For a number of years, commercial ships have been able to take advantage of prefabricated bridge consoles that are designed to provide the operator with a seamless integration of equipment for shiphandling, navigation and communications.
While this type of equipment is larger than can be accommodated on board many recreational vessels, it is slowly finding its way aboard large yachts, and answers vary as to whether such equipment is a valuable asset.
Among mariners, there seems to be widespread differences in the definition of the term integrated bridge.
One group thinks of the systems used aboard ships, while the other group conjures images of black box equipment that is installed in a more traditional arrangement in a custom yacht console.
The former is best exemplified by the systems manufactured by Raytheon-Anschütz, Sperry or Kongsberg.
The Raytheon-Anschütz and Sperry systems are also available in a more yacht-appropriate custom form by manufacturers such as Alewijnse Marine Systems (used aboard some Oceanco and Amels yachts) and Radio Zeeland DMP (used aboard some Heesen, Vitters, Hakvoort, Royal Huisman, Feadship, Lürssen, Oceanco, and Abeking yachts).
Will Faimatea, of Bond Technical Management, says that bridge system suppliers are providing and promoting their own brand of components rather than integrating specific technologies that may be more advanced, more stable and that have higher functionality than their own.
This is creating an integrated bridge which ends up being one black box of technology rather than the true sense of what I feel an integrated bridge could be, he notes. Bridge suppliers are in a competitive market, and there seems to be a move towards adding more bells and whistles to a bridge to bring added value, rather than make a bridge more open to using other components rather than, for example, only a Kelvin Hughes radar.
AJ Anderson an experienced captain and managing director of Wright Maritime Group concurs and explains that sometimes having all the extras does not a perfect bridge console make.
The main central console equipment is now more often a single integrated foil panel, he says. If an operator has to look for a switch in a dark, high-traffic and rapidly developing situation, it is a distraction that may cause an accident and, over time, will cause fatigue.
Recently, smooth glass panels have come on the market, and they look beautiful, but you have to look at the panel to actuate a control. We recommend making sure that certain controls can be located by touch and actuated with certainty in these dark and rapid-response environments.
This recommendation is acknowledged by Juul van der Meer of Radio Zeeland DMP, who notes that with its glass technology, touch effects like clicks, lights and vibration are available that, when done right, do not distract but support the operator.