Not too long ago, yacht captains and crew would get on a boat, set sail, and put all their land-based duties on hold.
Now, of course, we are all so connected with cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet that shore-based worries don’t disappear at sea.
One megayacht captain recently wrote in asking how his yachting brethren manage it all. Are they Windows or Mac? Is their chart table cluttered with cell phone chargers and laptops?
So we asked. And of course, in addition to asking about brand loyalty, we broadened our survey this month to ask captains and crew about all sorts of technology onboard. And here’s what we learned.
In your personal life, are you Mac or PC?
Slightly more than half our respondents (who were predominantly captains) noted that they use Windows-based PCs in their personal lives. Less than half as many (22.4 percent) prefered Macs.
Interestingly, a full quarter of respondents noted that they use both systems in their personal lives.
So when it comes to their professional lives, On the yacht, is it Mac or PC?
Yachts, it seem, run even more strongly on PCs (61.9 percent), with just 11.9 percent running on Macs.
“Mac/Apple missed the boat, but I love my iPhones and iPads,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years who uses both systems personally but PCs on the yacht.
Again, though, about a quarter use both onboard.
“Why is my $800 iPad, with an $80 app, more accurate, faster and easier to use than the $100,000 of electronics on my bridge?” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years who is a devoted Mac user, on and off the yacht. “I love it. I can plan trips from an airport or monitor weather from anywhere. And take all this from boat to boat. The iPad, combined with a waterproof case can go on the yacht, tender, dinghy, paddle board – or anything that floats for that matter and give me full functionality as found on my bridge. Go Apple.”
What sort of electronic devices do you use to help run your vessel?
As far as phones go, captains have gotten away from Blackberrys (just a handful of respondents still use them) and now rely more on cell phones and smart phones. One captain still carries a beeper.
And while there are still a lot of boat-issued desktop computers in the captain’s office (about 60 percent), more captains use their personal laptops (66 percent) and personal tablets such as an iPad are catching up (nearly 45 percent).
In fact, one of the most interesting things we learned in this survey is that the majority of the technological devices used in the course of operating a yacht were not supplied by the yacht. In every category of technology except “desktop computer”, the device is most often provided by the captain.
And we forgot to ask about GPSes, which a number of captains were kind enough to point out. “Stand-alone GPS receiver for laptops,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “My Casio Commando phone also has the Navionics and a built-in stand-alone GPS.”
Not surprisingly, since most respondents use PCs, most also work on a Windows-based system (72.9 percent). Just 20 percent work on Apple. But there are other options out there.
“I use MacENC on the Mac (a navigation app), Rose Point on the PC (also navigation software), and Navionics in the phone,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
“Apple for A/V; Windows for all else,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet. “This, I think, is the commercial norm. Most crew favor Apple for personal use, about two to one. Not me though. I think Apple is a cult. Did you ever see that faraway look on Apple users?”
“It’s both,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “I would prefer to have all Mac, but there are still too many industry programs that are Windows based.”
“Navigation software and ship’s monitoring is on PC; ship’s computer work is done on the Mac, iPad and my iPhone,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“Personal is Apple; navigation computers are Windows,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “I would change that to Apple as soon as the developers make a product for Mac.”
We were curious to learn just how important technology is to the running of today’s megayachts so we asked a series of questions about it.
First, How integrated are your bridge systems to technology?
The largest group — almost a third — replied “mostly”. When added together with the 24.7 percent who chose “totally integrated”, we learned that about 56.5 percent of respondents interact intensely with technology.
“Bridge electronics should be integrated to a point,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet. “Each captain likely has a different definition of what that point should be. For me, the OOW must be doing enough manually to have a good feel for the present route and conditions.”
And about 27 percent of respondents said “some” of their bridge systems are integrated to technology.
We crunched these numbers a little closer to see if captains in yachting longer (and therefore likely older) were as tech-savvy as their younger kin. Turns out they are. In fact, they were a smidge more techie than respondents as a whole.
If 56.5 percent of all respondents were “mostly” or “totally” integrated, 57 percent of respondents in yachting more than 20 years were likewise.
Do you have remote access to your onboard systems?
Despite how prevalent technology is on yachts, most captains (56.5 percent) reported not having remote access. More than a third do, though, at least to some systems. Just 4.7 percent of respondents have remote access to all their onboard systems.
Other than charts, do you have digital versions of the paperwork needed to run your vessel?
The largest group — nearly half of respondents — have digital versions of some of the paperwork but not all of it.
The next largest group — slightly more than a quarter — have all their paperwork digitized.
We looked at these numbers a little more closely, too, but this time by vessel size. Our hunch was that the bigger the yacht, the more digital it would be.
We were right.
While only 25.9 percent of all yachts had all of their paperwork digitized, among yachts of 180 feet and larger, that group jumped to 37.5 percent.
