Sabre LaunchPad, the cloud idea

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jul 12, 2011

It hasn't gotten much press yet, but Sabre Yachts recently introduced something called LaunchPad, which is a collection of boat specific apps and services that purchasers of certain Sabre models will receive on an iPad2. I haven't yet seen a demo, but besides manuals for everything, the user will purportedly be able to report service issues using the pad's email and camera functions and a full service history will acrue on the pad and on a land-based server (lest the pad goes swimming). Of course there's much more that the LaunchPad bundle might do aboard, like control a specific AV system, but further good news is that it will eventually be available for many existing Sabre owners -- because Sabre has kept an archive of manuals and specs -- and perhaps to many other boat brands because LaunchPad is based on the ambitious idea...

As you can see on the site, the company is gearing up to be a central cloud-based data repository for boat manufacturers, dealers, and owners. It makes a ton of sense, if does a good job with the myriad details, and of course if it forges a relationship with the builder of your particular boat. Of course, too, this whole area is going to get quite competitive.  WheelHouse Technologies (formerly SeaKits), for instance, has been working on this sort of every-system-onboard support for years, and hardware like the iPad and like Boatranet promise to make it all work better (as my Yachting colleague David Schmidt wrote here).
  So what do you think of the concept? And what other sort of apps phone/pad service manual and history projects are going on out there?  I'm particularly interested this morning because at 11:30 EDT I'll be talking on ProBoat Radio (a live podcast actually) about what smart phones etc. may mean to Professional Boatbuilder's audience. Of course, the subject goes way beyond handy manual access to navigation screen extensions, built-in WiFi hot spots, phones and pads as the front ends of satellite communications devices, and so forth. What do boatbuilders need to know?  Write in here, or call right into the show.



It may seem counter intuitive, but when I think about how boat builders can make wireless communications integrate better into our boats, one way is to make more room for wires! And antennas.

Posted by: Ben at July 12, 2011 10:56 AM | Reply

Ben, I agree with you. Why most boat builders can't figure this basic concept out is beyond me.

Posted by: Bill Bishop at July 12, 2011 12:23 PM | Reply

A recording of our ProBoat Radio conversation is already up:

Posted by: Ben at July 12, 2011 1:23 PM | Reply

Looks interesting. I hopped right over to sign-up but the website doesn't seem quite ready for prime time. Must be too many Panbot's all signing up at once!

The membership "level" and "free trial" specs aren't totally clear, and I wasn't able to add my "Yacht". Got a nice friendly error message though!

Posted by: Doug Campbell at July 12, 2011 3:37 PM | Reply

Looks like data harvesting to me. Not that I have any objections to opt-in bit-gleaning.

But I still remain to be convinced I want my data solely in the Cloud when I live edge-net (and a fragile edge it is). If it's not going to be solely in the Cloud, then there are sync management issues.

I think it's great for providers to push these ideas, but I think users need to push back so that the ideas morph into something as helpful to users as to the providers.

Posted by: Christopher at July 12, 2011 3:46 PM | Reply

I agree strongly that the cloud is not a 100% solution for boaters, who often aren't connected. But LaunchPad does involve cacheing on the iPad, and understands the issue. I spoke briefly with them this morning, and am told that online and/or app demos are in the works.

Posted by: Ben at July 12, 2011 4:14 PM | Reply

Are there a ton of issues to be worked out? Oh yes.

Could some of those issues doom the companies involved? You bet.

Should they stop because of that? No, of course not. A wise company will proceed with caution when releasing such an unusual new service with so many potential pitfalls. But it won't stop trying.

(A word of advice, if anyone from the IT companies mentioned in the article is reading: Get your security up to par right away, and set up proper defences against all the usual script kiddie stuff. UI and database bugs are inconvenient and cost time and money, but if you're open with your clients about what's going on, they can eventually be worked out without making much of a scene. If you lose your customer data to crackers this early in the game, though, it's not only the company that's toast- the idea behind it gets burned too.)

This kind of service isn't for everyone, but there is certainly a subset of boaters who will jump on it and may eventually turn it into a profitable enterprise.

Posted by: Matt Marsh at July 12, 2011 5:28 PM | Reply

Consider the last exodus from Dropbox when they dropped the security ball. While all our files were encrypted by us before being dropped there, for four hours a few weeks ago they were subject to eradication by anyone in the world who knew Dropbox had inadvertently dropped its password authentication. See:

Posted by: Christopher at July 12, 2011 5:43 PM | Reply

Whats the point?

