It’s almost that time of year when demand for yacht solutions spikes
Aug. 10, 2023 - Homebuilders — especially those in northern climates — have long contended with certain seasonal issues. (There’s an old joke that there are two seasons in the American Midwest: “winter” and “construction.”) Frozen ground, rough weather, and less daylight can make for tougher building conditions, especially for the earliest stages of a project.
But there’s an even bigger seasonal impact on the yachting industry. One of the busiest times of year for marine work has been dubbed “Caribbean Refit Season,” a chunk of the calendar that falls between the end of the best weather for yachting in the Mediterranean and the close of hurricane season in the tropical western reaches of the Atlantic. Daniel Kerkhof, director of Crestron’s marine division, explains, “When the summer here ends, and the winter starts kicking in, a lot of the boats move towards the Caribbean.” (Kerkhof is based in Europe.)
“This is typically where we always see the biggest amounts of deliveries happening, both from refits as well as from new builds,” says Kerkhof. In fact, demand can increase by as much as 70%.
This annual spike means that planning is critical. “Dealers, clients, owner reps, consultants, shipyards — everyone has to keep two things top of mind as we approach the end of August: preparation and communication,” says Kerkhof. He notes that while most of the players in the industry have become accustomed to this cyclical schedule for larger projects, there are still surprises in the mix, including smaller jobs and last-minute requests (especially from clients making their first foray into the world of waterborne luxury craft).
A LAN is a LAN — On Land or Sea
Now the good news: Technological advancements have made the refit process — whether new systems are being installed or old ones are being upgraded — a much simpler undertaking. “One of the big misconceptions that people still have is that they will need to rip out their whole infrastructure to actually upgrade, say, the AV distribution system,” says Kerkhof. “A LAN connection nowadays is still the same cable as it was quite some years ago. As long as there are enough of those connections running through the vessel, we can actually do a lot with the existing infrastructure, which obviously makes the refit easier to carry out.” Those local networks have the benefit of “decentralizing” the systems aboard ship and make for easier upgrades to parts and pieces of the whole.
The other plus: As Crestron develops more and more products for home and hospitality, those solutions — combined with Crestron’s decades-long experience in commercial segments — are often perfect for marine applications. The same concepts that make for easy upgrades on land are just as effective at sea: The vast majority of Crestron’s speakers all share a common diameter, for example — which means an upgrade from one line to another is as quick as it is unintrusive. AV-over-IP technology is a help, too — there’s less need for a wire that can only handle, say, a speaker signal.
When it comes to creating controls that can be adjusted for an individual user, other Crestron disciplines help inform the marine department in unique ways. “Many of our hospitality interfaces are perfect for cruise ships,” says Kerkhof. What’s more, some of those solutions are also transferable to smaller charter vessels.
There are a lot of upgrades that can be accomplished with software adjustments, too. “Our processors support C#,” says Kerkhof, “and many of our larger dealers have built their own frameworks based on C#, which means they can quickly implement many new functionalities without changing any hardware.”
Lead Times Are Key
Whatever project is on the horizon, Kerkhof encourages dealers to have a plan in place well before winter moves into Southern Europe. “There needs to be a constant feedback loop between the client and the dealer so they can ensure that both Crestron and the shipyard have enough lead times to ready the craft for the next sailing season,” he says. Submitting orders well in advance of the end of August is critical.
That requires an almost constant dialogue between a dealer and a yacht’s end-users, from owner to crew. Think about the discovery process that goes into every other kind of project, from residential to commercial, squeeze it all into a tight space that’s subjected to constant motion and humidity, then put it out of the dealer’s reach for months at a time. One begins to see the need for planning any upgrades very, very carefully.
Since it’s impossible to roll a truck to the middle of the ocean, of course, maintenance and troubleshooting are often left to the crew. “Remote fixes aren’t always an option when you’re talking about a ship at sea,” says Kerkhof. It’s a big reason why Crestron offers training to the professional sailors who staff these vessels — someone who knows a yacht’s technology inside and out is an invaluable crew member.
As far as Crestron’s concerned, however, it’s important that Kerkhof’s team remains available — and flexible. “We’re here to find solutions, no matter what our dealers need. If we don’t have the precise device, we’ll devise alternatives.” And as far as availability is concerned, it’s part of the reason Kerkhof himself is based in the Netherlands. “I’m kind of in the middle of all the time zones that see the most marine traffic,” he says.
Kerkhof does realize that even the best-laid plans can go awry, though: “That’s why we want our dealers to know we’ll always help find an answer to a client’s needs — we understand just how valuable these particular customers can be.”