Title:
Occupant protection apparatus for a center console vessel
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An occupant protection apparatus is provided for a vessel having a center helm console supported by a deck, wherein the console is disposed between and separated from opposing port and starboard gunwales of the vessel. The apparatus comprises a rigid panel member operably engaged with each of the port and starboard sides of the console. Each panel member has fore and aft ends, wherein the fore end of each panel member is pivotably attached to the starboard and port sides, respectively, of the console such that the aft side of each panel member is pivotable between an inboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard sides of the console, and an outboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard gunwales of the vessel. The panel members in the outboard position protect the occupant from wind and/or water spray produced by the vessel moving through water.



Inventors:
Van Woodham, Donald (Daphne, AL, US)
Application Number:
11/210152
Publication Date:
03/01/2007
Filing Date:
08/23/2005
Assignee:
PSI Sales, Inc.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B63B29/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SOTELO, JESUS D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ALSTON & BIRD LLP (CHARLOTTE, NC, US)
Claims:
That which is claimed:

1. An occupant protection apparatus for a waterborne vessel having a center helm console supported by a deck, the center helm console being disposed between and separated from opposing port and starboard gunwales of the vessel so as to allow an occupant to move between fore and aft sides of the center helm console past one of a port side and a starboard side thereof, said apparatus comprising: a rigid panel member operably engaged with each of the port and starboard sides of the center helm console, each rigid panel member having opposing fore and aft ends, the fore end of each rigid panel member being pivotably attached to the starboard and port sides, respectively, of the center helm console such that the aft side of each rigid panel member is pivotable between an inboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard sides of the center helm console, and an outboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard gunwales of the vessel, the rigid panel members in the outboard position thereby being adapted to protect the occupant from at least one of wind and water spray produced by the vessel moving through water.

2. An apparatus according to claim 1 further comprising a rigid transparent panel operably engaged with each rigid panel member and configured to allow an occupant behind the center helm console to see therethrough.

3. An apparatus according to claim 1 further comprising an actuator device operably engaged between the center helm console and each rigid panel member, each actuator device being selectively actuatable to move the corresponding rigid panel member between the inboard and outboard positions.

4. An apparatus according to claim 3 further comprising a controller device operably engaged with at least one of the actuator devices, the controller device being mounted to the center helm console and being configured so as to allow the occupant to control the at least one of the actuator devices.

5. An apparatus according to claim 3 wherein the actuator device is configured to be at least one of electrically-operated, pneumatically-operated, and hydraulically-operated.

6. An apparatus according to claim 3 wherein the actuator device comprises an extendable ram mechanism.

7. An apparatus according to claim 1 wherein the vessel further includes a top configured to extend over the center helm console, and wherein the rigid panel members are configured to extend between the top and the deck.

8. An apparatus according to claim 7 wherein each rigid panel member includes an upper end adjacent to the top and a lower end adjacent to the deck, and wherein at least one of the upper end and the lower end of each rigid panel member includes a seal member operably engaged therewith so as to provide a seal with the corresponding one of the top and the deck.

9. An apparatus according to claim 1 wherein, in the inboard position, each rigid panel member is configured to extend substantially parallel to the corresponding one of the port side and the starboard side of the center helm console so as to allow the occupant to pass between the center helm console and one of the port gunwale and starboard gunwale.

10. An apparatus according to claim 1 further comprising a seal member extending along the fore end of each rigid panel member, where the rigid panel member is pivotably attached to the center helm console, so as to provide a seal with the center helm console at least when the respective rigid panel member is in the outboard position.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to an enclosure for waterborne vessels and, more particularly, to an occupant protection apparatus for a center console vessel.

2. Description of Related Art

One popular form of a waterborne vessel or boat is configured such that the occupants of the boat, such as the captain, crew, or passengers, are able to walk around the helm between the stern or cockpit area and the bow of the boat. Such a boat configuration is often referred to as a “walk-around” or “center console” boat (hereinafter referred to as a “center console boat” having a “center helm console,” for brevity). Bodies of water plied by such boats, for example, large lakes or the ocean, may sometimes get rough due to wind and/or current and/or other factors. In such instances, the combination of wind and waves may often result in spray being generated by the boat moving through such rough water. Sometimes, however, spray may be generated if any wind is blowing, regardless of the particular sea state. In any event, the spray typically becomes airborne due to the wind and ends up blowing on or into the boat. As a result, even though the occupants of the boat are riding at or aft of the console (helm) as the boat is moving, the occupants will generally get wet from this spray.

