Yacht technology is getting more and more sophisticated every day. We rely on electronic and computer systems to run everything from navigation to telephony. And as soon as we incorporate a new system on the vessel, we wonder how we ever lived without it.
Traditionally, each technical system was installed as a stand-alone entity. But adding systems one-by-one can quickly result in a hodgepodge of hardware and software systems, each with a unique purpose and configuration.
If youre like many captains and engineers we talk to, you are feeling overwhelmed by the need to maintain so many stand-alone systems simultaneously.
Many customers in the yachting industry come to us asking, How can I organize the technology on board my yacht to work as a seamless system? And what are the pros and cons?
These are a great questions that will only become more pressing as yacht technology expands in scope and more vessels rely on electronic systems to provide the on board services owners and guests have come to expect. So please read on to learn about what we think is the best answer: an integrated computer network for your yacht.
What is an integrated computer network system?
System integration involves combining existing and often disparate systems into one inter-related system composed of many sub-systems. The sub-systems are able to interact with each other under the over-arching system umbrella that manages them.
A well-designed integrated system provides the infrastructure to which new systems can be added as they become available. This results in a seamless vessel electronic system that is more cost-effective, versatile and secure.
Todays typical yacht integrated system might be composed of the following sub-systems on the vessel:
1. Ships Business Network
2. Audio Visual System
3. Control Systems (lighting and temperature)
5. Security/Closed Circuit TV
6. Bridge Electronics and Navigation
7. Engine Room Monitoring
8. Remote Monitoring and Support (connecting vessel systems with shore-side support)
System Integration Pros
A well designed integrated network can be much more cost effective than a jumble of stand alone systems. While an integrated network infrastructure will likely be more expensive than any one single purpose network, the overall quality and performance can be much greater and at a lower total cost. Ultimately, an integrated system eliminates duplication and increases system efficiency.
Integrated systems are set up with a single network infrastructure backbone that runs throughout the vessel. Any node in the network can be a part of any of the systems. For example, from an iPad tablet in the main salon, an owner can select movies for viewing on a big screen TV, control the rooms lighting, view CCTV of guests arriving by tender through the vessels security system, and make a softphone call over VSAT through the vessels VOIP phone system.
As any node on the network can potentially be part of any system, the system can easily grow and evolve. For example, say an owner wants to tap into the navigation system from his suite to monitor the vessel's movements. An integrated network can add that capability, even if it wasnt originally set up for that particular use.
A well-designed network can also aid the vessels crew when systems need service. For instance, in the event of an HVAC malfunction, shore-side technicians can connect through the vessel's network to troubleshoot the problem and upload a fix.
These days, most user access to vessel networks is wireless. Guests and crew typically access the Internet, shared storage, and AV controls wirelessly. Non-integrated systems can result in multiple conflicting wireless networks that degrade signal quality with competing RF traffic. Integrated systems solve this problem by using a single wireless network. Users can connect to distinct "virtual" network segments, but it's really one physical network that provides better signal quality and performance for all users.
System Integration Cons
1. Difficulty Finding a Vendor with the Right Skills
Many companies that are skilled with installing stand-alone systems are not experienced in the nuances of network systems for vessels. It is therefore imperative to work with an individual or company who has a track record with designing, installing and maintaining integrated systems for yachts or other vessels.
Although Im listing this as a con, finding the right vendor isn't an insurmountable problem. Get referrals from others in the yacht industry. Ask potential vendors for a yacht customer list. Make sure the vendor has extensive experience with systems for yachts, as well as a strong networking and software background.
Also, make sure that the vendor is a good communicator. You may choose one consultant for system integration and other providers for each specific system to be integrated. So you need someone who will work well with you, but who also will work well with other technology-related vendors you might have selected. To pull all yacht-related technology together in an integrated system, the person you choose needs to work closely and efficiently with representatives from all the other companies.
2. Up Front Design Time and Cost
You need to spend time and money to properly design an integrated system. However, you should be able to recoup costs with eliminated redundancy and increased efficiency.
3. Potential Security Risks
If not properly implemented, an integrated system can pose security risks by allowing unauthorized access to vessel systems or network users' private data. However, modern networks incorporate very sophisticated access control that allow a properly designed integrated system to be as secure as a stand-alone network.
What are the trends for the future?
The trend for more technology will only increase in coming years. So its probably only a matter of time before integrated systems are standard for yachts, allowing them to efficiently manage ever-increasing electronic technology loads.
If you are currently using stand-alone systems on your vessel, a good network designer can incorporate them into an integrated network system. And if you are building a vessel or doing a refit, you should strongly consider incorporating an integrated network system into your plan.
Note: you can contact the integrated computer network experts at Great Circle Systems, who are experienced integrated system designers for the yachting industry, to discuss whether an integrated system is right for you.
Visit our website to learn about Great Circle Systems network design and integration services. To talk with a specialist about how Great Circle Systems can help you design, implement and maintain an integrated network system for your yacht, click the green button below.