So it is "cloud" based, big deal. Is this intended to be accessed (upload/download) from the boat itself? Unless I wait till I get home to my broadband connection, or have a good data plan on my iPad, it is pretty much useless? Even then I need to have cell coverage. What if I am offshore?

How does it help you become a better boater? Hey, I am just as much a gadget freak as the next guy, but this dont make sense.

Posted by: robert at July 13, 2011 12:17 AM | Reply

Why so negative, Robert? No one said that LaunchPad or could make you a better boater. But couldn't they make you a happier boater if they helped resolve service issues faster and more easily?

I know I've already spent a fair amount of time just preparing for service issues (and equipment upgrades) on my boat -- writing down model and serial numbers, looking up manufacturer contact info, downloading PDF manuals and parts lists, and trying to keep it all organized. Sure, my boat came with a big plastic box full of wiring diagrams and printed manuals, many annotated with scribblings about past repairs or modifications, but there's got to be a better way. And yet if I got hit by a bus tomorrow the next owner would still find Gizmo's records a confusing mess.

My boat would be better off, and actually more valuable, if all its details were in a well designed online database where I could access it from anywhere I was online and where it could also be shared with boatyards, manufacturers, surveyors, etc. That's cloud computing, but please don't presume that means it's only accessible if you're online.

That's not how the cloud will work on boats, and, in fact, it's often not the way it works on land. I like cloud tools -- and am using lots of them -- that synch data onto whatever device I'm using so I can still use it when, say, in a plane or offshore, and then sync changes back up to the cloud whenever the device gets online again. When done right, you don't need to be a geek to keep your data this way; in fact, it seems a whole lot easier than copying files to memory sticks, printing out contact lists, etc. etc...let alone, keeping everything in a big plastic box!

Posted by: Ben in reply to robert at July 13, 2011 7:21 AM | Reply

Honestly, I don't know why Apple doesn't just make a more weather-ready iPad -- I'd stick them all over the boat. I sure like using Navionics on my iPad as back-up (and as just another view -- different scale, different part of the body of water I'm on) to my Raymarine C80, I can imagine lots of uses onboard, at far better price than from a marine electronics supplier.

Posted by: Scott Dudgeon at July 13, 2011 8:28 AM | Reply

Ben, I think that this type of interaction between owners, dealers, and builders is a great idea, but builders will have to dramatically clean up their manufacturing act to make this truly work. Most manuals are minimal at best, and are accompanied with a pile of equipment owners manuals that were thrown into a binder during assembly. Rarely are wiring and assembly drawings included, and few builders have real configuration control (This means the manufacturer kept a good record of what materials and equipment was installed on any boat by hull number, including options). Until the manufacturing basics are firmly in place, this will be no more than a fun gadget. I would be happy if just good basics were provided first.

Posted by: Bill Bishop at July 13, 2011 8:53 AM | Reply

In keeping with the overall theme here, does anyone have a good, iPad based or iPad compatible ship's log application? I'm currently re-writing my paper log after accidently leaving it on an uncovered bridge and would be much happier if I was adding this data to my iPad - but not as just a bunch of notepad entries. I want the ability to accumulate fuel usage and hours, set flags for maintenance, and keep an inventory. I've tried "Sailbook". Ok first attempt but it needs work. If the site had a companion app it might begin do the trick (and I understand, they're just getting started), but as noted above, syncing for off-cloud use is important.

Posted by: Doug Campbell at July 13, 2011 11:19 AM | Reply

Doug, you might like Boating Suite, which includes Log Book, Maintenance Log, Fuel Log, and more:

Unfortunately it's not yet a universal app, so you'll have to use it 2X on an iPad. Which seems a shame as a Pad seems like the right place to do all the text entry that the app invites. But maybe a full screen version is in the works.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Doug Campbell at July 13, 2011 1:35 PM | Reply

If you want a universal app that is full featured, try BoatLogix. You can download the Quick Start PDF and app from this webpage:

Posted by: Jon Longworth at July 13, 2011 1:43 PM | Reply

Thanks, Jon; BoatLogix looks very interesting and powerful. I particularly like that you also run a copy on a regular Mac, or use a Mac as server to the app running on an iPad or iPhone. But it's worth noting that it runs on top of Filemaker Go, which makes it a $25 app (5+20) for iOS and more on a Mac.

It also looks like BoatLogix takes a bit to set up and to share the database. Meanwhile, Boating Suite seems to have a data export feature but it looks like only a spreadsheet compatible file.

