Superyacht owners are used to breakthrough tech at home, hell some of them even invented it, and they don’t want to step back into some low-bandwidth time warp when they embark on their summer cruise. There’s also the small matter of a burgeoning and highly-competitive charter industry. How are you going to persuade a prospective customer that parting with 250,000 euros a week for your 50 metre is a wiser investment than your rival’s? The devil could well be in the technical detail. An Apple watch-controlled transparent TV (yep, it’s been invented) could well seal the deal.

Sadly, copy pasting land-based tech onto a yacht isn’t quite as simple as it should be, largely due to one dirty word – bandwidth. While the superfast broadband wireless revolution has swept through towns and cities across the world, prices tumbling year after year, bandwidth stops this revolution translating directly to the yachting industry.

The VSAT (very small aperture terminal) used on boats has improved considerably, but it’ll still feel rather more tortoise than hare compared to home, and definitely eat far further into the bank balance. AV specialists are trying their best to achieve the ‘live streaming’ experience, but in reality most boats still have a library of on-demand digital music and films to scroll through to ensure the best user experience. Of course you can always reach for the safety of shore-based 4G wifi
when you pull into port.

When it comes to new builds, they can spend three years in the shipyard before they hit the water so the most sensible course of action is to run an initial network of cabling through the yacht and decide on the hardware towards the end of the build. Who knows what game changing inventions could flood an ever evolving tech market in the intervening 36 months?


And, for sure, if you’ve spent 100 million euros on your megayacht, you’ll not want old hat AV. So what do the leading experts see as the main challenges facing the industry? David Leone is President of Voyager Maritime Alliance Group (VMAG), a full service marine technology company based in Fort Lauderdale. “Yachts are challenging for both engineering and installation, for several reasons. One is usually the timeline and having to work around other trades in very confined spaces. Unlike a residential install, yachts are not stationary, they are going to leave the dock and we have to meet the deadlines. This is exactly the reason we devised a consistent, repeatable method, both in our engineering and programming. For every install, we have a clear plan and exit strategy to complete it on time. We also offer full technical support via remote connection to the ship’s network.”

Phillip Pini is Head of Residential EMEA for control and automation experts Crestron, a company VMAG happily partners, “Alongside product innovation, we have focused our efforts on developing partnerships with like-minded brands – we are only as good as the systems we sit alongside and fully integrate with. Crestron is committed
to finding and working with technology partners to ensure what is paired with Crestron works with Crestron. As we do not install, we mainly hear of hurdles on projects through our amazing network, notable ones include: rack location – where to put the equipment on smaller vessels, weight – how much does all this equipment weigh, power – how much does it all consume, and serviceability – what happens if something goes wrong.”

Sara Stimilli, Communications and Marketing Director for Italian onboard entertainment specialists Videoworks, says, “For Videoworks, it’s very important to define the AV system at the beginning of the construction stage because dialogue with the owner, architect and the shipyard is crucial to achieving a top integration based on the real needs of the owner.”

Leading marine audio manufacturer, JL Audio, offers a slightly different perspective as it’s almost entirely preoccupied with sound. JL Audio Marine Europe’s MD Paul Baker says, “The main challenge on a yacht is delivering high quality audio over a wide range of spaces, such as fore deck, rear deck or flybridge entertainment – all produce a different set of demands and needs. Often manufacturers specify inadequate audio systems as standard that are simply not able to reproduce quality audio in the marine environment. At JL Audio, our marine division is used to working with clients and boat builders to specify systems that meet the requirements to deliver quality audio – in any location. We ensure the speakers are located correctly and are capable of moving the required volume of air. Our speakers are designed specifically for the testing ocean environment but without comprising the high quality sound you would expect from high-end home entertainment.”


So what do these industry titans have in store for us at Monaco Yacht Show 2017 and beyond? Sara Stimilli from 1998-established Videoworks says, “We’ll be presenting many innovative ideas at Monaco. One is a screen that can easily switch from transparent glass, say a window or a glass door, to a smart full HD TV – no need to hang heavy screens on walls or create a special room for the TV anymore. The second is an onboard internet connection manager. Thanks to an integrated system, Videoworks can wholly protect the internet navigation on board, especially important if the owner is working while navigating.

This same system can also manage the availability of the band, for example limiting crew bandwidth while the owner is onboard to increase the speed available to them. Sound-wise, Videoworks is presenting an innovative range of very powerful marine speakers made in aluminum – suitable for exterior and interior use.” Videoworks is also embracing cloud computing, something consumers are using with great regularity on land. “For two years we’ve been focusing on remote customised server ‘farms’ which eliminate the need to install hardware on board, often hidden in furniture or in designated technical rooms. Instead, everything can be stored on cloud and managed by Videoworks, this grants more stability and scalability in terms of upgrading or changing the system.”“Innovation is key at Crestron and we will announce major product launches at Integrated Systems Europe in Amsterdam in February 2018. There will be plenty to shout about,” says Crestron’s Phillip Pini. “This year we launched our new video distribution solution DigitalMedia NVX which is full of features that the marine market has been eagerly awaiting. It offers incredible image quality delivering ultra high-definition 4K video with 60Hz frame rates, 4:4:4 colour sampling and HDR over a standard one gigabit ethernet network. This means it’s not only suitable for new builds but also refit projects. Utilising a transmitter at the source, a 1G network switch in the middle, and a receiver at the display, it’s infinitely scalable. Offering zero latency, total security, and encoding and decoding in a single unit, it’s a game changer for distributing entertainment on board.”

