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Maintenance Reminders to Your Inbox

At Your Service

As boats grow more complex, managing the maintenance of systems can easily get out of hand. One Company offers what may be a simple solution.

Remember the promise of The Jetsons? Flying cars, sassy robot housekeepers, and treadmills to keep our pets exercised and lean—the simple premise was that technology would make our lives better. Instead we get reality. I spend endless hours sitting in earthbound traffic, and when I finally get home, I have to do my own vacuuming. Meanwhile my dog gets fatter and fatter.

What The Jetsons failed to show us was the evolution of technology—the gradual advances that have incrementally improved our lives. So instead of being wowed we take for granted the devices we use every day. For example, we’ve come to rely on our boat’s electronics, such as GPS navigation and chartplotting, fishfinding and radar, thermal imaging, electronic sensors installed throughout, better communications, and more. That’s all good for when we’re using our boats, but what about the times in between? Let’s face it. Boats have become so complex that many of us are afraid to take on even the most rudimentary maintenance and service tasks. Plenty of us have had equipment failures and downtime that have forced us to limp home or prevented us from getting out on the water.

But here’s the good part—we’re not alone. Don Hyde, a boater and technology entrepreneur, felt the same way as he looked at the stack of manuals for all of the equipment his Island Packet 45 cutter carried: 35 pounds of books. “I had this $850,000 asset that I wanted to keep in top condition, and yet there was no easy way to manage and understand all the maintenance responsibilities,” Hyde says. “I was just unprepared for the randomness of it all. When you have a boat of, say, 30 feet on up, you have a lot of unstructured information. My goal is to structure that information, to curate it in a way that’s relevant.” 

To deal with that unstructured information, Hyde’s thinking led him to some common-sense solutions. “That model is not consistent with the way that we deal with information in our 21st-century lives,” Hyde says. “You’re used to having your stockbroker send you information giving the status of your finances. Your dentist also sends you e-mails and phone calls reminding you when your next appointment is due. Yet here you have this vessel that’s very complex—even a small boat probably has 100 to 150 inspection and maintenance tasks a year. And yet you don’t have anybody or anything telling you what’s needed and when.” 

That’s how Hyde came upon the idea for VesselVanguard. This web-based service keeps boat owners updated on equipment-maintenance schedules through e-mails and personalized web sites dedicated to the boat upkeep. VesselVanguard puts all of the manuals for onboard equipment at an owner’s fingertips online in a downloadable format, but it does more than that. It takes the service and maintenance requirements set forth in those manuals and translates them into a digital calendar, complete with updates. Simply put, it’s a task manager for the upkeep of a boat from stem to stern.

Sea Ray owners Mike and Sherrye Shupp
VesselVanguard helped Sea Ray owners Mike and Sherrye Shupp head off a problem in their stern drive quickly.

How well does it work? Here’s one user’s take: “I saw a system that was sending heads-up messages to my iPhone, to my iPad, to my computer at my desk saying ‘Hey next time you’re on your boat you have to check these things off,’” says Mike Shupp, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel and owner of a Sea Ray 330 Sundancer. “And when I went to the boat, I could bring my iPad down with me. If I didn’t understand how to do that check, I could hit the link and it would take me right to the manual page that gave me the instructions on how to do that maintenance check.”

Those maintenance checks resulted in Shupp finding some contaminated gear lube. “I saw a white milky substance in the bottom of the container,” Shupp explained. “I said ‘Hey that’s not right,’ and I called the maintenance people.” His service team arrived, drained the gear lube, changed the filter, and refilled the lube. No damage done. But it doesn’t end there.

“This is the biggest kicker,” Shupp says. “I get a call from the dealership—I use their maintenance service out there at Clarks Landing [in Shady Side, Maryland]. The maintenance guy out there is incredible: Tom Turner. He says, ‘Hey Mike I just got some messages from VesselVanguard and they’re saying that you’re ready for these services, and here’s my advice on those services and when you should complete them. Some you can do at your winterization and some you need to address now.’” A key part of VesselVanguard is that it lets you share the information with your service providers. But you control who gets what information.

“So now when we push out an e-mail task alert once a month, and it might have one item on there, or it might have five items on there, it also goes to the owner’s contractor or boatyard or marina manager at the same time,” Hyde says. “So now we’re creating a continuum of knowledge between boat owner and contractor. And nothing should slip through the cracks.”  

It’s important to note that VesselVanguard is an automated notification system, but that the work itself is not automated. It will take some effort on the part of the owner to make sure he handles those tasks he can manage, while the balance of jobs are assigned to the proper service provider. Any task that goes unassigned will result in a reminder message sent seven days prior to the task due date. The status of every task is available at a glance on the dashboard of the boater’s My VesselVanguard page online. The system also notifies owners of relevant manufacturer service bulletins and product recalls. Because VesselVanguard knows the equipment the boat is carrying, this is completely automated.

There’s more good news. VesselVanguard users should also contact their insurance agent, since many carriers are said to give discounted rates to subscribers in the area of 20 to 25 percent. The system seems to make boaters appear in an even better light to insurers.

Adding a critical element to the system’s value is that, once the work is completed, the owner or service provider uploads the work orders to be filed in the Digital Ship’s Log. The service records will be stored for the life of your subscription. “Imagine the benefit of that at resale time, when the marine surveyor can log in,” Hyde says. “Or the boat owner can log in and print out the maintenance history or send it in an e-file to the marine surveyor. Imagine how easy it will be to resell that boat, when the broker has all that information at his fingertips.” That kind of value-building idea is not lost on boatbuilders, who understand that resale is a factor in any purchase.

Many manufacturers have already signed on to include a VesselVanguard subscription with the purchase of a new boat. Meridian Yachts, Grand Banks, and Beneteau, among others, are adding it as an owner benefit. “VesselVanguard helps us provide a superior ownership experience, which is also very important to us,” says David Hensel, director of brand and marketing at Grand Banks Yachts. “The added certainty and peace of mind it brings to our subscribers helps ensure that boat management never gets in the way of the fun and enjoyment of owning a Grand Banks yacht.” Grand Banks includes the setup of a yacht and the first year subscription.

A VesselVanguard subscription starts at $579 for the setup, which includes the first year subscription. The subscription fee after that is $179 per year. That’s less than you spend on dog food.

VesselVanguard, 888-214-1710; www.vesselvanguard.com

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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