Panbo

Vessel Vanguard, world's largest boat systems database?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jan 31, 2012
Vessel_Vanguard_IBEX_launch_cPanbo.jpg

When I first met Don Hyde, founder of Vessel Vanguard, and his business development guy Gordon Ramseier at IBEX, I may have been a little hard on them. That's because a similar plan to put all of a boat's system information into the cloud had gotten me excited last summer, but then seemed to stall. I'd realized that doing this right meant arduously creating a huge yet flexible database of specs, manuals, parts lists, bulletins, maintenance recommendations etc. for thousands of different bilge pumps, AC units, marine toilets, etc. etc. So I came at Don and Gordon with something like "Show me your database!" and, by golly, they did...

It turned out that Hyde and his team had been working on the Vessel Vanguard database for more than year before the company launch, and that he'd already done some similar distributed databasing in another complex, multi-manufacturer niche. So he proudly logged into the company server and showed me through megabytes of tightly organized information on specific systems, the same stuff most of us keep crammed into loose leaf binders or plastic boxes in a locker (me) and hope we don't need to use, because it's hard to find what you want. Nor can we query our Tupperware database from home or elsewhere, let alone give a boatyard access to our boat's systems library integrated with specifics like maintenance records and spare parts inventories, and also updated with general info like product bulletins from elsewhere on the Web.
   Of course a well designed and maintained database in the cloud can do all that and more, like emailed inspection reminders or this neatly organized systems page. Hyde says knowingly that "The modern boat is really a system of systems" -- he owns one too -- and I'll add that they can get ahead of you all too easily. But amassing all those records and documents into digital forms that can be easily searched, shared, copied to your hard drive, etc. is a daunting task, even for a production boat builder, unless a lot of the equipment is already in the master database just awaiting selection.
   I've heard from Hyde since IBEX and he was pleased to report that several major builders have signed up for his service. (It does seem like a great tool for building good long term relationships with customers and helping a boat hold its value.) But Hyde also realizes that owner/operator input is critical to keeping a boat's database current, and that some owners want to set up one themselves. In fact, you can join Vessel Vanguard now, though the set-up fee is close to $1,000. I think that's largely because VV does the grunt work of entering your systems info from your inventory sheet or a builder list, and I'm hoping that eventually it will be possible to do the data entry yourself in exchange for a reduced fee. In the meantime, what do think of what you see at Vessel Vanguard?

Vessel_Vanguard_database_sample.jpg

PS, 7/24: It was just announced that Vessel Vanguard will be included with all new Beneteau power and sail boats, and it also looks like they've got an iPad app:

Vessel_Vanguard_iPad.jpg

Comments

This is a great idea, especially if their database includes manuals and manufacturer's service notes etc.

I have a PC-based database that is equivalent to Vanguards albeit I still schlep about 300 lbs of manuals and service notes around that I wish I could find in PDF format. If Vanguard had these and I could download these for offline use I would switch in an instant.

I must say that I would wait a while to be sure Vanguard has staying power before I put paper documentation into storage.

Posted by: Don Joyce at February 1, 2012 7:01 AM | Reply

I can't tell you the number of times I have stared at some piece of broken something, and asked the owner, "Do you have a manual for this thing, or a contact point for the manufacturer?" This results in a scramble through various bags, and drawers looking for something that quite often can't be found. I then spend endless hours downloading this stuff, if it is available at all. So technical data compilation and organization for the more complex vessels is a great idea, and overall a big money saver. So now just imagine if you could upload NMEA 2000 data regularly to this system like engine and generator running hours, fuel usage, battery voltages, waste tank levels, power consumption, and so on.

Posted by: Bill Bishop at February 1, 2012 8:45 AM | Reply

I like the concept, however I am not sure about the business model. Nearly $1000 just to setup a member ship and $179 per year puts it out of reach of the "average joe" boater. I see this more for wealthy captains, charter fleet and private yacht managment types.

Even for us small boat owners (who care about out boats, lol) it would be nice to take advantage of extensive an equipment database.

One question: who has the responsibility for adding/updating equipment information? Until you can get the mfrs on board to do it themselves, that is a big expense.

It would be cool if there was a database like this that was "crowdsourced". Sorta like a Wikipedia for marine equipment.

Posted by: Robert Sutton at February 1, 2012 9:20 AM | Reply

I'm an old guy, and I really like to have stuf where I can put my hands on it, even digital stuff. And most of the time when I'm on the boat we are out of reach of the cloud anyhow.

So Barbara has about 3-1/2 linear feet of binders, with the manual (such as it is) for every piece of equipment on the boat, plus some supplementary information I have downloaded. Also my own database (the original specs, updated) of equipment and another of spares and service parts.

Most owners maybe wouldn't do all this, so anything that makes life easier for them is fine, and I hope Vessel Vanguard makes a go of it.

Posted by: Michael at February 1, 2012 10:21 AM | Reply

These days, almost every manual, user guide, service bulletin, parts list, etc. is available electronically, and for the very few that aren't it's an easy matter to scan a few pages.

Because of this, I have removed all of this paper documentation from my boat - liberating a cabinet and a half of storage space - and replaced the whole thing with a large screen Kindle DX.

