Throw Your Manuals Away: Go Digital

Onboard systems’ management firms make service as easy as point and click.

Can’t remember when to change the oil? There are now several digital options to keep track and remind you or your crew of all your yacht-system service needs. Image coutesy of VesselVanguard.

Your boat is a compilation of sophisticated mechanical and electronic systems made up of components supplied by ­countless vendors with differing maintenance schemes. From your yacht’s ­generator and refrigerator to air conditioning and engines, each of these systems has ­routine maintenance needs, and keeping track of all that can be tough. But what if all that information could be ­digitized and available at your fingertips?

This whole idea of digitally cataloging things like owner’s manuals and parts and service data is born out of a reality of modern yachts: Systems documentation and operating manuals will fill multiple drawers. Digitizing this material creates the opportunity to get far more informative and creative with content presentation.

Consider what your owner’s manual would look like if it had how-to videos actually showing you how to operate a certain appliance or onboard device. This is now being done, and people love it. Three of the top names in the rapidly evolving product category of yacht-maintenance management are My-Villages, Wheelhouse Technologies and VesselVanguard.

All of these subscription-based systems are hosted online. Wheelhouse Technologies and ­VesselVanguard tout their cloud storage, meaning data is kept on a secure remote server. What happens when you’re offshore without Internet access? My-Villages offers a “disconnected state” via a companion app that provides access to service and owner’s manuals and favorite how-to information. Logging of trips, equipment hours, to-do lists and service requests auto-syncs with the Web-based application when you regain Internet connectivity.

One of the differentiators among My-Villages, Wheelhouse Technologies and VesselVanguard is that My-Villages founder and CEO Kevin ­Hutchinson looks at boaters’ needs from a community and collaborative perspective. “We are unique in that our focus is on the ecosystem of the marine industry — boat owners, [independent] service techs, service yards, equipment suppliers and ­boatbuilders — and not just one player,” he says.

All three companies allow technicians to evaluate your vessel and customize its service setup. Image courtesy of My-Villages.

There are three editions of My-Villages. A free version acts as a forum. People can share advice or find other owners of similar boats, and boatbuilders and experts can provide maintenance recommendations. Boat owners can offer suggestions based on their own experiences. A “my advice” section currently has nearly 40,000 maintenance tidbits. Soon it will add thousands more maintenance articles previously published elsewhere.

The premium edition targets boat ­owners. You create a boat profile with all of your equipment, and the system automatically attaches operating manuals and service schedules recommended by the manufacturers. In the professional edition, a premium user can allow a service yard or yacht-management company to customize a maintenance plan, and yacht yards can look up the maintenance needs of a specific yacht system. You can receive reminders when maintenance is due, and you can route the service request to any technician, with photos and/or videos if desired. The premium edition of ­My-Villages sells for $1 a foot per month plus a $239 activation fee. Discounts apply if purchased through a boatbuilder, service yard or marina affiliate of My-Villages.

Wheelhouse Technologies takes a ­different tack, offering to gather all the data you want to include at an hourly rate of $87.50. This can include a ship’s log, maintenance history, and inventory of all parts and consumables normally kept on board. Once all the information is gathered by its technicians, Wheelhouse creates a customized program that is specific to your boat, not generic to the boat brand or model. It also has a less-expensive “customer implementation” option, in which the boat owner gathers and provides all the necessary information to Wheelhouse. (More than half the people who initially choose that option decide to upgrade, says company principal Capt. Craig Parkhurst.) The provider offers a variety of services such as oil and coolant analysis as well as spare-parts outfitting. All pricing is customized and based on a detailed list of available services.

Once the implementation process is complete, all of your boat’s information and records are stored on the cloud and accessible via computer, tablet or ­smartphone. The ideal clients for this service are owners of a professionally run and maintained yacht who are not involved in day-to-day operations, or owners of ­heavily customized yachts.

VesselVanguard is working with ­boatbuilders who now include a multiyear subscription with every new boat. Currently, it’s working with 24 builders, such as Beneteau, Grand Banks, Prestige, Hunt and Hargrave, and with companies like Shore Premiere Finance, which now includes a subscription for all borrowers of preowned boats (since good maintenance minimizes insurance risk). With new-boat partners, the builder provides ­VesselVanguard with its build sheet and includes a free subscription for the length of the boat’s warranty; after that, the owner can choose to maintain the subscription.

VesselVanguard does all cataloging of the operating systems. “For quality assurance, we would rather do this ourselves and save time for the builder and the boat owner,” says Don Hyde, founder and CEO. “This way nothing is overlooked and the customer starts his ownership experience with everything structured and organized.” Features of the VesselVanguard program include a maintenance dashboard and calendar that will tell you when maintenance is due and what needs to be done during any specified window of time. You, your service contractor or your dealer can schedule the work with the click of a mouse, and once it’s done, a master calendar resets your reminder schedule for the next service interval. If you add equipment, simply select the model number from a drop-down menu, and the system adds it to the master equipment list.

VesselVanguard’s pricing is set up in three tiers based on vessel length. Silver ($299 setup, $99 annually) is for boats up to 30 feet length overall. Gold ($599 setup, $199 annually) is for boats 31 to 65 feet length overall. On boats 65 feet and up, all pricing is custom.

These systems allow you to avoid ­­spending your time flipping through manuals and to get maintenance needs off your mind. You have more important things to think about, like planning that next voyage.