Imagine you have been on the bridge for several hours. You are in the final days of a weeklong charter at the end of September and you’re coming up on your destination. It’s around 18:00. The sun has dipped low in the sky, releasing you from its burning heat, but offering up a new challenge: navigating your way through a bustling port with intense glare off the water’s surface.
All in all, this is a very routine scenario, but it can also be dangerous. You are tired because of the heat. You are anxious because of the glare. In the back of your mind, you’re probably wishing there was a better way.
As it turns out, a U.K.-based company has come up with a better way: the SG Glider. Solarglide specializes in solar glare screens, and has been solving this problem on commercial boats for some time. Now, they want to solve the problem onboard yachts.
Not only does the SG Glider reduce solar glare by up to 93% and lower temperatures inside the bridge significantly, but they also eliminate most ultraviolet (UV) rays.
“The UV is a kind of invisible threat,” says Darren Winter, Solarglide’s marketing and public relations manager. “You don’t really see the health effects until it’s too late.”
The same could be said for the sun’s affects on navigation, and Solarglide’s ability to help crews avoid costly accidents. “For the sake of a few hundred dollars, to have a few sets of screens up there that could protect it and prevent that,” says Winter, “it’s a really good safety aid.”
SOLAS safety standards have clearly improved the lives of everyday seafarers. And for fairly obvious reasons, SOLAS doesn’t allow for polarized and tinted glass in the bridge.
However, Solarglide’s screens are exactly that: screens that slide in and out of position. They can be applied in more than a dozen different ways, but the general principle behind all of them is to conform with SOLAS (and common sense) by sliding over the window when needed, and retracting away when they’re not.
“The biggest selling point is the SOLAS guidelines,” says Winter. “That’s really where our product comes in.”
In addition, they are approved by Lloyd’s Register.
Imagine placing a pair of strong sunglasses over the full breadth of windows inside the bridge and you will have a good sense of what the product does. It comes in four different colors – silver, gold, grey and bronze – each of which offers something different.
“It’s a flexible solution,” says Pedro Olaya, the managing director and owner of Besa Engineering, S.L. “When the sun disappears behind a could, the screen can be pulled up. When it gets bright, the screen can move back into position.”
It is for these reasons that Solarglide’s screens can be found on leading cruise liners, tankers and military vessels.
Seeing smooth seas
The most obvious application for Solarglide’s solar screens must be the reduction in solar glare off the sea. In this area, the silver, gold and grey screens are the most effective, with between 91-93% solar glare reduction.
“In the wintertime, especially, you’ve got the low-lying sun,” says Winter. “You’ve got constant, three or four hours of this low-lying sun, and that’s a problem. It makes it hard to see anything.”
“But with these screens down, you can still see very, very clearly all across the horizon,” he adds. “You can see all your dangers ahead – any vessel, anything that shouldn’t be in the way of your route.”
Riccardo Masiero is the purchasing manager for Cantiere Navale Vittoria, a boatbuilder south of Venice. That kind of improved vision is deeply important to Masiero’s clients, who include militaries and coast guards throughout the Mediterranean. “When the sun is high and strong,” says Masiero, “it is better to navigate with the solar screen.”
“If you are Police or Coast Guard and you have to watch the sea, of course, the screen can help you to filter the light and you can see farther than with a normal window,” he says.
Many of Masiero’s clients have long used curtains on the bridge as a means of blocking out the sun and keeping the temperature cool, he says. But these curtains also limited their vision. It was either they blocked out the sun and ceased to be able to see; or they kept the curtains drawn and temperatures skyrocketed.
The beautiful thing about Solarglide’s solar screens is that they’re effective on both fronts, says Masiero.
Solarglide’s solar screens allow for enhanced navigation and reduced temperatures in the bridge. There is no sacrificing comfort or safety. In fact, solar screens have been proven to lower the temperature inside the bridge by 10-15 degrees Celsius, says Winter.
Indeed, this remains a very important factor with Masiero’s clients. They want something that will keep them cool in the heavy heat of summer. “It’s good to maintain the temperature inside the wheelhouse,” he says. “The traditional curtain makes it hotter than the screen.”
In fact, the SG Glider can reduce solar energy by up to 83% (silver), which can offer substantial energy savings, as well. This, too, has been a point of interest to clients looking to cut operating costs and increase energy efficiency.
While the everyday efficacy of the SG Glider is of top priority, there are some substantial long term benefits to consider, as well. These mostly have to do with protection from the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to UV radiation.
The screens reject almost all UV radiation, says Winter. According to the company’s literature, all four colors reject at least 97% of UV light. That can be incredibly important to both short- and long-term health.
“If you’re standing in a bridge window at the height of summer for four or five hours, it’s very much like standing outside with very little protection,” says Winter.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that prolonged exposure poses significant health risks to the skin, eyes and immune system. Sunburn is immediate. However, long-term exposure can lead to skin cancer, premature aging of the skin, and cataracts of the eye.
Between two and three million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers annually, and over 60,000 people die every year from skin cancer, according to WHO, of which fair-skinned populations make up the bulk of the afflicted.
Perhaps more startling is the fact that between 12 and 15 million people go blind every year from cataracts. WHO estimates that around 20% of those are the result of excessive UV exposure.
“People think that if they’re inside, they’re protected,” says Winter. “But it will get through glass windows. If you’re doing that job day-in and day-out all throughout the year, that’s going to have some effect on your health, visible or not.”
Seafarers and crew are especially susceptible to these risks, with the added glare from the sea and the demands of the job often keeping them out in harsh and exposed condition. While precautions can be taken, the SG Slider is just one more way that the lives and health of those onboard can be protected.
Only the best
The company will be heading to the Monaco Yacht Show to launch its product, where it will try to find a foothold in the superyacht industry. However, if history tells us anything, it’s that the superyacht sector often follows in the path of commercial shipping. Given the take-up within the commercial sector, it could prove to be the right time to move into yachting.
After all, Cantiere Navale Vittoria’s last 16 vessels have been outfitted with solar screens, Masiero says. “I have been recommending the use of Solarglide to the customer, because I want to give the customer the best choice,” he says. “For what I feel, and for what I see, it is a better quality product.”
Additionally, Olaya has had the screens installed on around 90 ships, from oil and chemical tankers to bulk carriers and scientific vessels. “For the small cost of these solar screens, this is another safety aid to help lower risk as much as possible.”
If Solarglide can get people in superyachting to speak that way, it just may find the success that it’s seeking.