Pros and cons of integrated bridge systems for superyachts

21 January 2015By Mark Masciarotte
Part of Alfa Nero‘s integrated bridge. Captains are divided over the usefulness of these systems

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).

Some new bridge control systems seem to take their cues from science-fiction TV shows

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.

Deniki‘s bridge. Captain Anderson says, ‘Integrated panels, when laid out by experienced operators, can be helpful in reducing distraction…’

Today, console arrangements generally employ between five and seven widescreen monitors. Anderson says the higher-capability systems have a computer for each monitor instead of interswitching screen information, which is how systems are integrated on the other type of systems.

‘Once the boat is sailing,’ he adds, ‘conning is often set to the middle screen, radars are next [outboard], followed by charts that can be brought into the central screen when piloting in close quarters.

‘It has been the case that other controls such as anchor-wash and windshield wipers have been set up for monitor-based control. We do not recommend this as it is an operator distraction when simple direct control switches can be mounted on the dash or in the above equipment console.

‘Also, certain important information, such as depth, does not require a large monitor; and when presented on a large monitor, creates night vision impairment,’ explains Anderson.

‘A well-designed conning screen can minimise that problem, while small screens in the upper console can take information off large screens on to a more appropriately sized monitor.’

Ethereal‘s flybridge is remarkably compact.

Captain Emile Bootsma of Blue Moon takes an even more pragmatic approach: ‘I think the first question a captain has to ask himself is whether he wants an integrated bridge or not, as the design and layout of a bridge very much hinges on this consideration.

‘I, personally, am not a fan of integrated bridges for the simple reason that I do not need another stack of computers to complicate my life. Integrated bridges may be the way of the future, but, as of today, I believe they are still a fashionable choice rather than a practical one.’

On many of these points, Anderson is in agreement: ‘Distraction, confusion and fatigue can be minimised by simplifying system integration, by avoiding the necessity of accessing too many applications on a monitor and by providing the operators with hot physical controls of certain equipment rather than using point, touch, click controls.’

Faimatea adds, ‘Stability and reliability are paramount, and with many integrated bridges now on the verge of being completely Windows client/server-based, the tendency to promote and develop a company’s “home grown” radar, ECDIS, AMS is there more than ever.’

Radio Zeeland’s Van der Meer reminds us that there is a difference between simple switching and a true integrated bridge: ‘Both can swap screens, but the first can fail by a single point of failure, and the other offers alarm distribution, information sharing and workstation redundancy, all in a fully class-approved package.’

‘Of course, type approval plays a part in this,’ says Faimatea, ‘but I feel it is too commercially driven rather than client-driven. Being able to accommodate client/user preferences with different DP manufactures, autopilots, gyrocompasses, ECDIS systems and radars would add flexibility to meeting specific wishes of captains and project managers for new-builds and refits.’

Originally published: October 2010.

Kongsberg Maritime, Alewijnse, Klaus Jordan and Franco Pace