Boats, bragging rights and new technology

The sun was going down as the two graybeards (metaphorically speaking, of course) stepped aboard a 29-foot center console in a canal off the ICW. The skipper plugged his iPhone into the boat’s sound system, launched the app for the Internet radio station Pandora and punched in singer John Prine’s name.

For the next couple of hours the duo was entertained by tunes from the old country-rocker and a host of his cohorts selected by Pandora software as they cruised the waterway.

When they got back to the waterfront home the senior graybeard showed off his tablet computer while the guest touted the virtues of his new featherweight MacBook Air. Mine can do this. Yes, but mine can do that — and faster. It was a shootout at the cool-gadget corral.

Wasn’t that long ago that bragging rights centered on the usual trophies — big boats, big fish and whatever other proclivities happened to float your boat at that particular stage of life. I guess you can add smart phones, iPads and the latest slew of apps to that list. My, how things have changed.

It’s raining technology — in our personal lives and in our businesses. In the way we communicate with one another, entertain ourselves and in the way we design, build, market and use our boats.

Chosen and deployed smartly, the latest generation of small, powerful devices with their robust processors and dexterous software can improve workplace efficiencies, enhance product quality and reach ever larger audiences faster and often at less cost than traditional methods.

And you and I need to understand these technologies, utilize the products they’ve spawned and become fluent in their promise, utility and, yes, their shortcomings because our customers are up to their collective gunwales in this stuff, too. Remember the axiom, “Stay close to your customer”? You can’t do it if they’re speaking a dialect you’re having trouble understanding.

Here’s an example of a smart use of technology that I’ve written about in the June issue of Trade Only.

Sabre Yachts of South Casco, Maine, just started giving every new Sabre 48 owner a customized iPad 2 preloaded with a slew of boating info ranging from searchable PDF files of the owners manuals for the boat and all equipment on board to a host of popular marine apps, such as tides, weather and marina info.

The so-called LaunchPad provides a single digital home for the boat and all of its pertinent information, says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Sabre. The owner can load his or her own apps, as well as the digitized manuals for any equipment installed later. Collins envisions skippers using the LaunchPad to communicate directly with Sabre or a dealer. Got a problem or question about something? Take a photo or a video of it and send it over.

“This is an example of what we can do to keep people interested in boating,” says Collins, who came up with the concept. “I think it’s the future.” A specially configured iPad 2 will be given to the owner of every new Sabre larger than 40 feet.

It’s a smart idea. And the cool factor, not to mention the utility, is high.

The LaunchPad was developed by Yacht.com, a small marine technology company owned by Sabre chairman Ed Miller. “This is a relationship business,” says Yacht.com creative director Sarah Robbins, who has a broad boating background that includes yacht design, large-yacht management and customer service. “We’re connecting boaters with their builders. … This program is very scalable. We can go into any manufacturer and create their own customized, branded site.”

With a tablet computer, a laptop or a smart phone, people today “can run just about everything of high value in their lives — except their boat,” Robbins says. “And that’s the expectation now.”

Apropos to the tablet computers was a report in The New York Times about a week ago suggesting that Apple’s new iPad 2 could rival a four-processor version of the Cray 2 supercomputer. With eight processors, that was the world’s fastest computer in 1985.

Draw, partner!

More next week about how the NMMA is harnessing the legion of boaters on Facebook to power the new Discover Boating campaign. In just two weeks, it had already garnered 27,000 fans. The potential is large and the cost modest.

That’s playing smart, using technology and social media to really crank the dial. And then tuning it to the right channels.


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