Cameron Lee's game-changing EfficientSea App embodies the dictum that necessity is the mother of all invention. An experienced superyacht captain with over 85,000 sea miles under his belt, Lee was fed up with juggling paperwork and the practical demands of being a captain when the thought struck that there should be an app for that.
Two years of development and rigorous testing in real operational situations have culminated in an app that incorporates an exhaustive array of manuals, checklists, templates and compliance reporting forms. Add to this its accessibility and competitive price point and it's easy to understand its appeal as a one-stop paperless approach to integrated yacht management. We caught up with Cameron to discuss the process from idea to realization.
What’s your current position and where are you based?
I'm currently Captain of a 45m yacht ased in Sydney and the East coast of Australia.
What’s your background and where did you grow up?
I was born and bred in New Zealand on a farm, then owned and operated a diving charter vessel from the age of 20 years in New Zealand. I then moved into sportfishing in New Zealand & Hawaii for five years.
How did you get into yachting?
I had a friend who got into yachting when the Americas Cup was in New Zealand some 17 years ago. I then went abroad and he contacted me with an open deckhand position and I took it – packed my gear and went to America not looking back. It all flowed on from there, gaining experience on yachts, training, getting my captain’s tickets; I worked on many different yachts and moved up the ranks.
How did the idea for the EfficientSea App come about?
A friend and I were discussing the burden of ISM and the paperwork for commercially registered vessels and formally managed yachts and thought that there had to be a better way. With Apps becoming part of everyday use, the light bulb clicked. And there it was, an App for ISM. Through development it evolved into much more including other aspects of vessel management.
What does EfficientSea cover and how does it work in practice?
It covers ISM reporting, SMS systems, MLC compliance, accounting, charter tracking, crew management and information, captains and bridge resources. In practice it is all concealed in a single or multiple iPads. Everything is stored within the login prescribed to the subscriber, there’s no need for servers etc.
With the tap of a finger you can complete departure reports, daily position reports, accommodation inspections, LSA & FFE rounds for weekly/monthly/6 monthly and yearly inspections and so on.
Which types and size of vessel are you targeting and how have you priced it?
This is aimed at all vessel sizes and types. With the tailored subscription plans there’s something to suit everyone.
If you’re a large vessel and formally managed you can keep you existing SMS and simply use the ISM forms section as a tool to ease the paper work strain. If you are taking over a new vessel as Captain there is everything you need to set up a complete complement of systems, documents and forms if you have to start from fresh.
If you’re running a smaller vessel, say under 40M, there are applicable sections that you can subscribe to separately from the formal ISM & SMS regiment which allow you to keep records and officially document your bunkering, crew, passages, certificates, training and inductions and anything else to cover you as a Captain or vessel owner.
How do you manage access and data security?
Everything is by secure login only. There are two classes of logins, a ‘vessel administrator’ who has full access to all sections, to crew details and who can alter and edit forms etc. Or, you are a ‘crew mate’ who can only complete forms, and can only see another crew members DOB/phone number/blood type and email. Crew mates cannot access any accounting or charter records, crew details or alter/edit forms and document templates.
How long did you spend researching the market and what did you learn?
An afternoon on google soon found the market to be fairly untouched. There are competitors out there but to use their systems (Apps) you must be formally managed by them, which is unfair. Instead of paying 1,000-3,000 per month, we can give you everything for less than 100 Euros/month.
This platform allows you to only subscribe to what you need, when you need it. Should you go into a shipyard for three months you can stop subscribing and when operation resumes you can login, subscribe for another month and all your information is still there waiting for you.
How did you go about finding the right developer and how long did it take to build and test the App?
I’m a Kiwi, but based in Australia. At the time I was running a new build 50m in the Maldives so time zones, exchange rates and a few other factors came into play. Australia being a big country I soon found a very competent company to take on the task. The build took close to two years. With minor time zone differences, working via email and multiple Skype calls, the time frame was certainly extended. Testing was a big player; every time the developers came out with a new build I had to go through it with a fine toothed comb, write down any discrepancies, get them fixed, test it again, and so on and so on.
Were there any surprises along the way?
Many! Anyone who chooses to build an electronic platform/program will face issues and hurdles all over the place. It’s just part of it. From the point of initiation until the final release there were multiple IOS updates from Apple and you must keep up.
How does EfficientSea sit alongside other Apps and software on the market?
Quite well. It’s different. Most platforms out there are web portals, okay when you have internet connectivity 24/7 but even so they still require a stationary computer in a vessels office, which is not achievable in all situations. Nothing can beat picking up an iPad, walking around with it and with a few taps of the finger your report is complete. Done.
No computers, no paper, no filing electronic or hard copies. No servers.
What do you offer in the way of tech and customer support?
24/7, my phone number, my email. I’ve worked on vessels and yachts all over the world. I know what it’s like when you need something now! The system works, that’s plain and simple. If it fails, it’s the Ipad.
What has been the reaction from management companies and owners?
I have a management company that wants to apply this across their fleet of vessels and that’s great, it can do that. For managers, from one login, you can access all your vessels and view them completely separately, so easy.
For owners, they can have a login, they can see departure reports and daily reports while the vessel is at sea, keep up to date with vessel records, all of the crew details. All this is at hand whenever they need it.
What has been the feedback from peers in the yachting industry?
Fantastic!! Everyone is looking for an alternative to the paper filing system. Those ways are outdated, time consuming and a flat out burden for a Captain or Officer. Anyone who uses the EfficientSea system won’t look back.
What was the greatest lesson you learned during the project?
That I wish I had done it earlier! Once I got the final release edition of the App I wished I had had this my whole career. It saves you hours of time!