The story goes that you haven’t fully appreciated the real jet-set lifestyle of yachting until you have visited the SEA-TEC trade show in Carrara.
Notwithstanding the poor state of the Italian yachting industry, and February's weather, we venture to visit SEA-TEC a smaller trade show that focuses on marine equipment supplies; an Italian job for METS Trade (the global supply show held in Amsterdam in November).
Upon arrival, the show reveals itself as a well calibrated barometer of the market conditions for Italian suppliers, contractors and integrators: the trade show is approximately fifty per cent smaller than in 2008, the year that popped the bubble of ‘easy-leasing and endless growth’. As we walk into the exhibition, the first impression is that attendance is low, though hard working Italian exhibitors, mainly small to medium companies, are showcasing their novelties with a mixture of Italian craft and imports.
The only faces carrying cheeky smiles are the plethora of local authorities and law enforcement (Guardia Costiera, Marina Militare, Carabinieri, Polizia, Guardia di Finanza) who, even in time of crisis, do not appear to be losing their right to park outside designated areas.
After an initial roam around, we set about our task. Today we pretend to be customers looking for an off-the-shelf solution to watch the onboard CCTV from home, office or on the move. I confidently wear a charming smile and interrogate the eager sales and engineering folk manning the stands. This should be a prosperous environment for my hunt, I think. There are a number of communication equipment manufacturers, satellite communication providers, suppliers of onboard cameras, as well as system integrators. I spot the first encouraging signs: large antenna domes, cameras swinging on 360 degrees… I feel good about this; I reckon I will be done in time for a fish lunch on the Tuscan coast before boarding my Easyjet flight back into Gatwick.
But after a few quick chats, I feel disappointment creeping in. I run into rocks as soon as I talk to the big brands for onboard electronics, both for navigation and communication. All I can glean from the big guys is “we do navigation equipment and we control cameras but we do not know how to stream the video outside the yacht” and “we do the communication network onboard and we can potentially carry video signals but we do not control the cameras”.
It’s a “déjà-vu”, all over again. My iPhone reminds me how much I miss my wife, I briefly video chat with my three-year-old son on his way home from nursery. I can’t help thinking that perhaps Steve Jobs has indeed died too early, before revolutionising onboard electronic equipment, allowing customers to install user-friendly remote video solutions that work as well as FaceTime.
But with a bit of luck, I bump into marine industry veteran, Manlio Amaducci, whose companies, E-Nav and Telenautica, have equipped everything from Feretti Group yachts through to professional fisheries with marine electronics for navigation, security and communication.
I spill the beans; I tell him how disappointed I am with the whole remote CCTV business. "See Edoardo, you are talking about one of the most complex onboard systems you can think of, one where people nowadays have big expectations” (my hand grips the iPhone in my pocket). “Do you have a pen?" he asks me directly, and he starts drawing a back-of-the-envelope block of schemes, scribbling all sorts of technical jargon, connecting lines with dots and other symbols. “It will eventually make sense”, he reassures me.
"Because few new yachts will hit the waters this year, I am focusing on a solution for fitting an existing yacht with an integrated solution to make remote CCTV video from shore. All starts with an always-on Internet connection which is normally achieved through a VSAT antenna” he says, pointing at the dome on top of the page.
“For the system to be reliable and work seamlessly and globally the modem that goes with that antenna will have to have a public IP – the internet address that can be purchased as an add-on from your satcom provider. The onboard router will be connected to the onboard video server or DVR - Digital Video Recorder, where the signals from all the cameras - standard, infrared and thermal - are stored. Lastly, you need a box that converts video into internet protocol. At the receiving point, the house of the owner or the office of the fleet manager, there will be access to the onboard video images via a PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet.” That explains what the little rectangle at the bottom of the page was, an iPad of course!
I tell him that I am surprised by how simple his integration looks and thank him warmly for the insight. But Manlio looks at me for a moment and tells me that he has just given me a simplified version of how the system works – the version often levelled at an owner to win a supply contract. He continues, “All hell comes to earth when this system has to be assembled with the existing equipment found onboard, as the different brands and models of cameras, network and communication equipment, all come with different standards and features.
"Will it work?" I find myself asking. "It will have to! Owners and charter operators count on these systems for remote security, asset and staff control. They are a demanding a lot; they expect the system to be accessible in port as well as at sea, day or night. In practice, to achieve that, sometimes they end up equipping the yacht with over twenty different cameras that can pan, tilt and zoom.
“Surely they can use webcams for that - they are wireless?” I state, forgetting for a minute who I am speaking to. “No Edoardo, the frame-time, I mean the speed of transmission is too low, you have got to cable the cameras if you want quality and security, because wireless cameras can be jammed and sometimes suffer interference.”
Damn, he is right again. Moving on, I ask him what it would cost for a complete system: "Oh, it depends of what you have onboard already”. I try to twist his arm and ask for a dummy quote for a system setup from scratch. He complies reluctantly because he knows that the exercise will not yield a sale.
He looks up to the sky, invoking the help of Saint Protector of System Integrators. He then quotes me a system based on a recent case history in partnership with FLIR, the leading manufacturer of thermal cameras for the Custom Line Navetta 26 owned by Norberto Ferretti, the founder of the Ferretti Group.
"This was a state-of-the-art installation I made for Norberto's personal yacht, which also serves as flagship vessel of the group being equipped with the best-of-the-best in marine electronics. Being myself a purveyor of fine products for shipyards and owners, I put together what I think were the best components available at the time. First of all, the FLIR thermal cameras, followed Digital Video Server and a good internet connection with a fast upload stream, because that is what counts here, not the download speed. At the time I also had my engineer visiting Norberto’s house to sort out a public IP address there. I could not afford to have an unreliable architecture with my President.”
I smell the notes of a big bill...
"But the owner can enjoy the best onboard electronic systems when he uses the yacht, as well as benefit from the peace of mind of always being able to see his yacht from home, office or when traveling." Manlio is good at reassuring me: “It could have been done for less, if the owner just wanted to see a static frame image of the moored yacht while he is at the bar. But, in this case, we have provided motorized thermal cameras that can follow targets aboard and ashore while the yacht cruises in the dark.”
He notices that I am leaning against the wall for support…
“Maximum a hundred, thousand, euros.”
I feel relieved. I have a solution! The guru has sorted me out, and I can see myself signing an interminable purchase order that includes all the components that Manlio has recommended. I am a millionaire! But hang on… I must have fallen asleep. I am squeezed on the tiny seat of an orange Airbus 320 heading to the UK; and the voice that just woke me up is offering me an in-flight scratch card…
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