Technology is a new driver in our industry

Posted on Written by Bill Sisson
Bill Sisson

sisson_billThe middle-aged angler fired up his chart plotter and pointed the big diesel center console south, leading his fellow fishermen from that big tribe known as the baby boomers down a string of waypoints to sailfish country.

Within half an hour, a sailfish was hooked, fought and released, a tribute to the skill and experience of the skipper — and his mastery of electronic navigation and fish-finding technology. The elder member of the tribe (north of 60 years) used his smart phone to capture high-resolution digital images of the fight, along with a short video clip, which got distributed across times zones via e-mail.

On the way back in, one of the foursome, a doctor, got a call on his smart phone; before the boat was properly tied up he was on his way to meet a patient at a hospital. I’m willing to bet the three boomers had more computing power in their pockets, on their hips and in their boat bags than they had sitting on their desks not that long ago.

From smart phones to Facebook to cloud computing, disruptive technologies, products and services are changing our world at a startling pace. And baby boomers — the four guys fishing — are part of that sea change. They are adopting — even embracing — powerful new portable devices that enable all of us to operate our boats, run our businesses and communicate with one another in ways we couldn’t imagine just a handful of years ago.

One thing is certain: It’s critical that we remain open and adaptive to these changes to keep pace with our customers, to stay close to them. We need to pay careful attention to just how these souped-up products, applications and services are affecting our businesses. And we need to develop flexible strategies for incorporating fast-emerging technologies into our companies, our processes and our lives.

The first of the 76-million-strong population bulge known as the baby boomers are just turning 65. This sprawling generation continues to be a key driver of new- and used-boat sales. And although this demographic is not immediately associated with leading-edge technology, you could make the argument that, as a group, boating boomers have been as open as any to new products and change.

Boaters with receding hairlines and AARP cards are operating pod drives, joysticks and a veritable alphabet soup of navigation, communication and rescue technologies — GPS, AIS, DSC, EPIRBs and others I’m certain I left out.

You could even make the argument that we have been too enamored with technology (and complexity) for our own good, but that is a column for another day. Boating has always seesawed between technology and tradition — it’s one of the paradoxes of our nautical world.

One of the smartest applications of technology I’ve seen recently comes from Sabre Yachts, of South Casco, Maine. Starting this spring, every new Sabre 48 owner is being handed a customized iPad 2 dubbed the LaunchPad, which contains a plethora of useful marine information, including searchable PDF files of the owner’s manual for the boat and each piece of equipment on board.

The LaunchPad gives the boat and all of its pertinent information one home — and puts it right in the owner’s hands, says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre. The device comes preloaded with a number of marine apps — tides, weather, marina info and other lifestyle and entertainment stuff. Owners, obviously, can download their own. And specifications and manuals for equipment that the owner or a yard adds later can be loaded to the device, as well.

Collins envisions skippers using the LaunchPad to communicate directly with Sabre or a dealer about suggestions, questions or problems, including taking and sending photos or a video. Talk about staying close to your customers — and their boats.

“They’re buying these boats with all this wonderful technology — propulsion technology, pod drives, joysticks,” Collins says, noting that the Sabre-customized iPad 2 will be available with every new boat over 40 feet. The LaunchPad is “one more cool thing. It’s exciting. It’s interesting. It’s thought-

provoking. It absolutely has a life of its own.”

The idea to put all of this on an iPad 2 belongs to Collins. The development and execution was done by Yacht.com, a small high-tech startup that Sabre chairman Ed Miller owns.

“The boating lifestyle is inherently mobile,” says Yacht.com creative director Sarah Robbins, who has a broad boating background, from yacht design to large-yacht management to customer service. “We need to provide the tools that match up with people’s lifestyles and their expectations.”

Robbins and I talked a little bit about the next big thing. How about connecting your boat to the cloud?

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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