt 52, from our article Hunt 52 IPS What’s the Difference, to see just how easy pod drive docking is:

Now that recreational boaters have had a little time under the skeg with pod drives, we’ve seen their popularity soar and the model offerings expand. Today, you can find pods which are appropriate for powering everything from a single-engine 30-something fishing boat, to a triple-screw 60-foot cruiser. Otherwise, however, the technology hasn’t changed much. There have been a few tweaks and advancements in their controls, for sure, but no truly new pod systems have been introduced since these three manufacturers came out with IPS, Zeus, and ZF POD Propulsion Systems. Until now.

At the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Caterpillar gave us our first glimpse at the newest entry into the pod race, their Three60 POD 650. This system is designed specifically for the CAT C8.7, a rather unusual 8.7-liter in-line-six diesel engine that produces 650-hp. This engine not only provides a horsepower boost over the 575-hp C9 it replaced, it also provides that power more evenly and with more gusto – thanks to the addition of a super-charger. And yes, the C8.7 does have a turbo-charger, too.

Three60 POD 650

The CAT Three60 POD 650 propulsion system is the latest pod drive to be introduced to the marine market.

Developed in partnership with Fiat Powertrain Technologies, the C8.7 utilizes a belt-driven radial supercharger to provide the low-end oomph that a turbo can’t deliver. Once the engine’s spooled up an electromagnetic clutch disengages the super-charger, and the turbo kicks in.

The lower unit of the pod itself looks fairly traditional (at least, as traditional as it can for a propulsion system that’s existed for less than a decade) and it follows the Zeus path in placing the props on the aft end of the drive, as opposed to the forward propeller positioning of IPS. Although not obvious to the eye, a CAT rep on hand at the Lauderdale show claimed that the POD 650 is able to swing larger props with slightly more blade area than the competition, and has additional clearance between the shaft and housing. It has a 2.25:1 gear ratio, a replaceable nose cone and skeg, and comes in multiple jackshaft lengths to accommodate different mounting situations.

The full name “Three60 POD 650” includes the Three60 part because these pods were designed to work hand in hand with CAT’s existing Three60 Precision Control System. This is a lever-and-joystick electronic control system that allows incremental power application down to 50 RPM, and can integrate with thrusters (though in pod applications, thrusters likely won’t be necessary). Directional control with the joystick is, as one might surmise from the name, 360-degrees.

While the Three60 POD 650 on display at the show looked more or less complete, there were no fully-functional boats in the water with this power system living in the engineroom. Caterpillar says that production models won’t be available until sometime in the spring of 2015—but when it does hit the water, you can rest assured we’ll move fast to get in a test run and report back.

For more information, visit Caterpillar.


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About the author:

Lenny Rudow

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Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including boats.com and YachtWorld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.
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