In some instances, a rigid transparent windshield may be added to the center console to deflect some of the wind and/or spray. Also, a top, such as a t-top, hardtop, or bimini top may be added to the console to provide overhead shelter from the wind and/or spray. However, for aesthetic, ergonomic, or structural reasons, such a windshield or top may not extend sufficiently around the center console to protect the occupants of the boat from the wind and/or spray. As such, the boat manufacturer or the boat owner sometimes install a soft enclosure, otherwise referred to as “curtains,” in the alternative or in addition to the windshield and/or top. Such curtains are generally comprised of one or more panels of a fabric (such as a canvas-type material) that may have an insert of a clear plastic for visibility through the panel. The panels are typically joined together by zippers, snaps, or other suitable fasteners. The panels may be configured in many different manners, but generally are put together to enclose at least the front and both sides of the console by extending up to the top disposed overhead. In order to increase the protected area behind the console, some also configure the side panels to be attached to the console at the front end thereof and to extend out to the gunwales proceeding aft.

Such soft enclosures, however, may exhibit shortcomings that may not appeal to all boat owners. For example, the clear plastic portions of the panels tend to distort vision therethrough, and may be easily scratched. Over time, these clear plastic portions may become damaged by solar radiation and experience “yellowing” or otherwise become opaque. The clear plastic portions damaged in this manner often become brittle and are easily cracked. Further, one popular way to stow such curtains out of the way so as to, for instance, provide air flow behind the console, is to roll up the curtains to be suspended under the top. In such instances, though, if moisture is present on the clear plastic panels, or such panels become wet while rolled up, the clear plastic may be come clouded. Also, rolling the curtains tends to result in scratches in the clear plastic portions. In addition, once rolled or removed from the boat, the curtains tend to “shrink” or otherwise contract due to the nature of the materials forming the curtains. As a result, reinstalling, or unrolling and re-fastening, the curtains may be difficult, particularly in colder weather. At the same time, the zippers, snaps, or other fasteners used to secure the curtains to each other and to the boat may corrode and/or tear out of the curtain fabric. Also, the portions of the fasteners secured to the boat may be obtrusive or unsightly.

Thus, there exists a need for an apparatus for protecting the occupant of a center console vessel from becoming wet due to spray caused by motion of the boat in combination with wind and/or waves as the boat is moving. Such an apparatus should be durable, aesthetically pleasing, unobtrusive, user-friendly, and readily implemented.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The above and other needs are met by the present invention which, in one embodiment, provides an occupant protection apparatus for a waterborne vessel having a center helm console supported by a deck, wherein the center helm console is disposed between and separated from opposing port and starboard gunwales of the vessel so as to allow an occupant to move between fore and aft sides of the center helm console past one of a port side and a starboard side thereof. Such an apparatus comprises a rigid panel member operably engaged with each of the port and starboard sides of the center helm console, wherein each rigid panel member has opposing fore and aft ends. The fore end of each rigid panel member is pivotably attached to the starboard and port sides, respectively, of the center helm console such that the aft side of each rigid panel member is pivotable between an inboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard sides of the center helm console, and an outboard position adjacent to the respective port and starboard gunwales of the vessel. The rigid panel members in the outboard position thereby protect the occupant from at least one of wind and water spray produced by the vessel moving through water.

Embodiments of the present invention thus provide significant advantages as further detailed herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWING(S)

Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIG. 1 schematically illustrates an occupant protection apparatus for a center console vessel in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, implemented on a center console vessel;

FIG. 2 schematically illustrates a rear perspective view of an occupant protection apparatus for a center console vessel in accordance with the embodiment of the present invention shown in FIG. 1, with the occupant protection apparatus being deployed in an outboard position;

FIG. 3 schematically illustrates a rear perspective view of the occupant protection apparatus of FIG. 2 retracted to an inboard position;

FIG. 4 schematically illustrates a forward cross-sectional view of the occupant protection apparatus shown in FIG. 1, taken along section 1-1 of FIG. 1, with the occupant protection apparatus being deployed in an outboard position; and

FIG. 5 schematically illustrates a forward cross-sectional view of the occupant protection apparatus shown in FIG. 1, taken along section 1-1 of FIG. 1, with the occupant protection apparatus retracted to an inboard position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present inventions now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all embodiments of the inventions are shown. Indeed, these inventions may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