And for yachts smaller than 100 feet, only 13.8 percent reported having all their paperwork digitized.
So, naturally, we wanted to know What sorts of documents do you have digitally?
The most common type of documents for yachts to have digitally was policy and procedure documents, followed closely by personnel records, equipment manuals and safety management plans. Things like log books were about half as likely to be on the computer.
We forgot to ask about charts and nautical publications, which more than a handful of respondents pointed out they have onboard digitally. We suspect that most of our respondents likely have those but can’t say for sure since we didn’t ask.
Other digital documents include synchronized calendars of the yacht’s schedules (including maintenance), the yacht’s accounts, parts lists and their replacement numbers, vendor contact lists, invoices, and documents for crew including recommendation letters and travel letters.
Perhaps the most revealing question was Do you still have the paper versions of these records?
Nearly all our respondents — 89 percent — still have the paper versions and retain them on the yacht. An additional 4.9 percent retain paper versions of important documents but they are off the vessel.
“Love it, but we still have the paper should the techno go south,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
Only 6.1 percent are completely paperless. We thought that might mean they were larger, perhaps managed vessels, but we were wrong. When we looked at this small slice of paperless yachts, they were one each in nearly every size range of yacht, including less than 80 feet and larger than 220 feet.
We also looked at this question by tenure of our respondents to see if newer captains retained less paper or if veteran captains retained more. They didn’t. The percentages were about the same when looked at by length of time in the industry.
While some of the digitizing and paper back-ups can be dictated by the yacht owner or manager, we wondered what the captain thought, so we asked How important is it to you to retain the paper back-ups?
The largest group at 44.6 percent said the paper back-ups were vital to them.
The next largest group, at almost 35 percent, said it was important.
About 15.7 percent said they were not really important, but nice to have.
“Paper back-ups are not required as long as you can print it if needed,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in the industry more than 10 years. “But if you do not have the ability to print, it is quite important.”
Only 4.8 percent said paper back-ups were not important at all. Again, this sliver was all over the chart on vessel size, from less than 80 feet to 140-160 feet. All of the respondents from the largest vessels (over 200 feet) also varied on the value they place on paper back-ups, falling fairly evenly among “not really important”, “important but not critical” and “vital”. None thought they were “not important at all.”
When we looked at this question by longevity, we noticed that the longer our respondent had been in the industry, the more likely he/she was to see the paper back-ups as vital.
Overall, 44.6 percent said paper back-ups were vital. Among our respondents in the industry more than 20 years, 53.8 percent of them agreed paper back-ups were vital.
We were curious to know Who is responsible for maintaining the technology onboard?
Not everyone answered this question, but among those who did, 69 percent indicated it was the captain.
“It’s me, unfortunately,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
The next largest group — 15.6 percent — was either the chief engineer, a technical officer, or another engineer who doubles as a technical officer
If it wasn’t the captain or someone in the engine room, then it was just as likely to be a senior officer (6 percent) or someone in the owner’s company (6 percent).
Just 3 percent of respondents spread this responsibility among all crew, depending on the hardware or software.
“We all do our part for each area of the vessel as is required,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
Is technology onboard a blessing or a bane?
Most respondents — 61.5 percent — agreed that technology was a blessing, at least most of the time.
“Technology is a blessing,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in the industry more than 10 years. “Life is much easier even if we do have paper duplicates.”
But most of the remaining respondents said it was both.
“It was a blessing, until the GPS malfunctioned and the autopilot was doing circles,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Fortunately, no one was injured. I now enter the desired course manually into the autopilot.”
“For the most part a blessing, but when it goes south it happens fast and you can feel totally useless,” said the captain of a yacht smaller than 80 feet.
“Some excellent, some overly complex and not at all user friendly or efficient,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet. “Like iPads to adjust blinds, lighting and audio visual stuff. Too much reliance on high-tech items with little thought to practicality or the possibility that it may fail at a critical time. Simplicity is very desirable in a bridge system and we are moving away from that very quickly in the industry.”
“It causes a tremendous amount of work troubleshooting problems with the systems; it also saves time,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Therefore, it is a double-edged sword.
“The problem is most of us are not techno gurus and could benefit with education in these areas just like engines, mechanics, plumbing, etc., that we are all used to,” this captain said. “It seems there is no longer time to actually hold a wrench in your hand because we are dealing with computer-related issues and technology.
“The more things a boat has on it, the more things there are to break. Boats have way more things on them today then ever. Yet we are supposed to be able to run them with less crew. That would be great if all the things worked all the time. Equipment used to last; computers seem to need constant attention and replacing.
“We all love what they do for us but I remember a time when people enjoyed their boat and not the satellite TV, cell phone and Internet,” this captain said. “And be prepared to look for another job if they are not working.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Lawrence Hollyfield is an associate editor. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, register for our e-mails online at www.the-triton.com.