Marine News from the Great Lakes

Technology is Improving Boat Ownership

Published: Tuesday, August 5, 2014

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We all know technology has changed the way we boat. GPS Chartplotters let us know where we are on the water, fishfinders let us see fish and the contour of the lake or river bed, and radar lets us see what is happening around the boat. Today, technology has also made it easier to maintain and manage a boat. You know how important it is to keep a boat in top working order. Most of us only get to use their boat 20 or 30 times a year, if that. If something goes wrong, it is very possible that most of the season will be lost, and if it goes wrong while on the water, getting a tow is a lot more difficult and expensive than getting one when you are in a car.


Boats are manufactured very differently than cars. In a car, all components are designed to work seamlessly together and are installed at the time the car was manufactured. The car often alerts you when it is time for routine maintenance and the service center it is taken to can perform diagnostics and quickly determine what systems have failed or are having issues. Boats are different. Electronics, sound systems, engines, thrusters, and other components are often installed after the initial boat production, and the boat owner has the choice of which systems they would like included on their boat. Therefore, today’s boats have grown more and more complex. The average 30-foot boat has 20 independent systems and an average of 150 annual service and inspection requirements. The bigger the boat, the greater the number of systems, and with the wide variety of systems that can be installed there is a tremendous amount of things that can go wrong. Also, unlike cars, keeping track of the systems and what maintenance is required for each, often falls on the owner. The combination of minimal use, a wide variety of complex systems, and the need for the owner to maintain all aspects of the boat can lead to either the perfect combination for failure or an inordinate amount of time spent managing the preventative maintenance, repair, and accurately entering all incidents in a service log.


Recently, there have been a number of technologies and services that have become available to make it easier for boat owners and service yards to keep on top of system performance and maintenance. In many cases, manufacturers can use these same technologies to analyze performance and potential faults to improve their products in the future. These are services that help owners take care of their investment, reduce the mystery or learning curve on maintenance and upkeep of a boat thus lowering the cost of ownership, reducing downtime and increasing their time on the water, increasing the resale value of their boat, and in some cases increasing warranty and reducing insurance costs.


Engine manufacturers were the first to provide diagnostic and performance information for boaters. Products like Yamaha’s Command Link and Mercury’s SmartCraft provide engine data to a dedicated display. Using CANBus, boaters are able to view how their engines are performing. Just as important, service professionals can access historical data directly from the engines for a better understanding of performance and operational trends over time. Some marine electronics manufacturers have incorporated these technologies into their chartplotters. For example, Lowrance and Simrad can display Yamaha and Evinrude data on their systems, and have integrated Mercury VesselView into their multifunction displays.


Companies such as Maretron and KEP Marine, with its new Intelligent Vessel Management System (IVMS) take things one-step further. Giving recreational boaters real-time information and alerts as well as complete monitoring and control, these solutions are fully scalable to a wide range of boat sizes and complexity. Although, requiring a bit of forethought when setting up, once configured they give boaters the ability to determine what information they want to see and the flexibility to organize the information in different formats for viewing on a dedicated display. These products typically allow multiple pages to be configured so the information that is most important for specific situations such as ‘at dock’, ‘trolling’, or ‘cruising’ can be organized and displayed. Think of these solutions as a network of systems. The variety of information displayed is dependent on the number of items in the network. For example, before going out for a fishing trip, an angler may be interested in checking battery capacities, fuel and oil levels, live well oxygen levels, LED lights operation, and recent bilge pump activity. Although the boater can check all of these items individually while on the boat, having the information presented in one easy to review screen makes it much more efficient to see if the boat is ready for a day of fishing. The ability to set up separate pages for each portion of the trip will make it easier to monitor systems while underway.


Products such as the KEP IVMS also include WiFI connectivity and extend the ability to view a boat’s systems remotely. In the example above, the angler can check out the systems on a phone, tablet, or computer remotely and prepare for any issues before arriving at the marina. They can also actively monitor potential problems, such as impending bilge pump failure or poorly conditioned batteries, and determine corrective actions before the problem becomes a failure.


The products detailed above are extremely helpful in determining a systems’ current status, but they do not help boaters understand and manage their preventative maintenance. VesselVanguard came up with a unique solution that makes it easy for boaters to stay on top of routine maintenance and upkeep schedules. The company has developed an extensive database of boat and system manuals, as well as maintenance schedules. For boaters who sign up for their service, VesselVanguard develops a custom, comprehensive digital profile of the boat. Every owner and service manual is digitized for quick reference. This makes it very easy to find any information you may need. More importantly, the service also provides a comprehensive list of manufacturers’ recommended and often required maintenance, inspection, and service tasks. This information is readily available on the Maintenance Dashboard that you access by logging into your account. All upcoming maintenance is highlighted, with pop-up windows giving you detailed requirements. From this Dashboard boaters can simply click to schedule and assign upcoming service, defer or reschedule tasks to a later date, or get instructions and diagrams from the manuals. When work is completed, the calendar is automatically calibrated for the next scheduled deadline.


Because we are all busy and may not have time to log into a personalized Dashboard, VesselVanguard automatically sends Task Alerts via email or text and a link to a personalized login page for quick access to learn more and manage the tasks at hand. Each alert includes a list of upcoming tasks and due dates.


This is a pretty slick and surprisingly affordable service. It helps individuals keep their boat in good working order and perform the tasks that are necessary to maintain warranties and even provides opportunities to extend warranties beyond the standard manufacturers’ warranties. Some insurance companies will reduce your premium if you are following the scheduled maintenance plan and the maintenance log helps to increase resale value when you are ready to trade up to a new boat.


With all of the advancements in boating technology, I am happy to see companies investing in technologies that help keep boats in good working order. Using these technologies can make the difference between a great boating season or watching it pass by while you fix what could have been an easily avoidable issue. The investment, effort, and commitment is minimal, but the results are huge.




tags: Electronics

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