By Dorie Cox
Six yacht engineers sit flanked by electrical schematics, equations on a whiteboard, and loads of black boxes and screens in a bright, cold classroom. They gaze off as they listen to the hypnotic beats of Grace Jones’ “Slave to the Rhythm” on speakers set to simulate left and right sundeck speakers on a yacht.
Mentally they maneuver through the sounds in search of unsynced notes and lyrics. They work as a team to isolate the delay, but back onboard each one is responsible for their yacht’s equipment on the bridge, in the engine room, in stateroom cabinets, and behind panels in the salon.
As the number of electronics onboard grows, this specialized skill set proves to be vital in today’s plugged-in world, according to Scott Molloy and Sjoerd Appelboom. Molloy is managing director of Just ETOs, a marine electronics training provider and Appelboom is of Next Level Programming. To address what they see as a shortage of skills, they hold classes in Fort Lauderdale and Liverpool, UK, including this week-long Yacht AV Training Course held at Palladium Technologies in Fort Lauderdale in May.
They expect the need to grow for crew to manage maintenance, repairs, installation, and testing of much of what plugs in onboard. While more yachts hire electro-technical officers (ETOs) these days, in most cases the duties still fall to engineers who find that when the yacht’s TV reception is clear, the wifi is fast, and the karaoke syncs with the words, guests and crew are happy. This group is in class because they know that a kink in the links can run a trip offline quickly.
After seven years in yachting, Engr. Tim Seifert has worked with a variety of equipment and is comfortable with the systems on M/Y Missing Link, a 142-foot Christensen. But he wants to stay on top of new information.
“You never know what might come up,” he said. “There are TVs, speakers and equipment everywhere.”
“Now it’s not just turn on the light switch, but to connect the user interface,” Engr. Darren Norman said of many yacht systems. “It’s madness, but it’s the norm.”
Engr. Zack Horowitz of M/Y T-Zero, a 127-foot Burger, said engineers are typically on their own to learn the intricacies of electronic and electrical equipment. Most yachts can’t pay for a dedicated ETO, said Engr. Blake Dexter of M/Y Sartori, a 206-foot Delta. As in his case, he’s the fixer onboard and is learning more about trouble-shooting.
“The more simple it is for the user, the more complicated it is for the back end,” Dexter said. “We’re not the people that use the stuff, and what they say is not the best way to figure it out. Now we have diagnostics, not their assumptions. Now we can look in behind the scenes.”
Back to the classroom where the bass of the dance tune booms loud, the instructor guesses that the sound difference is about 30 milliseconds and he makes changes to the equipment. That is close, but it takes several more millisecond adjustments until it syncs.
Onboard, a variety of issues can exacerbate such a small, but noticeable, discrepancy. The instructor discusses HDMI and analog audio with inside and outside speakers that don’t match when the yacht doors are open. He tackles how long speaker wire, far from the audio equipment, can cause “loss,” and how gold or silver speaker wire can add even more variables. The group experiments with the angle of a speaker to discern subtle changes and they learn tools to calibrate and regulate the receiver so the yacht owner who likes to crank the music loud doesn’t blow a speaker onboard.
These engineers hone their skills with a lot of acronyms and a unique language to recognize, isolate and test what many crew and guests don’t even realize can be an issue.
On the final day of class, the group, which also includes Third Engr. Javid Molar of M/Y Albula, a 209-foot Royal Denship, and Second Engr. Kristian Moorfield of M/Y Elysian, a 66m Lurssen, stare at the equipment connected to a large screen that is supposed to be on, but is black. This scene is much like when the stew calls down to say a guest can’t play a movie in her cabin.
Dexter sits on the floor to look inside a cabinet by the light of his phone. Moorfield carefully considers each connected piece of equipment while Seifert and Horowitz study the schematic. Molar and Norman add their ideas and eventually the team hovers over a laptop. Several switches, buttons and tweaks later, Imperator Furiosa blazes across the screen in a high-speed chase through the Wasteland in “Mad Max: Fury Road” — and the sound is loud.
“Now I’m more confident from the top to the bottom,” Horowitz said. “What we learned is really yacht specific, it’s massive. It’s made me more valuable.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.