Outfitting the Modern Workboat
Wishful thinking operators should have wish lists, ponder what is possible and then, what is affordable.
By Joe Hudspeth
The boat show season is upon us.Myriad events beckon to everyone associated
with commercial maritime from this point forward in the calendar
year. The anticipation and main focus of any event should not be about beaded
strolls down New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or how many barbecued shrimp
can be savored, but about the maritime industry comes together to showcase
and share what is new and needed. Much of what is on
display at the show can and should get transposed into the
preliminary specifi cations or wish lists for your next newbuild
or overhaul project.
While certain sectors of the industry are experiencing
a temporary downtick and setback, the overall maritime
marketplace is keeping pace and, perhaps, even progressively
growing. In either downturn or copious years, the
case can be made for investing in the future by upgrading
vessels, equipment, and technology. Trying something new
is always a bit daunting, but you can never get to where
you want to end up without leaving safe harbors and
constantly pushing forward.
MAVERICKS IN THE MAKING
The tradeshow venue provides the perfect opportunity
for equipment manufacturers to introduce new models and
products. Always be on the lookout for several veils to be
lifted as engine OEM’s begin to promote new models destined
for the next horsepower rung of EPA Tier IV certifi
cation. For example, engine distributor Motor Services
Hugo Stamp will introduce a new line of Baudouin engines
in December. The French engine manufacturer has made a
signifi cant investment to tap into the American market and
is in the fi nal stages of obtaining EPA Tier III approval on
their 15.9 liter and 31.8 liter engines. Likewise, OXE diesel
outboard engines and Castoldi water jets are also looking to
churn up the U.S. propulsion market with a foray this year.
They will encounter stiff competition as they do.
While alternative propulsion systems remain arguably
far from the mainstream, it is critical to monitor
advancements in this sector. It is expected that continuous
improvements will eventually make LNG and hybrid
propulsion systems a more workable option. BAE Systems
is actively seeking more candidates for their latest
Hybridrive technology that can offer
diesel electric and electric propulsion.
Breakthroughs in propulsion systems are
always worth looking for, but it is a trendy
wave of digital modernization that repeatedly
claims the best in show.
THE NEXT BIG THING?
A new horizon looms for those who used
to idolize Star Trek’s Captain Jean-luc Picard
as he simply called out to a seemingly personifi
ed computer to evoke commands for
the ship. Tech companies have harnessed that
fi ctional computer and have made Siri-type
technology a useful and tangible tool that can
be found in practically every pocket. While voice
protocol is still lacking for many vessel applications,
the platforms for app-based, cloud-based, and onboard networked communication are revolutionizing
modern workboat equipment as we have previously
known it. More and more mechanical based equipment
now features a digital component to allow for networked
communications, monitoring, and diagnostics. Captains
and crew members alike have found communicative systems
benefi cial and are now driving the demand for smarter
boats. Along with that comes the need for increasingly
sophisticated mariners to operate that equipment. One
without the other is a bad idea, indeed.
The pull through digital demand has also driven the
requirement for cross-system compatibility with real time
communication. CAN-based networking makes this level
of communication possible and the cost is easily affordable.
Managing the networked equipment interface has
also become more tangible and user-friendly. Voice activation
and touch screen control is bound to become the
new norm in contemporary glass-bridge pilot houses. Maretron’s
N2KView with customizable display screens and
vast monitoring functions, for example, is one of the most
complete interface systems available. Furuno has also recently
released a new multifunction system, the NavNet
TZTouch2, which features multi-touch navigation with a
host of other high end vessel electronics features integrated
into a single touch screen system.
And, the pilot house of the future may be one that eliminates
sea sickness altogether as unmanned and drone based
technology progress to break into the marine environment.
What started as military-only use, recently expanded to the
hydrographic survey and research segments and now the
workboat sector seems primed to be next in line to demo
the potential for unmanned technology. Unmanned technology
should more appropriately be considered remote
manned technology, as there will always be a requirement
for human oversight. The latest in advanced control systems
such as dynamic positioning systems, satellite communications,
and internet protocol television (IPTV) are
the foundational backbone to what could be a short bridge
to cross over to unmanned operations.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
Tough choices lay ahead. Builders face a tough predicament
for customers who want to linger in the mechanical
world with demands for analog displays that they themselves
have stamped as tried and true. Such technology is on an obsolescence
course and sometimes the best that can be offered
is a digital representation of the same analog equipment.
The newest models of mobile phone devices are not purchased
because the old model fails to no longer make a good
call. New devices simply offer more features and in more
areas, thus creating a new experience and an elevated importance
of needs and reliance. The same is true for modern
workboats; however, with the quick and continual release of
new technology stems a greater potential for latent defects.
A prominent fl eet operator recently shared an experience
detailing four service calls for an engine mechanic
to collect technical data and make adjustments to the engine’s
computer. The four separate visits occurred during
the busy summer operations, so the operator mandated
that the technician come along for the day long voyage
to avoid being inconvenienced with an unprofi table dock
stay. It was not until the vessel was underway that the technician
discovered that his laptop software was not properly
confi gured to collect the data and make the changes.
Fortunately, after three unproductive attempts, the proper
technology was sourced and the repair was implemented.
Similarly, my Bavarian-built car remained at the dealership
for over a month because the mechanics did not
know how to fi x it. The technician would do some programming
on the vehicle computer until it indicated that everything was working properly and then, he would call
me to pick up the vehicle. With a total reliance on digital
technology, the technician failed to actually physically
test the mechanical problem to see if it was resolved. I was
not impressed when I had to show up on two occasions
to demonstrate that the problem still existed, despite the
all-systems-go digital indication. The requirement for a
skilled wrench-turning vessel engineer will clearly remain,
and mechanical fail-safes will prove necessary even with
The technology shift is not an arguable point; we must
embrace and keep moving in a technologically advanced direction.
In this way, the U.S. Coast Guard and even NOAA
have marked a signifi cant move by endorsing the use of
electronic charts and e-navigation instruments. Even the
NTSB is pushing for on board networked monitoring with
a desire to see the implementation of voyage data recorders.
The uniqueness of our industry and environment will
continue to present obstacles and challenges that cannot
be solved by technological advances alone, but the potential
for success is greater with a modern maritime fl eet.
Talk to your builder and designer about a modern vessel
design that is a good fi t for your operation. Outfi tting the
modern workboat means more than bells and whistles; it
means balancing a realistic CapEx budget with the realities
of an increasingly competitive, regulated and technologically
Joe Hudspeth is Vice President of Business
Development at All American Marine,
Inc., a manufacturer of high speed passenger
ferries, excursion vessels, and work boats,
in Bellingham, WA. Hudspeth has been involved with
maritime sales, marketing and product development since
2000. He currently serves as a regional co-chairman for
the Passenger Vessel Association and participates on several
committees concerned with marine industry issues.
Reach him at email@example.com