By contrast to both, readers might enjoy trying out CarbonFin's Outliner app for iOS. It's a simple though lovely list maker and/or project organizer and it's in the cloud with all data synced to whatever iThing you're using, as discussed above. I flip around between the browser app running on my desktop or boat PCs and my iPad sometimes several times a day with virtually no effort:

Posted by: Ben in reply to Jon Longworth at July 13, 2011 2:37 PM | Reply


I followed the link and checked out the documentation. However, when I go to the App store I can't find the application. Is it not available in the US? I've been considering adding a Mac Mini to Sonny IV's suite, especially after reading about Charttable 21, so a native app would be nice.

Ben - I'll check out Boating Suite, I had looked at it before but rejected it as it doesn't support iPad resolutions, not a big fan of the 2x option. I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to play with it.

Posted by: Doug Campbell in reply to Jon Longworth at July 13, 2011 2:40 PM | Reply

Jon - as soon as I posted that last comment I had a "Duh" moment. I'm guessing that FileMaker is the APP and boatlogix runs within it. Correct?

Posted by: Doug Campbell in reply to Jon Longworth at July 13, 2011 2:43 PM | Reply


That's correct. BoatLogix Go requires FileMaker Go for either the iPhone or iPad but runs without a FileMaker Pro license on the Mac. It uses the same database on these 3 devices.

Posted by: Jon Longworth at July 13, 2011 4:03 PM | Reply

I'm not being negative. I just don't see much advantage to the boat owner.

Hey I use lots of google cloud tools too, but I guess I just don't get it. Storing data online isnt a bad idea, but why the need for a special "boaters data cloud"?

Guess I would have to try it.

Now if you could use your boat data to help tie into the social networking stuff, that might be cool. You know, find people/information from other owners of the same boat, etc. etc.

Posted by: robert in reply to Ben at July 13, 2011 10:11 PM | Reply

I can imagine, I do imagine, having all of the necessary manuals for everything on my boat on my boat. But I don't need the Cloud to do this. In fact, the Cloud really just gets in the way.

First, in order to view these manuals I need some sort of laptop or iPad. Second, I need a gig or so of storage. That's it. This is not really a huge problem. It's easier than stamp collecting.

I have some winches. It turns out that Andersen puts their manuals online. Nice of them. I have some clutches. It turns out that Antal doesn't. Nutz. I have an instrument system. It turns out that Furuno and Simrad and Airmar are very good about putting manuals out there. Heck, West Systems has really good information. Harken has awesome technical support but they're only ok in the online documentation department.

My point is that in the major hardware department this is a database management issue. Find it. Get it. Done. Now in the department of obscure stuff, it's something the class association is best at supporting. Who makes the tiller and what's its size? Holding tanks? Ask the builder, he went out of business in 89.

So I think that is trying to create a public good and for what I can see right now (and they're charging $34/yr for this) it's sending me screaming for socialism. Or at least for SocialNetworkIsm.

Is going to track down the manuals for the Yanmar 2GM20F? Pardon me if I'm skeptical about .coms solving my problems. Crowd sourcing .orgs have a better track record.

Posted by: Chris at July 13, 2011 11:21 PM | Reply

Good point about the owners groups, Chris. Many are fantastic examples of how the Web enables very small groups of people with significant common issues to gather and share information. But they tend to be home-made operations, and it's hard to picture one developing the expertise to host, say, service records of individual boats. I think there's room here for .orgs and .coms.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Chris at July 14, 2011 7:55 AM | Reply

I've been a technologist all my life -- from disassembling my first (and not parentally approved) alarm clock to using blogging software with a WAMP server on my X40 to document all my maintenance and operations data. One thing I have learned through all those decades is there are points where technology can get in the way, and it is the weakest link.

On the boat those two are maintenance in remote places and repair under stress.

I hate the weight and cube of paper manuals, but I will always carry them because they don't require electrons to work, they don't require clean hands to use, they don't require shade to see, and I can make, sometimes scatological, remarks in their margins. And they came with a one-time price (often 0$ these days as printable pdf) intended to deliver information rather than as a subscription intended to create a codependency.

I've owned seven boats and one for fifteen years. Had been my interface to exterior information, I would have paid $6120 over that ownership period -- definitely not worth it.

Perhaps if I owned a yacht (in the current parlance), I could toss this kind of money to the online breeze. Since I own a boat, I'll perpetually pass on services of marginal utility which are better for the providers balance sheet than mine.

Posted by: Christopher at July 14, 2011 8:17 AM | Reply

So it looks like Sabre LaunchPad became On-Board iPad and it's a real app now. I'm going to check it out:

Posted by: Ben at September 24, 2012 5:04 PM | Reply

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