FIGS. 1-5 illustrate an occupant protection apparatus for a vessel according to one embodiment of the present invention, the apparatus being generally indicated by the numeral 100, and the vessel being generally indicated by the numeral 50. Waterborne vessels 50 can be configured in many different shapes and sizes. However, as previously discussed, one particularly popular form of a waterborne vessel 50 (otherwise referred to herein as a “boat 50”) is configured such that the occupants of the boat 50, such as the captain, crew, or passengers, are able to walk on the deck 75 of the boat 50 around the helm 250 (housed by a console 400) between the stem or cockpit area 275 of the boat 50 (the aft side 400A of the console 400) and the bow 300 (the fore side 400B of the console 400) of the boat 50. The console 400 is further configured so as to define walking spaces 425, 450 on either side thereof and between opposing port and starboard gunwales 475, 500 of the boat 50. Such a configuration is often referred to as a “walk-around” or “center console” boat 50.

The configuration of a center console boat 50 generally does not provide the occupant(s) much protection from wind and water spray generated by the boat 50 moving through the water. Accordingly, the occupant protection apparatus 100 is configured to cooperate with the console 400 so as to provide such protection for the occupants from becoming wet due to spray caused by motion of the boat 50 in combination with wind and/or waves as the boat 50 is moving. In one embodiment, the apparatus 100 comprises a pair of rigid panel members 125, 150 operably engaged with the port 400C and starboard 400D sides, respectively, of the console 400. Such panel members 125, 150 may be formed of any rigid material having sufficient durability, corrosion resistance, mechanical strength, aesthetic appearance, or any other property suitable for the marine environment. Examples of suitable materials include aluminum and stainless steel, though these examples are not intended to be limiting in any respect whatsoever. For instance, any number of plastic materials, carbon fiber, or the like may also be used.

The fore ends 125A, 150A of the respective panel members 125, 150 are particularly configured to be pivotably engaged with the port 400C and starboard 400D sides, respectively, of the console 400. Such a pivotable engagement may be accomplished by one or more hinge mechanisms, as will be appreciated by one skilled in the art, disposed between and operably engaged with the console 400 and the respective panel members 125, 150. In this configuration, the aft ends 125B, 150B of the respective panel members 125, 150 are capable of moving between the console 400 and the corresponding port and starboard gunwales 475, 500 of the boat 50. The panel members 125, 150 are thus configured to be pivotable between an inboard position (as shown in FIGS. 3 and 5) where the corresponding aft ends 125B, 150B are adjacent to the console 400, and an outboard position (as shown in FIGS. 2 and 4) where the corresponding aft ends 125B, 150B are adjacent to the respective gunwales 475, 500. More particularly, with the panel members 125, 150 in the inboard position, the occupant(s) can move freely through the walking spaces 425, 450 on either side of the console 400. In the outboard position, the aft ends 125B, 150B are adjacent to the gunwales 475, 500 such that the walking spaces 425, 450 are essentially blocked. In the outboard position, as shown in FIGS. 2 and 4, the panel members 125, 150 are configured to increase the effective frontal area of the console 400 such that wind and water spray are deflected further outboard of the console 400 than with the panel members 125, 150 in the inboard position. In this manner, the occupants are better protected from wind and/or water spray, particularly when the wind and/or spray are quartering with respect to the heading of the boat 50.

The panel members 125, 150 are generally wide enough (between the fore 125A, 150A and aft 125B, 150B ends, respectively) to extend between the console 400 and the corresponding gunwale 475, 500 in the outboard position. As such, in the outboard position, the panel members 125, 150 can be at any angle with respect to the console 400. In some embodiments, the aft ends 125B, 150B of the panel members 125, 150 can extend up to about 90 degrees from the respective port and starboard sides 400C, 400D of the console 400. It is also noted here that the panel members 125, 150 may be of any suitable shape for accomplishing the aforementioned goal of providing protection for the occupants of the boat 50 behind the helm 250. That is, the panel members 125, 150 may be rectangular, tapered, or any other suitable shape, as will be appreciated by one skilled in the art as being within the spirit and scope of the present invention. Further, the panel members 125, 150 are preferably configured, at least in the inboard position, to appear in an aesthetically-pleasing manner to be an integral part of the console 400.

