Triton Survey: Crew weigh in on security cameras

Jul 22, 2013 by Lucy Chabot Reed

The idea of security cameras on a yacht is nothing new. They help manage operations, keeping an eye on that towed tender or the engine room when crew are small or watches long.

But when cameras get focused in the salon or crew mess, and owners can tap in remotely whenever they like, “security” takes on a new meaning.

“I know of a yacht that has a camera in the crew quarters hallway and it can be monitored remotely by the owner at home,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “Crew come and go to the shower half naked, of course, and these cameras should not be allowed. It’s kind of creepy.”

This month’s survey comes after talking to two captains, one upgrading the yacht’s security system and the other on a new yacht and dealing with cameras in the interior for the first time.

Both were curious what the industry standards are for video cameras on yachts. So we asked.

About 120 yacht captains and crew took our survey this month and we really weren’t surprised at the answers to our first few questions: Do you have cameras on the yacht?

More than 90 percent said yes.

“Cameras are one of the most misunderstood yet most valuable and underutilized tools on board,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet. “Yes, the potential is there to misuse, however if properly placed and for the proper reasons, they can greatly increase the level of safety, supervision, and especially attentive ‘invisible’ service, without being intrusive to guests.”

“More eyes are always a good thing on a yacht,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Safety, security, service; the three S’s. Also, they’re very helpful when docking.”

“The small cameras are good for monitoring all access areas to the vessel,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “Cameras on the upper deck we use to monitor boat launching and retrieval, guests arriving by tender or swimming at our side boarding ladders, and pilot boat approach and boardings.”

“To catch abnormalities in the engine room before they get bad,” said an engineer in yachting more than 30 years.

“As I am on a smaller yacht, we do not have many cameras but I do like the passerelle camera as it gives us the convenience of leaving the passerelle down during the evening but being able to monitor it from inside the boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years.

“Not absolutely necessary but nice to have,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.

We could find no similarities among the 11 captains who said their yachts had no cameras. The mix of yacht size and chartering pretty much matched the group as a whole.

So among the yachts that do have cameras, we asked Are they mostly for safety/security or more for privacy concerns?

Again, the bulk of our respondents (94 percent) agreed and said they were for safety and security. Even those used for one or the other can be called into service for both.

“Ours are mainly used for security but can be helpful to see if guests are coming or going if we happen to step away from the gangway for a minute,” said the deckhand on a yacht 180-200 feet.

“We use the camera to be certain that the connection of our 33-foot towed tender is done safely,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “We also require visual confirmation of anyone entering/exiting our transom door while under way.”

To get a better idea of how cameras are used on yachts, we asked Where are the cameras located?

Cameras are used for everything from monitoring the safety and security of travel including towed tenders and docking to monitoring human movement on all decks and observing guest common areas for service.

Once again, the bulk of our respondents commonly put them in the engine room (91 percent), aimed on the aft deck and/or passarelle (86 percent), and aimed at access doors (75 percent). Less than a third (29 percent) had them monitoring the bow.

“Cameras should be positioned to show all entry points and outside decks and mast as well as the engine spaces,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet. “Also recommend a camera underwater on bow and in stern. The underwater cameras show great marine life and with the stern camera you are able to see the props and rudders without getting into the water. Last, I would put outboard and in the aft section cameras port and starboard to be used when docking.”

Just 12 percent had them in the main salon, presumably for guest service, and less than 5 percent had them in the galley.

Two percent of our respondents said there were cameras both in the crew quarters and in staterooms.

About a fifth of our respondents offered other locations, including atop the mast, in the bilges, in the tender garage and underwater.

“Masthead fore and aft, plus owner’s deck exterior dining area so that the interior crew can monitor the progress and needs of meals,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.

“I would like to link our security camera to my smart phone so when I’m off the boat, I can monitor what is going on,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.

Here’s where our survey stopped being so predictable.

Because our initial captain seemed a little surprised that his new command had cameras in the interior, we asked specifically Do you use cameras to see when guests might require service (perhaps on deck or in the dining area)?

About 57 percent do; 43 percent do not.

“They’re helpful when the guests sit on the aft deck for dinner,” said the chief stew of a yacht 140-160 feet. “They are obviously not a substitute for good service but cameras can aid as a quick peek to see who’s still eating, when you can clear, etc.”

“If you need cameras inside the yacht, then there obviously is a trust issue,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “If the crew uses them to know when service is needed then they are not in tune with the guests.”

Are camera images recorded for future playback?

About 56 percent said they are not; 44 percent said they are.

“The ability to discreetly be able to keep an eye on guests at dinner without standing over them could be a bonus, but I would definitely let guests know where all cameras on the boat were,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “I would never record guests at any time, except entry and exit from the yacht. A camera in an interior space should not be hooked up to a recording device.”

Are the images (live or recorded) remotely accessible?

Almost two-thirds said they are not; more than a third said they are.

“The owners requested to have the cameras on board for security and monitoring reasons,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “The owners are located [far away] and wanted to see the yacht remotely in their country.

“I don’t believe in remote monitoring of onboard cameras,” this captain said. “The owner or management company should only hire crew who they really trust. Also, it steals bandwidth from anybody else trying to get online.”

“I would find it intrusive, disrespectful, paranoid, and rude if they were being monitored,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.

As technology continues to change, we were curious to know how swiftly camera technology is keeping up, so we asked Do any of your cameras have alarms or motion alerts?

