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Incoming Tide

by Kate Calamusa
Cara Kuhlman
Cara Kuhlman

Interview by Kate Calamusa / Headshot Courtesy of Cara Kuhlman

NWY: Future Tides reports on industry innovations and the maritime community in the Pacific Northwest. How did the founding vision for your publication first come about?

CK: It started more than five years ago, with a very analog notebook where I jotted down stories I thought should be covered and what I would do at the helm of my own publication. I imagined a digital-first platform that would fill in the gaps I saw, and provide a new service for the region’s maritime community. In 2021, I participated in an intensive program for “entrepreneurial journalists” (it’s a thing!) and that notebook came off the shelf. My final presentation introduced Future Tides, a new media venture for recreational boaters, commercial mariners, and others who share our waterways. I’ve been building it ever since, applying my learnings from both the program and my professional experience.

NWY: In 2021, you were awarded a Grow Boating grant from the Northwest Marine Trade Association. How did the grant and that overall experience shape Future Tides?

CK: That grant felt like a great vote of confidence from the community I aim to serve. The funding supported researching and writing a series of articles about the role of technology and innovation in boater education and safety. It also coincided with when I took US Sailing’s Safety-at-Sea course so I really immersed myself in the topic, and it’s one I could write a lot more about. However, a big takeaway after talking to multiple experts was that new tech aside, communication is critical. Getting the word out about safe boating practices and changing recreational boaters’ behavior, that’s where there’s a need for investment and innovation.

NWY: What are a few of the most interesting innovations you have reported on in 2023?

CK: Hydrofoils and hybrid propulsion are two innovations I’ve enjoyed reporting about lately because they are being applied to such a wide variety of vessels and use cases. In September, I got to ride on Candela’s hydrofoil electric powerboat. It’s very cutting edge but uses the same principles as a hydrofoil board for kiteboarding or wing foiling. The company’s reps said that since hydrofoil boards became more common a few years ago, people are increasingly familiar with the concept, making it easier for Candela to explain what they’re doing—creating a more efficient boat by flying above the water. Hybrid propulsion stands out because fully electric propulsion doesn’t fully make sense yet for many marine applications. And similar to cars, charging infrastructure is lagging behind demand. However, many boat builders and operators are diving in through various hybrid systems, some of which are designed to transition along with the changing technology.

NWY: Speaking of the electric and hybrid sectors, there is a lot of emphasis on making boating greener in the years to come. What innovations do you think have the most potential to influence the Northwest industry in that space?

CK: More electric or hybrid options for repowering vessels, which often have a longer lifespan than their motors, could accelerate more widespread adoption. Electric vessels are also quieter, reducing ship noise which is known to impact (not only) whales but also the broader marine ecosystem. Shoreside charging everywhere from the ports to the smallest marinas will be important. I’ve heard multiple times that continued improvements on battery design, capacity and safety will be a turning point. Another topic I’ve looked into with significant environmental impacts is what will happen to aging boats. Fiberglass, which has been used to build boats for more than 80 years now, has the potential to be recycled but that solution hasn’t become a reality. A few boat builders are considering the entire lifecycle of the vessels they design but it’s not a widespread practice. The last advancement I want to mention involves waterfront construction. A number of the region’s ports are taking on major redevelopments, century-old piers and pilings are condemned, and habitat restoration projects call for the removal of retaining walls. All this adds up to an opportunity to reshape and design waterfronts that balance access with the environment.

NWY: As we look ahead to 2024, what maritime stories do you foresee taking shape?

CK: A big story next year will be around state and federal funding. A once-in-a-generation amount of money has been allocated for ambitious initiatives across the maritime sector and the next step will be seeing how it is used and if it helps achieve those goals in the coming years. Ferries will continue to make news as well. Washington State Ferries, as well as county and metro ferry services, have a long journey ahead addressing workforce and vessel shortages. On the recreation front, I expect to see more and more electric outboards out and about. I think people are increasingly aware this industry is changing drastically, and there’s a lot of optimism around that change. At the same time, in a rapidly changing region, our waterways are a comforting constant. They will continue to be a space for recreation, commerce, and discovery.

About the Expert: Future Tides truly feels like the culmination of my career-to-date. I’ve sailed for a long time, coaching both youth and adults. As part of the senior staff at Sail Sand Point, I developed new programs with a focus on access and equity in boating. By chance, I landed at Kvichak Marine, a longtime boat builder in Ballard, where I experienced a new side of the industry, including the ups and downs of vessel construction and workforce development. I spent six formative years at GeekWire, a Seattle-based tech and business news site, learning all about the scrappy side of media. That’s where I gained an appreciation for new technologies and writing about tech in an approachable way. In 2022, I joined KNKX Public Radio where I oversee online content and digital strategy. I’ve learned what it takes to sustain 24/7 radio, worked on podcasts and audio journalism, and helped tell stories from all around Western Washington, some involving boats. I love getting to follow my curiosity. Hearing from the community is also incredibly motivating. More and more, people are sharing what they are excited about or pointing me towards something they think I should report on. These tips often become stories. I definitely have a lot of questions but if I can answer someone else’s question, then I know I’m providing a service, and that’s what I founded Future Tides to do. To read Kuhlman’s latest stories on the industry, go to: futuretides.org.

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