ETO X: Summer is on the horizon again, let the pre-season rituals begin!

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The Anonymous Voice of ETO’s

Antennas serviced, subscriptions renewed, spares stocked, and all systems are a go, I’m confident that you know the drill J. But one can only prepare so much, and as proactive as we try to be, Murphy is always lurking in the shadows, who do you call when the rascal strikes a low blow?

Well, that would depend on a few things…

The type of system, NAV and Sensory Systems, COMMS, IT, AV, Security and Surveillance, Lighting, Electrical etc., the nature of the issue, hardware failure, wire/cable shortage, programming issues, incorrect configurations/parameters, software bugs, power supply/electrical faults etc Then other aspects come into play, your location and itinerary, costs, time, politics (as you might have an existing service contract) etc.

In most cases, armed with an arsenal of spares, as competent ETOs we can troubleshoot and find the issue in a timely manner, and downtime is quite short, BUT IF on the contrary we cannot pinpoint the source of a failure or malfunction and after hours of troubleshooting and fault finding, googling (yes it’s a word), phone support and lengthy emails, then it’s time to get backup.

Some companies are large and have departments to cover all the various system types onboard today, while some are specialist in their particular fields only. If your vessel is a “recent” build, you may still be teething and within your warranty period, having been on a few new builds myself I’ve found that a rational owner (but there are exceptions) would understand this and you would have time to get the system suppliers onboard, or even hold off until the charter is over, to rectify the situation. For seasoned yachts, though, there are not many excuses we can pitch to an owner when a failure occurs, except for the truth, the bottom line, which is that you are on it and would have it fixed as soon as possible.

Either way you probably already have your own supplier/integrator/support company, usually the company that built the system, but sometimes due to overwhelming cost or maybe your location/schedule etc, it would not be feasible or timely to get technicians from that company onboard. They may have a partner company in your vicinity or you may have to source someone new. You can contact your agent in that area who would most likely have someone to recommend, or open a browser and do a search; a simple google search with location should turn up viable options. If the issue is on a system with proprietary hardware and programming,however, you will have no choice but to get the supplier out there (once fixing the issue remotely is ruled out as an option). Most of you know or have at-least heard of companies like, Bond TM, VBH, Triton Technical, Idea Works, Ocean AVIT, Veritas, Video Works, Yacht Intelligence, Great Circle Systems, Riviera Yacht Support, Burgess and e3 Systems, these are the most well-known of integrators and support companies in the yachting industry, and if it’s not a proprietary system you can call on any of these guys.

I’ve worked with many of the companies mentioned above, the larger ones like Bond, Triton and VBH have 24hr phone and email support, and while you definitely get specialist support, in my opinion, it costs a premium. If your budget does not cater for a support contract with a company that provides 24hr support all is not lost. Over the years, I’ve fostered relationships with many smaller or not so well-known companies that don’t outright have 24hr support and are not obligated to answer my calls at 0300hrs, but do so anyway. A few good examples of these would be:

G2m Sistemi– integrator company in Pisa, Italy. Excellent Crestron knowledge, there isn’t anything I’ve thrown at them that they have not worked out, and at considerably lower costs than their larger competitors.

Yacht Living Solutions – somewhere in the Netherlands, I’ve used them for procuring equipment as they have consistently given me the best prices. They have also given me assistance over the phone on more than one occasion, for free, not to say that I expect such a service for free, but to me this speaks volumes about the character of this company and its employees, this is generally the type of relationship I like to have with the companies I count on for support, I have confidence that they will be there when I need them.

KRK Sistemi – Rijeka Croatia, came across this company while at berth for winter in Rijeka a few years back. They provide IT services, like citywide wireless networks, and did the Wifi for the Marina in Rijeka, which is how I came to know of them, they have some brilliant networking engineers. That winter, although yachts aren’t really their target market, they did network refits on two of the smaller yachts there (45- ish in size) in no time at all, one boat was kitted and tested in two days total. The other said their 4G performed so well that they terminated their VSAT subscription. I also briefly tested a “next generation firewall” from Fortinet at their office, although I haven’t seen it on any vessels it could be used as an alternative to the Kerio and Plexus controllers we all know and love.

And I’m sure there are many such companies like these out there, please comment below if you have some recommendations.

Another avenue of support could be from your VSAT airtime provider, of the dozens of providers/resellers in the marine industry, ( Omni Access, MTN, Speedcast, Stratos, Marlink, SeaSatCom, Axxess-Marine, Voyager IP, TS2, Satmarin, Livewire-Connectons, Ground Control, Yacht Computing, Link Communications Systems, Global Marine Communications, e3 Systems, Marine VSAT, Media Mobil to name a few, I’m sure google would turn up countless others ) only a few have a real presence in the yachting industry, with OA and MTN being to two most prevalent. Personally, I’ve only had a chance to use Castor Networks, MTN and Omni Access, and while all of these have 24hr NOC support, my preference is for the later. Since 2010 they have been my preference for a variety of reasons, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on their support. I rate their 24hr NOC support very highly. I’ve been using them since 2010 on all the vessels I’ve been on since then (which is quite a handful). Recently though I’ve been hearing complaints about their support team from colleagues and acquaintances in the ETO circle, and I myself have noticed that the new support team tend to stall sometimes. I’m hoping this is something they will outgrow with experience, and under the tutelage of the veterans there, when I first started using OA the guys on support back then like Carlos, Antoni and Dirk were extremely switched on, they could troubleshoot antenna and network issues in their sleep, and have assisted me on Intellian, Seatel and Orbit antennas as well as every type of networking equipment under the sun.

Since news of their partnership with Phasor back in 2014 I’ve eagerly been waiting for phased array antennas to become available. With yachts typically being early adapters on the technology front, I’ve been asking myself why phased array and other flat antennas haven’t been introduced to the yachting scene yet, especially when they have been in use by the military for quite some time. Other companies like Skytech Ltd., ThinKom, Gilat have also been making progress on phased array antennas with successful trials, so has Kymeta with their MSA-T array antennas (Metamaterials surface antenna technology), but let’s not delve into that here, we’ll come back to it in a later article.

And yet another avenue of support is from your fellow ETOs, within online and social media forums and groups. Many times I have called on fellow ETOs for their recommendations and insight on a number of issues and I’ve mostly been better off for it. From Facebook, to LinkedIn, and forums like the one here on superyachttechnology.com, I’ve found that ETOs, in general, are a very helpful bunch (perhaps it’s in the nature of this job), always willing to share their knowledge and experience.

WHO DO YOU COUNT ON FOR SUPPORT?
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