Superyacht technical developments


ONBOARD looks at the latest technical and software developments from online crew training, entertainment, apps, VSAT to safety and sonar technology

During the past 11 years of publishing ONBOARD we’ve seen many players come and go in this segment of supplying superyachts with a variety of technical software and hardware solutions. The bulk of the companies that have slowly disappeared are the ones who provide solutions to high profile properties or corporations and think they can just walk into our superyacht market.

Within the whole industry the most important thing I have come across is the element of trust. Whatever service or product (no matter how small or large) a company offers, it has to be backed up by an incredible level of service. Of course the product needs to deliver and if it can provide wider solutions then all the better, but it has to be backed up by people that deliver what they say it will deliver and it has to be done within the agreed time schedule and within budget. And, if there are issues, (we can’t always be perfect) they have to be confronted in an honest manner and a solution needs to be provided.

So, at the end of the day although the superyacht industry is at the pinnacle of technological advances, it all comes down to people that deliver the correct service levels to back up their products and services in an honest and transparent manner.

Further on within this feature we look at a typical disrupter in our industry, namely Starlink. There was enormous panic when Starlink hit the market and everyone wondered what would happen to our long standing VSAT and communications companies. Fear not, to be honest the product was never really meant for our industry, but more for the roaming RV users. Is it fit for purpose for the superyachts? We’ll leave that to our technical expert, Simon Pearce who discusses this further in the following pages.

I don’t think any crew member has ever been fond of paperwork and if we’re talking about excel spreadsheets, then they are just too unstable and not fit for purpose. Luckily, there are plenty of options out there and over the past few years we’ve seen companies offering a menu of services. So rather than having to purchase the whole package, crew pick and choose which elements they really need help with, then we imagine they slowly adopt more of the software tools when an element of trust has been built up.

The target market for software varies from captains, to heads of department, chief engineers, to management companies, shipyards and technical/owner reps, but the core deliverable is to hold all the information in a central location, in a real time basis, have it presented in an intuitive manner and to allow for an element of adaptability for each individual yacht. Once again I’ve seen software companies working with large corporations or even government departments try and proffer their goods within our industry, but it just doesn’t work out for them. You can’t just implement the system and walk away and the developers need to know the industry, which is why we see many successful software companies run by people who are either ex-crew or who have been within the commercial shipping industry or yachting industry for years. They understand the wants and needs, know how to communicate and understand the required deliverables.

The audio visual and guest experience segment is vast but once again we’ve seen players come and go. The worst element here is the prices companies think they can charge for ‘bespoke’ entertainment systems and for some reason if you move an entertainment system from a multi-million dollar property to a yacht, the price doubles.

The owner and guests really just want to watch the ball game, their favourite TV drama or some lousy reality show, plus they want a little music and a few lights. That’s probably simplifying it, but that is what is now being delivered – simple to use interfaces and everything in one place to control lights, music, blinds, TV etc.

There are some very cool things on the market in this segment, but I feel it can still be over complicated for the crew or even the dedicated ETO, but then as before it comes back to service levels. The companies within this space are delivering some very exciting tools and this is definitely an industry to watch over the next few years.SAFETY AND NAVIGATION
We’re hearing lots about the new generation of owners entering the market, the ones who want to cruise further afield and really discover the wonders of owning a superyacht. This is of course brilliant for our industry and we need more of these adventurers, but with this brings more technical elements to consider.

We all understand we know more about our distant planets than we do about the ocean, but this can be a hinderance when cruising in unknown waters. Not only when it comes to obstacles under the waves but also for anchoring positions so that we don’t destroy the fragile seabed even more.

Lucky for us there are a number of very impressive companies out there delivering some serious kit.

Forward looking sonar is fascinating and is actually bringing far more than safety to the yacht, crew and guests. The systems allow the yachts to enter uncharted waters with confidence giving safe passage. But the real bonus here (if everyone gets onboard) is that we can use and share this data. According to Seabed 2030 (a global initiative by the Nippon Foundation and GEBCO to map the world’s oceans 2030 and make it available to all), we’ve mapped less than 24% of the world’s sea floor. We know the topography of the Moon and Mars in greater detail than that of our own planet.

Many yacht captains don’t realise that they have an opportunity to provide real value to the global community without making changes to their itineraries and daily activities. For those vessels where privacy is a concern, their contributions can even be anonymised before submission, so we urge everyone to get behind these initiatives.TRAINING
From the introduction of more online training courses to the use of sophisticated bridge and engine room simulators, this is a fast paced segment eating up every bit of technology they can get their hands on including VR. Plus it is a vital part of the industry to make sure our crew members are trained properly.

There will always be the need for real life training courses and of course emergency drills onboard, but to help the crew develop and as part of their necessary Continual Professional Development (CPD), courses delivered online that can be taken in their own time in any location are a must. Some of the prerequisite courses needed by crew will always need to be delivered in person, but those familiarisation courses or SOLAS and SMS manuals can all be looked at online.

One important sector I’ve seen for interior crew are the various courses on fabric care, surface cleaning, laundry courses and the like. These are all great for interior crew that want to get ahead of the game and show that they are serious about a career in yachting. And let’s face it, a little bit of knowledge here would save an awful lot of time and hassle not to mention the saved money in damaged surfaces onboard the yacht.CYBER SECURITY
The yachting industry has always been a leading figure in the development and implementation of new technologies. The average yacht features an incredibly robust network infrastructure, IT (Information Technology) network, and OT (Operational Technology) network. Hundreds of network connected assets, dozens of remote connections to third-party vendors, a constantly changing set of guests and crew members, and constant connectivity through an amalgam of shoreline, 4G, 5G, and VSAT services, lead to a level of convenience, efficiency and luxury that are unparalleled anywhere on land and sea. While building a cybersecurity programme generally requires trade-offs and compromises, the nature of the yachting creates a unique opportunity to develop a cybersecurity programme without compromise. The core of any good cybersecurity programme is about managing and mitigating the risks associated with the implementation and usage of technology.

By engaging in cyber risk management, yachts can set their agenda by identifying, managing, and mitigating risk effectively on the yacht. The process of cyber risk management is not purely a technical question, but rather must include business process and industry knowledge in determining the most serious risks to the yacht. In short, if you haven’t got one, get one now!CREW WELFARE
This is such an important part of our industry and one that deserves to be spoken about more openly. Due to the transient nature of yachting and never really being in the same place for too long, online tools are a necessary element to protect our crew.

One shipping registry (The Isle of Man) has developed a tool to help our seafarers, but we need more. There’s a 24/7 live chat option and interactive sessions crew can join together with physical and mental wellbeing classes run on a regular basis to sign up to. There are even things like nutritional advice, but these are all very necessary tools to help protect the wellbeing of our fabulous crew members no matter their level of seniority.