The following article was written by Martyn Cain and originally published through The Superyacht Group.
Day by day technology is changing the way we live, from cashless payments to wi-fi kettles, we find ourselves reliant on gadgets and mobile information. This reliance however, gives the notion of multi-tasking firm roots in our daily lives.
This way of life is finally starting to see real traction within the superyacht industry and non-more-so than within my area of crew and vessel management. The days of paper trails will be very soon behind us as advances in technology such as secure cloud depositories, digital signatures, facial recognition and mobile applications help connect yacht manager to captain, crew and owner 24/7. So what areas have we seen change in?
Cloud servers have spelt an end to sharing files between systems in multiple jurisdictions. Now different departments and offices can log in to the same system, acquiring as much or as little information as required. Security is absolutely paramount in these circumstances and every move within a system can be audited.
But what benefits does a cloud server offer? Having the ability to log on to a shared server to conduct business dramatically cuts down on email correspondence, the hazard of dealing with duplicate or out of date documents now also ceases to exist. Data protection is paramount when dealing with information such as bank account details, owner contact information and other such sensitive material. As such compliance has notoriously been quite a minefield. How and where data is stored has long been a bone of contention for many companies. Cloud storage doesn’t offer all the answers to this but as it isn’t, by its very nature, tied down to a particular jurisdiction, the cloud server within Europe has been favoured to store and transact information.
Many companies have started to take advantage of this by launching mobile platforms and applications for all areas of a yacht’s life. Planning tools for shipyards allow project management on the move, document management for crew welfare, and regulation can now be shared between captains or managers and authorities. And owners can monitor and approve invoices and expenses outside of office hours. All of these have dramatically cut down workloads for the various people involved in the running of a superyacht and the processes involved in this operation have become smoother.
As a relatively new application to office tech, digital signatures are increasingly becoming a common tool to use in the superyacht industry. Digital Signatures give a highly secure method of document approval without the need to print anything off. Their applications for superyachts can be seen, for example, in the recruitment of new crew.
As has been the normal procedure in the past, a new crewmember is asked to join mid-way through a charter and their details need to be taken. These details somehow need to get back to the management company (either posted or emailed), the management then needs to have forms and contracts for the new crewmember signed, which would historically involve printing out the documents, posting them to the vessel and physically having them signed and returned. It has been known for this process to take weeks, but with digital signatures it could take minutes.
A new starter form and seafarer employment agreement are kept on a pdf, the appropriate fields are filled in and the crew member signs the documents (this is usually done by a check box). The file is sent to the Captain, who can counter sign and email the management company. Each time the file is opened the user must log in, this then audits who has read, or if access allows, changed content within the file. For the most part the file is locked in read only and sign mode. As digital signatures become far more commonplace, authorities and registries are opening up to accepting them as a valid form of authenticity.
Using digital signatures and mobile devices together really lets us see how the workplace on board and in the office is going to change in the near future.
Another application to improve compliance, crew recruitment and charter procedures is facial recognition software. Already used in airports as a primary method of security I see no reason why the same theory couldn’t apply to the maritime industry and in our particular case yacht management. I have heard of instances where facial recognition has been used to authenticate passports of guests. Photos are taken of the passport and of the guest, the software then matches the faces to verify they are the same person, while scanning the passport to determine if the document is valid. This form of compliance would be a massive time saving exercise and could be very easily used when onboarding new crew. In terms of facial matching it could work even quicker than the above mentioned digital signatures. Photo’s could then be uploaded to the management system and used in MLC 2006 or for in-house identification.
Since the enforcement of MLC 2006, paperwork for both captains and port state control has increased. Combining a lot of the systems and devices I have already mentioned will lead to a paperless interaction that can be shared and approved before a vessel has entered the harbour. This will mean no more stories of owners and guests waiting in port for hours at a time while certificates and other paperwork are found.
As far as potential goes, I have by no means covered all that technology can do for the superyacht industry, or even crewing in particular, but these are the options that are available to us now and will see the industry change dramatically in coming years.