Most (69 percent) don’t, but 31 percent do.

Do any of your cameras have night vision or thermal sensors?

Slightly more than half (52 percent) do; slightly less (48 percent) don’t.

“The night vision was installed at the owner’s request in case of MOB,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “It is a high-quality camera and we have found it useful when approaching anchorages, etc.”

“I have IP night-vision cameras in critical, hard-to-access areas such as the rudder compartment to monitor seal leakage under way,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.

Are the cameras’ images high-definition?

Slightly more than half (52 percent) are not; slightly less than half (48 percent) are.

We got an earful when we asked How do cameras help you do your job better? Or do they? Most noted they are used for the reason they were installed: monitoring a towed tender, keeping an eye on the engine room, docking more safely, and keeping an eye on the owner and guests.

“They vastly improve security, monitor the engine room and mechanical compartments, and allow the crew to follow the needs of the owners and guests,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.

“Very helpful to see that anyone in the engine room while under way is safe,” said the engineer on a yacht 80-100 feet. “Also used as a rearview mirror to see behind under way and while docking.”

“Prompt service and awareness of guest movements/activities such as swim platform,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.

“They’re helpful for seeing blind spots when maneuvering, but mostly we use crew on radios,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

“They allow the crew to monitor when the owners/guests return down the dock,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “We do not run a gangway watch as the owners are rather informal in that regard. We can watch from the bridge or crew mess and have plenty of warning in case they need assistance or simply to greet them.”

“When at the helm, I can monitor other parts of the boat for safety and security without being there,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.

“Also, cameras on the aft deck where the guests eat are important for the serving staff so as not to bother guests too much,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.

“Allows the crew to monitor the gangway without having to stand and interfere with the owner’s use of aft deck,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“I can see the dock and not depend on the crew’s idea of distance off for docking,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

“I can judge the progress of a meal better,” said the chef on a yacht 160-180 feet.

“Quick identification of a safety hazard or to monitor a developing situation or simply to help the guest service,” said the first officer of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“Cameras in the engine room are very important on all boats in this day and age,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

One captain noted that cameras should not be a substitute for engine room checks.

“It’s your nose that needs to go into the engine room to detect what could be wrong,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.

And there was the rare respondent who answered the second half of our question asking if cameras help yacht crew do their job better.

“They do not,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet that has cameras throughout the vessel, including the galley and main salon. This captain does not like having cameras aboard, and noted that the glare from receiver screens blocks night vision.

“The cameras are for security and owners’ viewing,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet. “There is no other need for the cameras for the crew.”

In an effort to figure out if we’d forgotten to ask about any camera uses specifically, we asked Outside of safety/security concerns, how else might cameras help yacht crew?

The majority of respondents who answered this open-ended question said they used them for service and to show the arrival of guests without having to stand watch on the dock.

“Stews can monitor meal progress, delivering less intrusive yet better service,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet. “Captain can better monitor deck activities when guests are on board. And they can give better perspective from center helm when docking.”

“It makes it more convenient to view areas without having to go to that area, and it adds privacy for guests in that area,” said a chief stew in yachting more than 20 years.

“It provides a permanent record of the last 24 hours for security purposes,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.

“In picking up moorings when you lose sight of ball under bow,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.

“As a supplement to radar, they help monitor other traffic and dangers to navigation around the vessel that may not be visible from the wheelhouse,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet.

“On sailing yachts, we use them to view different aspects of the rigs and sails,” said the first officer of a yacht 180-200 feet.

And then we just flat out asked Do you like having cameras onboard?

A majority (73 percent) flat out said “yes.” Combining that with the “most of the time” answers, 89 percent of respondents said they approve of cameras onboard.

About 7 percent were in the middle, saying they “sometimes” like having cameras on board.

Three percent opted for “rarely”, and 2 percent said no, they did not like having them aboard.

“They are always unwelcome,” said the engineer of a yacht 140-160 feet. “There’s no reason to have cameras on board a vessel.”

When we asked At what point would cameras be unwelcome?, most drew the line when safety and security morphed into an invasion of privacy. And usually, they meant in the crew areas.

“For example, the owner constantly checking on what the crew was doing or any camera in the crew mess or areas that are behind the scenes for the functionality of the yacht for their service,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “Crew need to move freely and have the opportunity to speak and clear their minds without fear of being overheard or recorded for someone else to misinterpret what was said or how it was said or who it was said about.”

“Inside the crew area and when the owner can monitor the crew from his office/home,” said the first officer of a yacht 80-100 feet.

Often, though, respondents noted that it was less about the location of the cameras but rather how they were used.

“When they become a invasion of privacy and no longer a tool,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“When they make the guests uncomfortable,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.

“When they intrude on the owner’s privacy,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.

“Pointing at guests in the hot tub,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.

“When you have a control freak for an owner and he needs to view the cameras constantly from his iPhone (I previously worked for this guy),” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.

About half as many prefered not to have them in the interior at all, especially in private areas such as a stateroom or head.

But just as many noted that cameras would never be unwelcome.

“Cameras are not unwelcome on a yacht,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “It is an added feature that helps with the security of the boat. It makes the captain’s job a little easier.”

“As long as you’ve got nothing to hide, who cares if there are cameras on board?” said a captain of more than 30 years.

We conduct our 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, e-mail to be added.


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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