The Kindle is less than an inch thick including its padded case, lasts me about two months or more between charges, and can hold more boat documentation than I'll ever own. I use the collections feature to organize the hundreds of books and booklets into appropriate categories.

On the plus side, I saved tons of storage space and never have to "hunt" for any document. Of course flipping pages is a bit slow, but given the benefits and given how infrequently the average boater turns to this information (a handful of times per month?), it ends up being a big net positive.

Posted by: Jeff at February 1, 2012 10:37 AM | Reply

I don't think I expressed it well in the entry, but it strikes me that the key to a truly great systems library/database is integration our own maintenance logs, calendars, preferred service folks, etc. And there are no doubt possibilities I can't see yet. I think Vessel Vanguard gets this.

Also, in most cases I wouldn't consider a cloud service that couldn't be cached for use offline and synchronized when back online. The exceptions involve data that doesn't have much use offline, like the full 16 gigs of Gmail that's floating around somewhere ;-)

http://goo.gl/GDvV2

Posted by: Ben at February 1, 2012 10:57 AM | Reply

Don,

It was kind of Ben to let his readers know about us. I want to address your point about staying power and document storage.

One feature soon to be activated is that boat owners will be able to download to their hard drive a permanent record of their ship's log and organized manuals, including maintenance history at any time they want as a sort of snap-shot view of status-quo for all systems. The most important function however is the intelligence based algorithm that is constantly calculating interval days of use and hours of use to get to those maintenance thresholds, and then generating emailed Task Alerts as necessary.

As for staying power, we are well financed and have received overwhelming support from the industry including some of the largest and well known manufacturers who see VesselVanguard as a real advantage to sell boats and improve post-sale customer care.

Feel free to contact me directly with any questions.

Don Hyde
CEO, VesselVanguard

Posted by: Don Hyde in reply to Don Joyce at February 1, 2012 11:18 AM | Reply

Bill, We are NMEA 2000 compliant, and as more manufacturers come into the fold the integration you mentioned will be seamless for all VesselVanguard subscribers. DH

Posted by: Anonymous in reply to Bill Bishop at February 1, 2012 11:33 AM | Reply

Robert,

Most of our individual subscribers come to us through Owners Clubs, and other affiliations where they receive up to a 25% discount on initial subscription set-up. There is a great cost to set up each profile - in effect it is a customized application specific to each boat. If you want to subscribe please contact me directly and we can investigate your affiliations. i.e. BoatUS members get a 20% discount.

DVH

Posted by: Anonymous in reply to Robert Sutton at February 1, 2012 11:35 AM | Reply

Thanks for the good laugh Jeff.

I've dropped plenty at Kinkos having manuals scanned in since they may well be the last "in the wild" or the manufacturer still thought electronic copies were a major revenue source.

I admit times have changed and newer products are better supported electronically. Even so not everything useful is in electronic form. Being able to give the service tech the service manual when I don't have time myself still makes the difference....I recently copied and emailed a major marine distributor the parts manual he didn't have......

I look forward to having everything electronically stored. Nonetheless, I'm not going to spend the dough to having all of hundreds of pounds of paper I have scanned it.

Posted by: Don Joyce in reply to Jeff at February 1, 2012 3:25 PM | Reply

Fully agree Ben,

Information integration is essential. Sounds like things are available offline from Vanguard which is also good.

Don

Posted by: Don Joyce in reply to Ben at February 1, 2012 3:31 PM | Reply

iPad, GoodReader, Evernote. 47 foot powerboat. All systems including domestic equipment such as refrigerator and microwave are documented electronically. Some manuals are out of print and only available electronically.

This is backed up to, and available on, multiple desktop computers and the "cloud" (DropBox).

Could easily print out a manual but have never had the need. So far there actually seems to be more utility in being able to email data to third party technical help.

Can't record NMEA data but often take pictures or video and sometimes record sounds. In fact I have video of the full survey and sea trial when I bought the boat.

Posted by: John Williams at February 1, 2012 4:34 PM | Reply

John,
I am using the same approach. PDFs, photos, spreadsheets stored local and online.

Posted by: HenryD in reply to John Williams at February 1, 2012 9:23 PM | Reply

I purchased a double-sided scanner and ran several manuals through it to searchable .pdf files. They reside on a backup drive and an SD card. I can print out a few specific pages to take down into the engine rooms and tape to a wall for a particular job. They get oil and somethimes a little blood on them, and can be used to wipe things off when I'm done, leaving the aging original un-sullied. Or I can copy them to a micro SD and review them on my Android Tablet.

That was a lot of work, but I'm still shy about spending $1000 (or $750) to join. I wonder if there could be some credit for providing documents not already available. There are a LOT of old gadgets out there predating this technology but still in use.

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at February 2, 2012 7:54 AM | Reply

It is a great idea to have such capability, but this business model requires individual boat owners to pay someone else to do the initial data load, and then maintain the database, assuming that the owner keeps the database provider informed when something gets added/changed. I don't think it will attract anyone other than big-boat owners with maintenance departments.

