Yacht Monitoring Technology

Two slick yacht information systems to consider.

Yacht Monitoring Technology

A great advantage of living in the era of high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi hot spots is the ability to manage and access information. Two forward-thinking products — WheelHouse Technologies Inc.'s WheelHouse (formerly SeaKits; www.seakits.com) and Digital Yacht's BOATraNET (www.digitalyacht.co.uk) — provide yachtsmen with the capability to monitor specific aspects of their yachts, ranging from location and heading to preventive and corrective maintenance. While these products differ widely in intent, purpose and functionality, both are designed to make it possible to wirelessly monitor a vessel's condition and situation...and, in the case of BOATraNET, to have some fun. Here's a look at both products and at how they can improve your boating experience.

Barry Kallander founded SeaKits (now WheelHouse) because he was looking for a better way to outfit and maintain his Nordhavn 40 for extended cruising. Inspired by the diligent preventive-care mentality he had experienced while serving as a submariner in the U.S. Navy, Kallander began developing his own proprietary software. The result of his efforts is WheelHouse, a turnkey, planned-maintenance program for boat owners and operators that provides a disciplined structure for preventive and corrective maintenance.

The process begins with a thorough stem-to-stern walk-through inspection, in which Kallander and company create a list of the make, model and serial number of every piece of onboard equipment, as well as all necessary replacement parts, and build an exact database for each client. This information is uploaded into WheelHouse’s cloud-based, browser-like software program, along with each manufacturer’s suggested schedule for preventive and corrective care, creating a sophisticated maintenance calendar. The program automatically generates notifications advising when scheduled maintenance work is needed and provides warranty tracking. While WheelHouse requires an Internet connection to access all of the system’s features, it includes a function that automatically downloads critical documentation and planned maintenance tasks to a user’s hard drive.

WheelHouse is also designed to give owners and managers unparalleled access to replacement parts while venturing out of their home waters. For example, if a customer receives an alert advising that his watermaker filters need to be replaced, he can simply order the part through WheelHouse. WheelHouse receives the part, inspects and verifies that it’s the correct unit, and then works with the owner to ship the package to any port of call.

The company also offers its SeaKits Spare Parts Outfitting service, which provides custom-designed repair kits. WheelHouse Technologies physically sources and assembles a full outfitting of vessel-specific spare parts. These parts are inspected, tagged, bagged and kitted in well-organized, easy-to- use, water-resistant cases, which are shipped to the customer. Additionally, WheelHouse compiles comprehensive electronic documentation, available online, including manuals for major onboard equipment and systems, giving an owner or operator access to a library of information.

WheelHouse is available for both new builds and existing vessels in the 40-to 140-foot range, and the company will work with project managers for one-offs and custom builds. Irrespective of age or size, the earlier in a yacht’s life cycle an owner or operator enlists the boat in the program, the greater the long-term returns will be. “The key feature with a new build,” Kallander says, “is that WheelHouse helps an owner maintain his yacht to new-boat standards. If you use WheelHouse, you’re able to maintain every piece of gear and every onboard system from day one. With a five-year-old yacht, the owner is probably coming to us because he knows he’s not keeping up with his boat’s maintenance needs and he wants to get on a long-term program of bringing the vessel up to a higher level of material condition.” Additionally, WheelHouse Technologies works with equipment manufacturers.

On the hardware side of information organization, Digital Yacht bills its new BOATraNET system as the world’s first wireless navigation, document and entertainment server for yachts. The system’s main hardware is a low-amperage 12-volt Linux server that interfaces with the vessel’s NMEA 0183 or 2000 boat-data system to broadcast information coming from the vessel’s existing navigation system to any enabled wireless device. Interestingly, BOATraNET uses a vessel’s internal Wi- Fi system — rather than the Internet or a cloud server — to share information. This means that while this technology is currently available only to onboard users (according to the company, this will change moving forward), BOATraNET will work when the vessel can’t access the Internet.

BOATraNET incorporates Navionics-based charts that overlay the ship’s position and heading/bearing information, as well as Automatic Identification System (AIS) information, on everyone’s mobile screens, be they iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, or just a wireless laptop, giving each onboard user access to the same information as the navigator. Rather than using a dedicated application, BOATraNET creates and transmits dynamic HTML5- compliant, password-protected Web pages to all enabled devices, allowing users to view BOATraNET’s information on an HTML5-compliant Web browser.

One of BOATraNET’s most intriguing features is its customizable server. Owners can store music and photos on BOATraNET’s 8 GB server (which is expandable via an external USB hard drive) and make this media available for guests via their personal devices. Digital Yacht’s proprietary software also comes bundled with a photo and document/ PDF viewer, allowing you to share and store crucial boat documents and manuals. Crafty users, for example, could create homemade maintenance data banks, which they could store as PDFs.

“BOATraNET generates a website on the boat that anyone [on board] can access, and then it serves up the data on these Web pages,” says Talbot Pratt, CEO of Digital Yacht America. “It also has an electronic chart database that, while not suitable for navigation, provides a visual as to where you are, next-waypoint information and vessel location. Also, AIS information is laid on top of this chart view.”

Pratt says BOATraNET is fully expandable, with more functions and features to follow this year. However, one existing function that deserves mention is BOATraNET’s ability to play nicely with Digital Yacht’s long-range Wi-Fi adapters. Simply tap into a marina’s Wi-Fi hot spot and BOATraNET acts as an onboard wireless router, allowing you to share the vessel’s long-range Wi- Fi connection with any device that’s connected to BOATraNET. Slick.

While these products are both rife with forward-thinking technology, further possibilities abound: Couldn’t WheelHouse use BOATraNET’s server to deliver maintenance info independent of an Internet connection? Or maybe even take advantage of BOATraNET’s system listening abilities to quickly alert boat owners to a potential problem and immediately begin solving it? Not yet, but the idea of creating or integrating third-party software to run on BOATraNET’s specialized hardware isn’t out of the question. “We’re approaching [BOATraNET] a bit like Apple with the iPad or iPhone,” Pratt says. “We’re putting the hardware out there and seeing what people will do with it.”