We've written a lot about the huge uptick in yacht technology over the past few years. Most of today’s vessels include complex on board computer, VSAT, audio/visual and security systems. And we can expect on board technology to only become more complex and necessary over time.
But I want to talk about a less sexy, but crucial aspect of expanding yacht technology: cabling. A vessel's cabling system is the infrastructure that supports current technology and future expansion. So it’s important to lay the right kind of cable now, while anticipating future needs. Good choices today can reduce the likelihood of a premature yacht technology refit.
What types of cable are available?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) jointly specify general-purpose telecommunication cabling systems (structured cabling) that are suitable for a wide range of applications. These include the types of cables supporting technology on board vessels. It covers both balanced copper cabling and optical fiber cabling.
The standard defines several classes of twisted-pair copper interconnects, which differ in the maximum frequency for which a certain channel performance is required. You may have the following cable types on your vessel:
- Class D: up to 100 MHz using elements category 5e
- Class E: up to 250 MHz using elements category 6
- Class EA: up to 500 MHz using elements category 6A (Amendment 1 and 2 to ISO/IEC 11801, 2nd Ed.)
- Class F: up to 600 MHz using elements category 7
Cabling for a new build.
The type of cable you choose for your new build matters. Category 7 (CAT7) is the new standard for vesse network cabling and supports data rates up to 10 Gbps (gigabits per second). The cable contains four twisted copper wire pairs and can be made to be backward compatible with Class D and Class E cables.
CAT7 cabling features stricter specifications for crosstalk (electromagnetic interference from one cable to another) than older cable classes. To achieve this, foil shielding has been added for individual wire pairs and the cable as a whole. Besides the foil shield, the twisting of the pairs and number of turns per unit length increases radio frequency shielding and protects from crosstalk.
Presently, there are not many components available that can take full advantage of that data transfer speed. However, those components are on the horizon and new builds that install CAT7 cable will be ready for them.
For applications that require the fastest possible data rates, such as multiple streams of high definition video, fiber optic cable should be considered for the network backbone. An optical fiber cable is a cable containing one or more optical fibers.The optical fiber elements are typically individually coated with plastic layers and contained in a protective tube suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed.
Fiber should also be landed in locations on the vessel where upgrades to the technology package are most likely. Because fiber allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility, it can help ‘future-proof’ those areas. An 8 strand fiber run with potential for data rates up to 100 GBPS (gigabytes per second) makes for a very good insurance policy at a relatively modest cost. The result is lower refit expenses and a reduced need to tear up vessel finishes to run new cable in the future.
Cabling for a refit.
If you’re planning a vessel technology refit, you need to determine if the existing network cable can be used for the refit. Was the best class of readily-available network cabling was used when the boat was built? If so, you might be able to use the original network cable and just add the latest network components.
You can often use original cable if it is CAT5e or better. Even if low grade network components were installed during vessel construction, you may be able to save money by using the CAT5e (or better) cable paired with new network components.
Of course, network cabling has also made important advancements in recent years, such as 10 GBPS speeds over standard twisted pair cabling and 100 GBPS speeds over fiber optic cable. If you want to upgrade to those types of speeds as part of a network refit, then it's likely that new cabling will also need to be installed.
The bottom line.
Adding network cabling after the build is completed can be difficult and expensive. So it’s best to include a generous amount of cabling during the build to support all present systems, while anticipating the needs of future systems.
However, yacht electronic refits are inevitable because technology will continue to change. So you want to lay the foundation for a less expensive future refit by incorporating the best cabling that today’s technology has to offer.
Need some advice?
The experts at Great Circle Systems have run cable and set up vessel computer networks for countless new builds and refits. We’d be happy to chat with you about your project. Just click the button below to request more information.