In some instances, the console 400 may include a transparent windshield 550 (or windshield frame) attached to the fore side 400B of the console 400 for providing some protection for the occupants, while allowing suitable visibility therethrough. As such, the panel members 125, 150 are generally configured to extend between the top end of the windshield 550 and the deck 75. However, the panel members 125, 150 may extend for any length as desired for a particular application. For example, in some instances, the panel members 125, 150 may extend from about the top end of the windshield 550 to the top ends 475A, 500A of the respective gunwales 475, 500. Further, each panel member 125, 150 also includes a rigid transparent panel 130, 155 operably engaged therewith so as to allow the occupant(s) behind the helm 250 to be able to see therethrough (as well as through the panel members 125, 150). Typically, the transparent panels 130, 155 are incorporated into the panel members 125, 150 above the top ends 475A, 500A of the gunwales 475, 500, though one skilled in the art will appreciate that such transparent panels 130, 155 may extend over considerably varying areas of the panel members 125, 150, from substantially all to a minor portion of the panel members 125, 150. In some instances, the transparent panels 130, 155 may comprise the entirety of the panel members 125, 150. The transparent panels 130, 155 may be comprised of any appropriate material such as, for example, polycarbonate, glass, or any other material having sufficient breaking/shattering resistance, light transmissivity, ultraviolet radiation resistance, and/or any other necessary property commensurate with the application and suitable for the marine environment.

In other embodiments, the console 400 may also include a top 600, such as a t-top, hardtop, or bimini top operably engaged therewith to provide overhead shelter from the wind and/or water spray. In such instances, the panel members 125, 150 may also be configured to extend up to the top 600. Further, to provide additional protection against wind and/or water spray for the occupant(s), one or more seal members 650A may be provided at the fore ends 125A, 150A; top ends 125C, 150C; and/or bottom ends 125D, 150D of the panel members 125, 150. If provided, seal members 650A at the fore ends 125A, 150A of the panel members 125, 150 would prevent water spray from passing through the connection between the panel members 125, 150 and the console 400. If provided in instances where the boat 50 includes a top 600, seal members 650A at the top ends 125C, 150C would prevent water spray from passing through the area between the panel members 125, 150 and the top 600. Seal members 650A at the bottom ends 125D, 150D are optional and would prevent water or water spray from passing through the area between the panel members 125, 150 and the deck 75.

In some embodiments, the panel members 125, 150 may be manually pivotable between the inboard and outboard positions. In such instances, the panel members 125, 150 may be provided with a suitable locking mechanism (not shown) to hold the panel members 125, 150 in the inboard and/or outboard positions. In other instances, a pneumatic gas cylinder (not shown) may be provided between each panel member 125, 150 and the console 400. One skilled in the art will appreciate that such pneumatic gas cylinders allow the panel members 125, 150 to be manually actuated, with the pneumatic gas cylinders configured to normally bias the panel members 125, 150 toward the outboard position. Accordingly, when the panel members 125, 150 are manually retracted to the inboard position, a suitable locking mechanism (not shown) would be provided to hold the panel members 125, 150 in the inboard position. In yet other instances, an actuator device 700A, 700B may be provided between each panel member 125, 150 and the console 400. Such an actuator device 700A, 700B may comprise, for example, an electrically- or hydraulically-operated extendable ram device such as that used for trim tabs, as will be appreciated by one skilled in the art. In those instances, the actuator devices 700A, 700B can be controlled, for example, by a controller 750 mounted at the helm 250 within convenient reach of the occupant(s). For instance, where the actuator devices 700A, 700B comprise electrically-operated extendable rams, the controller 750 may comprise electrical switches mounted at the helm 250. Similar switches may be used to operate a reversible hydraulic pump in instances where the actuator devices 700A, 700B are hydraulically-operated rams. In any instances, one skilled in the art will appreciate that the panel members 125, 150 may be configured to be independently and selectively movable between the inboard and outboard positions, while, in other instances, the panel members 125, 150 may be configured to be movable only in concert (i.e., both panel members 125, 150 movable to the inboard or outboard position in synchronization).

Embodiments of the present invention thus provide an apparatus 100 for protecting occupants of a center console boat 50 from wind and/or water spray, as the boat 50 is moving. In doing so, the apparatus 100 can be configured to be suitably durable, aesthetically pleasing, unobtrusive, user-friendly, and readily implemented, as described in detail herein. In this manner, the apparatus 100 can be designed into the vessel 50 itself or readily retrofitted into existing vessels 50 to perform in the manner described.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the inventions set forth herein will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which these inventions pertain having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the inventions are not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.