After spending years as a competitive sailor, Knut Frostad was the ultimate end-user of marine electronics before he became president and CEO of Navico in 2019. Many years before that, in 1997 as skipper of the racing yacht Innovation Kværner, Frostad worked with Simrad to develop a lighter, more advanced radar that gave his team an edge in the Whitbread Round the World Race. The athletic and friendly Norwegian, who competed in two Olympics — in windsurfing and sailing — and four round-the-world sailing races, also transformed the Volvo Ocean Race during his three consecutive terms as CEO. He expanded the race’s stopovers into Asia and the Middle East, and established land-based venues so tens of thousands of people each day could visit the boats and teams. In this way, he served as the Pied Piper of ocean sailracing.

Today, Frostad leads Navico’s 2,500 employees, who are based mainly in Spain, the United States, Mexico, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and New Zealand; Navico is the parent company of Lowrance, B&G, Simrad and C-MAP.

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“We have a global R&D team in the U.S., Europe and New Zealand,” Frostad says. “The group works well together in coordinating new technologies. Plus, the core users of our products — recreational anglers in the U.S., for instance, or commercial fishermen in Norway — live in those areas. They help us drive innovation. We want to be the specialist brands focused on specific boater types. We will probably get even more focused in the future, designing products for people whose passion is the water but who do very different things,” he says.

We spoke with Frostad via Zoom recently to explore Navico’s approach to the integrated boat and to get his thoughts on product development and technology being adopted throughout the marine industry.

Navico was a pioneer in connectivity with BoatConnect fewer than 10 years ago. To quote from a statement from Simrad at that time: “With Simrad BoatConnect you can enjoy peace of mind by staying connected to your boat from your phone. Monitor your boat’s location and battery, track trips and movement. Receive alerts if your boat leaves a designated area, and know when your battery is low.” Did you think its impact would be so significant?

The integration journey is a very important topic for us. It’s difficult to judge what exactly it is going to be. I think the industry today is trying different approaches. We talk about connectivity, and we talk about integration, and it depends what people mean with that.

For me, what it means is that it all has to do with the user experience. Whether we are connected or not, the customer doesn’t really care. They shouldn’t care. Connectivity is almost a given. It’s more about, what is the additional value you are getting as a boater? Like, how do we make boating better for you? How do we make it simpler? In general, you can do more of what you like. You know, you can catch more fish or you can navigate better, or you’ll have a better outlook on the weather, or if you feel safer or whatever is really customer value for you.

How does Navico approach marine integration and connectivity?

We started our journey, I think, seven years ago, when Navico launched our first connected product, GoFree. Basically, we could pull up data. But that’s just the technology. It’s less interesting. It’s like, What do you do with that data? How does it provide customer experience, customer value?

Today, we have taken a slightly different approach. We still have our BoatConnect program, which we are still installing. Now we have quite a few boat vendors that are doing it. It’s kind of peace of mind for the user. The user value is like, I know where my boat is. I know no one is stealing it. I know it’s not sinking. I know it’s not on fire.

That is a peace-of-mind experience that people are to some extent willing to pay for. I would not say that it’s something that people think of first. It doesn’t trump finding fish with a sonar or having great charts. But it’s something nice to have, right? Then, on another level, we work with bigger powerboats and bigger yachts. There, we do a full integration. Like with our superyacht team in Italy. We have a team of 45 people that are dedicated with companies like Ferretti, Sunseeker — the real customer is much more the boatyard than the actual boat.

How does that approach drive customer satisfaction?

It enables the yard to service the boat in a much better way, which is, again, to the benefit of the customer. If the customer is having a problem with a boat, the yard can remotely try to identify what the problem is and what is causing it. And then make sure they send the right parts, the right people to service it, fix it or even remotely help fix it without sending anyone. What we have identified — I think everyone started thinking, Oh, we need to connect all these boats, we need to pull data off them. And afterward, we thought, What should we do with the data? So it’s kind of a solution looking for a problem to fix.

It sounds like you are helping boaters to identify the fix.

We’ve gone on this journey. We have been in this for about seven years. It’s a whole dedicated team working on integration, and now we are completely focused on what problems we are trying to solve for whom. And then you discover that the programs are different. If you have a Boston Whaler in Fort Lauderdale, your problem is different than if you own a 60-foot Ferretti. It requires different solutions.

I also think that the world around us has changed so much in these seven years. Now you have people buying cars that are connected, and people don’t really ask if they are connected. They just expect them to be, or maybe they realize later on that the cars are connected.

The connectivity itself — that is the value. It’s when you start your car in the morning and a screen is telling you, “Welcome, we have given you a new feature today.” Your car is now looking after your dog. That’s actually something Tesla did last year. They launched a dog application in the cars, so when you leave the dog in the car, there’s an application that makes sure the climate [sensor] knows if it’s overheated, etc. And because your car was connected, you could get that value. Then the value is the feature. It’s not the connectivity.

A former ocean racer and two-time Olympian, Knut Frostad 
gained an appreciation for innovation and technology as an end user.

A former ocean racer and two-time Olympian, Knut Frostad gained an appreciation for innovation and technology as an end user.

I think that’s where boating … that’s where we are in the marine industry. We need to work more. To think much more about the user value, and does it make boating better? Certainly, we do not want things that make boating more complicated. We don’t want people to have to push 10 buttons to get the boat connected. We want to make it very simple.

With user modes today, where you go, like, “I’m waterskiing today,” and you go into water-ski mode; or you’re fishing, and you go into fishing mode. And we configure the boat for you. Now you don’t have to remember from three months ago when you were using the boat, “How’d I set it up?” We try to simplify the user experience, and maybe we’ll use connectivity in some of those experiences. The question for the consumer is: “What value do I get when I’m out boating?” 

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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