From brand selection to embracing a flexible approach, there are five crucial points to consider when it comes to choosing the best possible yacht AV/IT upgrade. If you manage to get this right, you will have an AV/IT system that is long-term, cost-effective and ready for future technologies.
1. Select a trustworthy brand
Selecting the right equipment is critical to any AV/IT system. If you take a chance on bespoke equipment and magic boxes, you have to ask yourself — who will support it? And what updates are there? We've found that alternative solutions usually turn out to be troublesome, lack documentation, and have poor aftercare. Nine times out of 10, it's better to opt for the devil you know and stick with proven technologies.
The obvious go-to companies are Cisco and Crestron; these two big players dominate the AV/IT space in the yachting world. However, you will also come across the likes of HP, Rukus, Netgear, Peplink, Ubiquiti, Control 4 and Savant AV/IT solutions too, as these offer good alternatives. Complementary to the selection of equipment, you also need to consider how it's designed, configured and installed. Always make sure you're working with certified and reputable companies when selecting your supplier and integrator, as this has a significant impact on the result.
2. Think about security
Security should be at the forefront of your mind when designing any IT system. In an increasingly connected environment, information is exposed to a growing number (and therefore a wider variety) of risks. A worrying 2.7 cybercrimes take place every minute, that's 166 per hour!
Threats such as malicious code, computer hacking and denial-of-service attacks are becoming more common. These attacks can be ambitious and sophisticated, and that's why maintaining and updating your IT security onboard is more of a challenge than ever.
The IMO has taken this seriously, enforcing Maritime Cyber Risk Management. Safety Management System Resolution is mandatory for commercially registered vessels over 500 GT. A lack of implementation of the SMS cyber risk controls could result in the ship being fined or detained, with deficiencies needing to be rectified before release.
The best approach is to install a next-generation firewall and have a cybersecurity management plan in place. Make sure you receive this part of your installation, in order to protect your vessel for its entire lifespan.
3. Connectivity is key
I think every sailor has experienced terrible internet connectivity onboard. In 2021, it doesn't have to be that way! There are gigabit cellular routers available, and the demand for a reliable internet connection isn't a luxury, it's a normal way of life. In today's digital age, a reliable internet connection is one of the most essential things onboard.
However, 90% of yachts today still haven't got this right. Quite simply, the more reliable and robust the WAN (4G, VSAT, Shore internet) connections are, the better the Wi-Fi experience will be. This means better streaming for your AV system, happy guests and a happy crew. A fast performing 4G/5G system should be your primary WAN on board when in range (that is up to 30-40 km off the coast). It will blow away any traditional VSAT technology with a fraction of the cost, providing a snappier experience due to the low latency links to the nearest cellular network tower. Still, the conventional VSAT technology is still around for a few more years until LEO technology (from Elon Musks' Starlink and other competitors), take over satellite connectivity.
4. Find a flexible approach
I can speak first hand about how crucial flexibility is when working as a yacht’s electronic engineer. An essential component for satisfaction onboard are the central sources for audio and video media, which need to distribute to every audio/video area. Having a reliable bit of kit not only makes life easier, but it also caters to the most demanding guests. AV room controllers are handy to allow phones and tablets to control any room you wish.
As the electronic front of house, the AV and IT systems always have to perform, but with rigid systems, the entire system typically fails if one component fails. Plan for redundancy options and be prepared because, the likeliness is, the system will fail at some point.
You can buy the correct spare parts in advance or have high availability options installed and fail-safe systems in place to protect the uptime of your system. You never know when something is going to break, and the more options and flexibility you have, the better.
5. Keep IT Simple
You need to trust your design engineers, but you also need to keep things simple. Sometimes techy people like to over-engineer and overcomplicate systems that have a simple objective. I recommend using the least amount of hardware from point A to B. By doing this, there will be fewer things to break, less cabling, less spare parts, less equipment, fewer manuals to read, the list goes on and on.
I suggest you create a set design of the equipment for each AV/IT Zone, made up of the key components you wish to use and replicate the same equipment across every zone with tweaks to suit. The system will become easier to manage by doing this, and the crew can become familiar with the system quickly. You can also carry fewer spares as one component can fit in multiple locations.
Before diving into a new upgrade, you must do your homework. Be cautious and make sure your due diligence is done on the equipment and the AV/IT designer/integrator. Follow the above steps, and you are guaranteed to have an effective upgrade that lasts.