From the Bridge: Captains consider future of yachting

Jan 24, 2022 by Susan Jobe

What will it be like to command a yacht 50 years from now?

This month, Triton gathered with a small group of captains to talk about the future of yachting. If they time-traveled in their sleep and woke up on the bridge of a yacht in 2072, what do they think would be different? And what would they most want to be different? A light-hearted, lively discussion followed.

One captain immediately said, “Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be any different. Everything may be on remote controls, but I think crew are still going to be on boats, and I still think everything is going to flow the same way. Yes, you might have better fuel consumption, you’re going to have solar or electric boats, but I don’t think much is going to change.”

When the idea of robot crew replacing humans came up, that captain said, “You’re not going to have robots on the boats because everything is going to rust and break,” which was met with laughs and nods of agreement all around.

One captain pointed out that yachting is a hospitality business — even when people become so rich, they still want that personal, human touch. “I don’t think humans will ever be replaced in yachting,” he said.

We talked about the possibility someday of a fully automated yacht, able to dock itself, and to set and hold its own course. Would captains become obsolete? Would the engineer or ETO become the most important person at the helm?

“We have that technology— or semi-independent technology — now and it’s already failed. And even if the ETO is in charge, he becomes the master and is solely responsible for the people’s lives. So I don’t think captains will be replaced,” one captain said, adding, “Maybe some deckies will be replaced.”

The others agreed that a captain would still be a “captain,” even if it meant his skill set changed.

Someone mentioned the idea of drone deliveries out in the middle of the ocean. “Fresh fruit and vegetables delivered by a high-speed drone that will land right on the deck, drop it off with a National Distributors’ invoice, and boom — you’ve got fresh fruit after a 10-day cruise halfway across.”

“That would be awesome!” and “That would be amazing!” were the responses.

What about just growing your own food onboard, such as hydroponics, and having the ability to stay out at sea longer? One captain said he had seen a lot of ideas on Facebook and other places about what would be essentially a floating island. “I mean, it’s a yacht, but it’s a floating island —they’re just next level on general size and what they had,” he said. “Maybe that could be something they have in the future? Like, you literally have a floating island that constantly moves?”

At one point, the discussion turned to a greener future. “Imagine having some form of nuclear power that would be safe for civilian use,” one captain said.

“I think nuclear plants could potentially work — it could, as most submarines are all nuclear power,” another captain replied.

“That was a topic that came up with another owner we were working with — he’s quite a fascinating guy because he’s extremely, extremely dead set on going green,” the first captain continued. “In fact, he’s building a catamaran, a 65 or 75-foot catamaran, in New Zealand, with a company there. It’s part electric and part fuel, so it’s a hybrid. And basically, you could run indefinitely — I think at 8 and a half knots on batteries. Or alternatively, I think when he runs generators, he can run at something like 16 knots, and that would just be for passages where he wanted to cross a little quicker.”

Another idea was brought up: “I think it’s not crazy talking about your trash becoming an energy source that can be burned and converted to fuel. You’ll be dumping your trash into your fuel tank at night to repower.”

“Yachting does have an excessive amount of trash,” one captain said. “We try to minimize it, but you know…”

What about hull design and performance upgrades? For boats to move quicker, be more stable, less vulnerable to fluctuations of the sea, we asked.

One captain said he would like to see simplification of all systems on board. “The boat I am on now is from 2008, and I look at how many wires and things are run and systems I have — wow. We don’t need this type of stuff, it’s so overdone.

“When I look at the technology of today versus that, I think that’s another factor. Maybe by 2075, they’ll have something that creates a water sheet over your boat so you don’t have to spray down. That would be really nice!”

Unanimous approval of that idea.

“Yeah. I think in terms of cost as well … that could be another big factor that could change things a lot,” a captain said. “Because if I look at what everything costs — services of engines, generators — I’ve just done two different boats,” he went on to explain. “We have done yard periods, quite extensively on the one — we’ve done gear boxes, generators, motors and all that kind of stuff. And looking at the prices of it, it is insane.

“So, if that starts changing to something more electric, it’s probably a little more expensive on the initial outlay, which a lot of people are OK with,” he said, but it would ultimately save on maintenance. “It’s the maintenance upkeep cost of yachts that actually become the problem.”

Another captain replied: “One thing we have to remember is, there’s the word ‘yacht’ that’s part of it. So, if we blindfold the engineer and just bring him down to the engine room and say to him, ‘Hey, look, that’s a truck engine, just fix it for us,’ it will be much cheaper.”  Again, a round of laughs and nods of agreement.

Finally, Triton asked what would be the biggest game changer that these captains would hope for — would it be better fuel, would it be better broadband connection, would it be something else?

The unanimous answer: connectivity.

“If you could be literally anywhere on the planet, that will change everything. Because it doesn’t matter how good a package you try and buy, it just isn’t that great. If connectivity was good, that would change a lot of things.”

“I agree,” another captain replied. “It’s 100 percent essential and we all need it. If that can mean more, or better, signals are out there, great! But at the moment, all lose signals. I even lose sometimes GPS — on two boats now.”

“We just had a situation now where we had VSats on board — it is stupidly expensive for VSat, and it is completely useless,” another said. “So, I think in terms of, you know, all the satellites being launched and things like that, we would definitely have better communication.”

Ultimately, the consensus was: Who’s to say now what’s possible in the future?

“I always try to be as open-minded as possible. If you explained a cellphone to a caveman, it would be like complete magic to him. So, yeah, who knows? The year 2075? I wouldn’t put it past anything.”

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About Susan Jobe

Susan Jobe is the Editor-in-Chief of Triton News.

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