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#0 - Smart and Easy Boating

Easy Boating: How Sensors Steer Boats Toward the Future


Everyone who has ever set foot on a yacht knows that the variety of systems—be they for navigation, entertainment or propulsion—can be overwhelming. To manage them, NMEA2000 databus networks have become a common solution. Garmin, Furuno, Raymarine and all the other main manufacturers of marine electronics offer them. But some have taken another step along the path toward making boating as easy and enjoyable as possible at a time when it competes with a variety of less demanding leisure activities.

Interactive and Connecting the Whole Yacht

Let’s start with the first-of-its-kind touch table for yachts by KARA Technologies. Founder Ivain Bignonet developed it as a multi-user device for passage planning, battery management or simply watching a movie.

We wanted to create something interactive that connects the whole yacht, explained Bignonet.

The table puts a core principle of on-board life into practice—sharing. “On a boat you share everything, the space, the food, the same hobby and now even the information technology.”

Applications downloaded from the Google Play Store can be used simultaneously by different crew members on the same table. It is equipped with a robust eight-millimeter-thick secured glass to withstand even rough conditions. Infrared technology makes it possible to use it even with wet fingers.

KARA (1)The first table will be installed on an Allures 39.9 sailing yacht in spring 2016. Later, additional Grand Large Yachting Group vessels will be equipped. Bignonet already pictures the future of his innovation.  “I am sure that tomorrow all yachts will be connected, even to stores, and will have all the applications our smartphones have.”

Intimidated by Docking the Boat

Like many other NMEA systems, the smart table is designed for yachts over 10 meters long. Nevertheless, developments facilitating the lives of boaters using outboards and other small craft are underway. Take control joysticks. There is hardly a single engine manufacturer that does not offer this simple steering solution. “There are many users who are intimidated by docking the boat, waiting at the gas station, the slip or an opening bridge,” says Shane de Wit, Product Manager at Seastar Solutions.

Their Optimus 360 Joystick Control System targets customers “who like to have a little help with steering, gearing and controlling speed at the same time. They also appreciate the safety aspect, because there is less chance of losing control over your boat.” The Optimus 360 is designed for intuitively conducting low-speed maneuvers with multi-engine outboards.

If you want the boat to the right, you just put the joystick to the right, like in a video game, adds de Wit.

Steering a Sailboat With a Fingertip

Sailing with a joystick does not work…yet. But Jeanneau and Harken, leading producers of sailboats and fittings, recently launched an innovation that comes close to steering a sailboat with a fingertip. Assisted Sail Trim (AST) tacks and trims the yacht almost by itself. All the sailor needs to do is define parameters such as course, speed and maximum angle of heel. Sensors detect wind speed and apparent wind and transfer the data in NMEA format to a computer operated from a cockpit display with push-button control.

“AST acts on the incredible amount of information yacht sensors already collect,” says Erik Stromberg, Sailboat Product Director at Jeanneau. “We realized that it would be quite easy to develop a system where the boat is able to sail itself. But a fully automated experience is not what our customers want.

They are looking for some assistance, an extra hand. AST allows them to handle bigger boats with fewer people.

Not for Beginners

These are the so-called “easy boating products” intended for the shorthanded cruising crew in search of increased comfort and safety. But Stromberg warns that the AST is not for beginners. He and others compare the situation to the automotive sector. Cruise control can alleviate fatigue on a long trip, but the driver still needs to have a license.

We assume that if you want to use the equipment, you already know how to sail.

The Assisted Sail Trim is not geared to an entry-level market, but to make boating more enjoyable for experienced sailors.”

Ivain Bignonet also emphasizes that on-board technology should serve to assist, rather than replace the responsible skipper. “Some people saw the touch table and said ‘now I can buy a boat,’ but didn’t even know how to sail.”


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