An efficient way to chart your boat’s health

Posted on Written by Bill Sisson
Bill Sisson

Let’s face it. Boats are only going to get more complex and content-rich. More and more, they resemble our cars and our homes in terms of features, comforts and systems. All good, right?

Well, yes and no. For an industry where poor service and reliability are sometimes cited as reasons newcomers leave the ranks, how do we successfully deal with ever more complex boats?

Better training, better integration of those systems and better maintenance — call it a holistic approach — go a long way toward giving customers what they really want: a dependable boat from which to chase their dreams and enjoy their chosen lifestyle. It can be that simple — or that elusive.

Don Hyde views complexity as an opportunity. A sailor and businessman, Hyde has started a cloud-based subscription service called VesselVanguard (www.vessel vanguard.com) that is designed to ease the complications of boat ownership and improve service and reliability. “The boat is the most complex asset most people will ever own,” says Hyde, CEO and founder of the Annapolis, Md., company. “How does the consumer deal with the complexity of data inherent in boat ownership? It’s easy to become overwhelmed by it.”

A $200,000 yacht, he correctly says, can easily be more bedeviling than a $2 million home in terms of the system know-how required to keep it running smoothly. The startup firm organizes into a searchable database all of the manuals and paperwork for the vessel and its equipment and systems, from the radar and genset to warranties and registrations.

The company sets up what essentially is a digital profile of each member vessel, complete with a digitized master equipment list that is used to create a customized schedule or calendar of all tasks that need tending to, be it changing engine oil or renewing the insurance. This automatic notification feature is the “functional centerpiece” of the company’s Web-based system, alerting boaters, dealers, contractors or service yards via email or text message when a scheduled maintenance task is due, Hyde says. Anything with an expiration date becomes a task alert, which is sent out once a month, 30 to 60 days ahead of when the service or some other action should be performed. Recall notices and service bulletins also are automatically channeled to the boater and the dealership.

Boaters and contractors, with the consent of the owner, can access the password-protected service 24/7 via the Web, a smart phone or iPad. A mobile app will debut later this fall, Hyde says.

“Keep it simple, keep it understandable,” he says. “Don’t inundate the boat owner with more information than they’re willing to handle.”

When people feel overwhelmed by the complexity of systems or the volume of information, Hyde says, they grow frustrated and often ignore the issue that needs addressing, which in time leads to additional problems.

In addition to the boat owner, Hyde says VesselVanguard “advances the interest of everyone who touches the boat, from the manufacturer to the dealership, service technicians, insurers and even the marine surveyor.”

Hyde says his firm, which likely will have 11 in-house employees by year’s end, recently created a boat profile for a new 125-footer from Hargrave Custom Yachts that will track more than 150 systems. “Our software is more than able to handle those demands,” he says.

Removing what Hyde calls the “perceived complexities” of boating should help attract more first-time buyers to the sport, he says. Also, he notes, the service enables manufacturers to more easily extend their warranty coverage (Beneteau is an example), reduce their exposure to product liability claims and monitor the maintenance being done through the informed consent of the owner.

Remember the mantra about staying close to your customer? VesselVanguard creates a so-called “Customer Care Portal” for each brand that gives the builder the opportunity to touch customers each time they visit their boat profile to manage task alerts, Hyde says.

With dealers set up as the co-recipient of automated task and inspection alerts, they, too, will be able to stay closer to their customers. “The dealer should see this as both a relationship enhancer and a revenue producer,” Hyde says. The price range for an individual is $579 for both the setup and a first-year subscription; an annual renewal costs $179.

Builders using the service include Beneteau, Grand Banks and Meridian.

Disruptive technologies such as VesselVanguard have the potential to improve the ownership experience of our customers and us. That’s the promise inherent in new uses of technology.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue.

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