Bill Gates is not a billionaire because he founded a company that does everyone's spreadsheets for them, or acts like a typing pool for everyone who wants to write a letter. He is a billionaire because he provided relatively inexpensive tools that enable everyone to do these tasks themselves. I think that if this company could come up with an app or a PC-based program that would do this, and sell it at app-like prices, they would find lots of customers.

Posted by: rxc at February 2, 2012 8:40 AM | Reply

Don,
The set-up fee is the hurdle. A crowdsourced solution seems like the key and then allow us to 'build' our boat by picking from a library of components that have been populated by others - of course them customizing our instance of a component with our own serial numbers, purchase date, hours, etc. Your team could still QA the submitted library data but that would be a lot less effort (cost) than building them all yourselves.
Tim

Posted by: Tim Hale in reply to Anonymous at February 4, 2012 9:27 AM | Reply

Don,

I'm happy to see someone else doing this. I seriously considered Wheelhouse, but the price kept me away. So I downloaded a freeware app called Maintenance Assitant CMMS (designed for plant equipment maintenance) and determined it would work. However, I got really bogged down in data entry and never implemented it. It's at least a 2 week project I might get to one day. Your setup fee is worth it, but still outside my personal budget.

I think there is a business opportunity to offer this sort of application where at least some of the cost of the application is underwritten by sale of spares and maintenance parts. Plus the value added of one call to buy parts for anything broken on the boat. The challenge would be sourcing the parts at reasonable prices. Especially in the beginning with small volumes. But if you could capture say even 5 percent market share of boats >35 feet (think Amazon), I think there is a way to make this work.

Regards, Bob

Posted by: Bob at February 5, 2012 12:30 PM | Reply

Very interesting concept.
I beleive the business model needs more thought. I keep a very similar log in my laptop with Microsoft Access. It took me about 10 hours to compile all data needed for my Beneteau 343 and a couple of hours to create the database. I got the idea from a friend that set it up in Excel. I do not have to pay yearly fees or initiation fees. Please make your case for subscribing. It will not be long until somebody posts an app for IPad connected to ICloud and the what??

Posted by: Jess at February 7, 2012 1:08 PM | Reply

Wow, all new Beneteau power and sail boats are going to come standard with Vessel Vanguard, starting in September, and the warranty will also be extended. Plus it looks like VV has an iPad app (see image in PS above).

Posted by: Ben at July 24, 2012 6:19 PM | Reply

Ok Ladies and Gents I am taking the plunge and will let you know how it goes. I am an Aircraft Maintenance Officer so I really enjoy having scheduled maintenance actions, hourly inspections etc... and I have been having trouble organizing it all into my own one stop shop. I just signed up to Vessel Vanguard and I am excited to see how it goes. I am not a charter guy nor do I have tons of money and my boat is 14 years old(1999 Sea Ray 330EC) The initial cost seems to have come down to a more reasonable level so I signed up. I will try to let you know how it goes in the next few weeks. I have been on the fence with doing this for months. Thanks PANBO for bringing this to my attention.

John DeGrasse

Posted by: John DeGrasse at April 16, 2013 1:50 PM | Reply

More reasonable? Are you paying the advertised price on the web site, or is there another plan that fits your needs?

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) in reply to John DeGrasse at April 16, 2013 8:37 PM | Reply

The price is down to 579 I think and if you are a boats us member you get a discount on the initial setup cost. Ended up being 492 if I remember correctly. That includes first year. Next year will be 179.

John

Posted by: John DeGrasse in reply to Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at April 16, 2013 8:44 PM | Reply

Has anyone seen the insurance savings mentioned on the website? Especially with an "old", >20 year old vessel that insurance companies are not fond of? This would be a possible way to reduce the cost.

Posted by: Bob at April 16, 2013 8:52 PM | Reply

Bob

I will let you know tomorrow when I hear back from Charter Lakes.

John

Posted by: John DeGrasse at April 16, 2013 10:41 PM | Reply

Bob, The insurance piece didn't help me because I have Foremost through Charter Lakes. Foremost is the actual carrier and my insurance is already pretty cheap. If I had Charter Lakes proprietary insurance I would have received a discount that amounted to about 10%.

John

Posted by: John DeGrasse at April 19, 2013 7:51 PM | Reply

John,

Thanks! If you know, do you have any idea how the rates compare with Boat US? In the FL market, that is sort of a benchmark, usually the best value coverage.

We had to switch to Seaworthy Insurance to get coverage south of the Bahamas when we left the US which has similar plans, but a little more expensive since the risks are higher. But we will be back in FL this year, probably for a few years.

Anyway, it sounds like the answer on the insurance savings to help pay for Vanguard depends on your individual situation. It would tip the scales for me if it worked out. Maybe I can make a few calls when we get home. It will be interesting to see if they cover boats in Florida, many don't because of the hurricane risk.

Thanks, Bob

Posted by: Bob at April 19, 2013 10:41 PM | Reply

Bob,

I don't really know how the rates for Charter Lakes proprietary insurance compares with Boat US but I can say that Foremost was a pretty good deal and it has full US navigation, no date restrictions to keep me out of FL.

John

Posted by: John DeGrasse at April 19, 2013 10:50 PM | Reply

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