VMAG’s David Leone has been in the business more than 20 years and seen many a trend come and go. “Today, most guests on board yachts are wanting to use their own personal phones, iPads and other mobile devices to play music and video. They want to put photos, or the video they took on an excursion, on the TV and share them with others. How about putting the content from four phones on the TV at the same time? Or hold a business meeting in the salon while at anchor in France? No problem, this is all possible. Yet most AV integrators don’t even think of all the possibilities. They don’t think outside the box. We like to put the ‘wow’ factor into our installs, we enable possibilities.”

Favouring Crestron (amongst others), VMAG has plenty to get excited about. David continues, “As for new innovations to the AV ‘operating system’, we are currently testing full voice control from Crestron Remotes and Panels, as well as Bluetooth technology that allows you to take your phone or iPad into different areas of the vessel. The user interface on the mobile device will automatically synch up with that area, you won’t have to select zones anymore – it does it automatically based on the room you are in. Our systems will offer these features out of the box once they are ready for release. On the AV ‘entertainment’ front, we are offering on-screen menus, camera streams, and possible alerts from other ship systems directly to the TV displays – overlaid on top of the currently playing video.”[Modula id=’5′]“Our latest innovation is the JL Audio M12IBS introduced to the market this summer,” says JL Audio Marine Europe’s MD Paul Baker. “It’s a 12-inch diameter IB6 subwoofer designed to deliver high quality bass in a class entirely of its own. The M12IBS has more than twice the displacement of JL Audio’s potent 10-inch M-Series subwoofer, this enables the 12-inch version to produce a significant 6dB more bass output. As with the entire JL Audio range of M-Series subwoofers, the new M12IBS is designed to bring an optimum depth of sound and a clear sound experience, as delivered by the very best home entertainment system.”

“JL Audio has also launched an upgraded version of its first marine source unit, MediaMaster®, introduced last year. The new model incorporates all the successful elements of the MM 100s with the addition of several new features and a sleeker, integral design. The MM 100s-BE has an upgraded user interface which means users will have even more volume control flexibility, with four completely independent zones. They will also be able to get direct connection to NMEA 2000 networks without having to use a pigtail wire, enabling connection to the user’s entire suite of electronics. It also has a new all-black finish which seamlessly blends with other marine electronics for better integration and a new wireless remote control unit.”

Paul also highlights the importance of voice-activated technology, “It has been estimated that 30 percent of our interactions with technology will be through ‘conversations’ with smart machines by 2018.” There’s no reason why superyachts shouldn’t follow the same path.Meanwhile Van Berge Henegouwen (VBH) is one of the industry’s longest established outfits having started out in 1918 as an electronics firm before specialising exclusively in luxury yacht installations in 1985. The Amsterdam based business has two key products: its own intuitive control app ‘Pivot’ and its on-demand infotainment platform called ‘Pulse’.

VBH’s Brand and PR Manager, Kaitlin Hawthorne, says, “Pivot provides a modern and intuitive user interface for the control of the onboard AV and cabin environment systems with a strong focus on the ultimate user experience. It’s built on a native iOS platform and therefore supports iPads, iPhones and iPod touch devices. It has advanced ‘follow me’ functions and Electronic Technical Officer controls and can be personalised to suit.”

“Pulse is also customisable and allows for easy playing of favourite television shows, movies, and music. You can also upload photos and home movies to watch on the same platform. Our content and connectivity team works to check all global packages to ensure you never miss a major television event, no matter where the vessel is. Pivot and Pulse work together but can also work with a plethora of third party programmes.”

“We have also installed our first Apple crew watch system which combines VBH Pivot with the convenience of wearable tech. The system offers everything from discreetly calling a crew member and alerting crew when guests are awake, to enabling guests to control the lighting, curtains and entertainment systems from their Apple Watch.”

With onboard entertainment such an important element in a superyacht’s specification, making the difference between an enjoyable experience and a truly memorable one, it seems wise to embrace the innovation on offer and to spend as much as the owner’s budget will allow. Think of it as an investment, after all the AV will be used day in day out for years, long after the cushion covers have been replaced and the carpets refitted. Bear in mind also to employ a tech-minded crew member who can troubleshoot issues, crucially in conjunction with remote support from the manufacturer and installer.

To finish, it’s always nice to hear of some of the more extravagant requests the experts have had to find solutions for.

“We were working on a great project for a large shipyard and were asked to provide a pure powerful sound in the swimming pool area, but there was no space to put the speakers,” says Videoworks Sara Stimilli. “Thanks to a Videoworks-conceived system, we were able to embed small transducers into the walls of the swimming pool, in aluminum, allowing the walls to create perfect sound without sacrificing space. Invisible technology in action.” VMAG’s David Leone also has a stand-out anecdote, “We had one client who built a megayacht with the most sophisticated equipment available, with surround sound systems in each stateroom. After completion, he requested we tied a pillow speaker into the system so he could listen to the news as he slept.”

Phillip Pini from Crestron finishes, “In a recently sold project, the whole floor of the swimming pool is one big LED video wall – if the technology is available, anything is possible.”