The myriad electronic systems used to equip modern luxury yachts require a number of connectors, often with a demand for customization.
By Terry Costlow
Anywhere there’s water, there are boats. More people want them, and more buyers have money to buy fancy watercraft, creating a huge market for luxury yachts, which opens a large market for connectors.
The global luxury yacht market is expected to hit a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 7% by 2020. Given all the electronics on these exotic ships, the market for connectors for these boats will grow in tandem. Operational equipment like radios, radars, and navigation is making life on the high seas ever more connected.
Connector makers are designing products that give customers the flexibility to create new products or adapt existing technologies to enhance the maritime experience.
“Our products are segmented, which allows customers to mix and match metal/plastic housings, signal/power counts, male/female, and several other combinations to create a solution that provides them with the best solution for whatever problem they are trying to solve,” said Terry Emerson, micro rugged product manager at Samtec in New Albany. “I think this is an important task, especially in the marine market, as having rigid product requirements means long lead times and high pricing. Also, engineering fees are going to rear their ugly head.”
Versatility is also a key feature in maritime offerings from Molex. The company’s ML-XT Sealed Connection System uses two-shot liquid silicone rubber molding technology to provide protection even during power washing. Ethernet and USB connectors are also sealed to stay dry, while an industrial sealed connector family meets IEC IP67 waterproof requirements.
Providing products that meet the many demands of shipboard connectors requires a good understanding of customer needs. To learn what users want, Phoenix Contact works closely with companies like S3 Maritime, which devises myriad systems that give yacht owners fresh water, communications and guidance, as well as entertainment options. It takes a broad range of connectors to meet all these varying demands.
The consumer trend to constantly ask for more carries over to marine environments. That’s especially true in luxury watercraft. Many buyers who can afford large boats won’t accept anything less than the same high level of products they have in their homes. That’s pushing bandwidth requirements skyward.
“With the introduction of Wi-Fi, 4K TVs, etc. on yachts and watercraft, IP-rated cables are being pushed into a realm that to date hasn’t been required,” Emerson said. “Typically, with sealed cables, high speed has been defined as 1–2Gb/s. However, with the introduction of these new technologies, that will likely change at a very aggressive rate. We are looking into running 16–28Gb/s through IP-rated cables to support these types of mechanical and electrical requirements.”
Eventually, demands for maritime equipment will go to even higher frequencies. At the same time, cables for marine applications will have to maintain their IP ratings. Optical and high-speed cables that can handle 28Gb/s may someday need to be packaged for shipboard use, bringing more challenges for developers. Some are anticipating this transition with thinner materials. For example, TE Connectivity’s C-Lite line of cables are among its maritime offerings. The cables use thin-wall technologies to reduce bulk while still meeting throughput and shielding requirements.
TE’s maritime efforts had an unexpected impact in 2016. TE SubCom, a TE company that works in undersea communications technology and marine services, helped save 14 people when a fishing boat sank near Mumbai, India. The C.S. Dependable, a transoceanic cable ship from TE SubCom, responded when the fishing boat FV Datta Sai sank with no radio or personal flotation devices. The TE crew found the sailors clinging to debris and pulled them all to safety.
Bringing even greater luxury to already posh yachts is one thing. Saving lives is another. Connectors play a role in both.