April 2011 - Making sense of the systems

Boating IndustryJonathan Mohr
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Work is currently underway on what VesselVanguard’s creators say could soon grow to become the largest data library of recreational marine equipment in the world. And that library is at the heart of a system that seeks to change the way owners operate and maintain their boats. 

VesselVanguard – set to be launched in April – will consolidate a boat’s maintenance schedules, operating manuals, warranties and other documents into a customized online application for boaters. This database will be searchable and will also keep track of a boat’s maintenance history, automatically notifying owners and service providers by e-mail when recommended work should be done. 

The goal is for the service to become the brains of the boat, making boating and boat ownership an easier, more enjoyable experience for customers, relieving them of maintenance concerns and providing answers to the questions that arise as they use their vessels. 

“The modern boat is really a system of systems, and yet at the moment you receive the keys for your boat, whether it’s new or used, the delivery model has not kept up with the sophistication of these boats. Who wants to read thousands of pages of manuals? It’s overwhelming,” says VesselVanguard founder Don Hyde. “I don’t care if you’ve got help. There still needs to be a system, a coherent way to pull it all together, just so the boat owner can look at it and see, and understand the status of those systems.” 

VesselVanguard works by customizing its application to each customer’s boat. All that is needed is the individual boat’s model, manufacturer or product number and a list of the equipment it’s outfitted with. For a setup fee of $579 – and $179 [for current rates please visit Membership Info] annually thereafter – owners will have access to an online digital ship’s log that is created with all of their boat’s pertinent information. 

Users will be able to search that information by category or by using keywords. Task alerts will be emailed to the owner and/or the service provider when it’s time for maintenance to be performed. And those providers will have access to the boat’s VesselVanguard records, if the owner wishes, so that when work is finished, the system can be updated and information kept current. 

The target market for VesselVanguard, at least initially, is comprised of owners of new and used powerboats and sailboats 30-feet and larger. Hyde says Regal Boats has agreed to put VesselVanguard on every boat it sells this year over 30-feet, and Island Packet Yachts has agreed to do the same thing. He is also in active discussions with other manufacturers that he can’t yet name. 

As more and more subscribers and manufacturers come aboard, Hyde says a critical mass of the most often sold boats and equipment will be reached, making it much easier to include new subscribers as they join. He estimates that tipping point will be about 5,000 subscribers - only one third of one percent of the 1.5 million boaters he says are in his target market. And, eventually, Hyde hopes to make a less expensive version of VesselVanguard that’s applicable to smaller boats with fewer systems.

Industry benefits too 

In addition to making the lives of boaters easier, Hyde believes VesselVanguard will also benefit the boating industry by improving customer service and helping automate some of the processes manufacturers and dealers currently rely upon. 

For example, when a builder issues a service bulletin, VesselVanguard will receive it, cross reference it against its database, and issue an urgent task alert to owners, as well as dealerships, boatyards and other service providers. The searchable database should also eliminate a lot of unnecessary questions from boaters, who can now find the answers on their own. 

“Right now, as we’re coming to market, we need to show the industry how this is going to simplify their lives and reduce their costs of customer service,” Hyde says. “We wanted to create the interface to be as easy as possible for everybody to use.” 

Insurance providers will also benefit, according to Hyde, who says two companies – Charter Lakes Insurance and Falvey Yacht Insurance – have already agreed to give up to a 25-percent discount to VesselVanguard subscribers simply for having the service. They believe someone who knows the status of their boat’s systems is likely to be a better steward of the boat while on the water. 

VesselVanguard can also work with suppliers and marinas to automate quotes and orders with a “one-click button” included in the task alert. Hyde says his company will work with brokers to put select boats into its system for them to simplify brokerage sales. And he has talked to surveyors who believe VesselVanguard will make their lives easier as the online records will lessen the liability they take on when presenting a boat. 

Ultimately, however, what will benefit the industry most is a more satisfied boater. 

“When boat owners become more informed, that leads to higher levels of satisfaction because the boater is not responsible for developing this knowledge. We are,” Hyde says. “We give them the information they need so they don’t have to develop it themselves.” 

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