The latest in seafloor mapping for superyachts
Water occupies around 71% of the Earth’s surface. But only about 5% of the world's waters have been mapped with detailed bathymetric data (showing positioned depths). In other words, approximately 66% of the Earth’s waters are currently unmapped.
The mapped waters tend to be either navigational areas with regular shipping activity or areas with commercial exploration operations - with the data usually being made publicly available in analogue (paper) or digital (ECDIS/ECS) format. However, it is becoming increasingly common for superyachts to explore typically unmapped waters, remote areas in exotic territories often with the most seductive bays and lagoons. The potential result is that an all too understandable desire for adventure carries the very real risk of running aground.
The solution? You could, of course, look at Google Earth satellite images. But while this may give a general idea of which areas are deeper, it will not tell you exactly how deep it is and whether there are obstacles like rocks or wrecks on the seafloor that may be dangerous for a safe passage. You could use a system like FLS (Forward looking sonar) but that will only help if there is clear ‘line of sight’ below the surface What if that amazing bay or lagoon is just around a corner or behind a reef?
Often yachts will also send out a tender with a normal echo sounder, but this only allows you to collect one depth and position point at any one time and will still only give you a general indication of the depth in the area and can easily miss a hidden rock or wreck often 5-10 meters to one side of the tender.
The most truly effective solution lies in the latest echo sounder technology - the multibeam echo sounder. Instead of recording a single depth point at a time, the multibeam system uses multiple beams over a wide swathe below and on both sides of the vessel, creating three-dimensional maps of the seafloor which can be created a hundred times faster, and much more accurately, than can be achieved using a standard (single beam) echo sounder.
These days almost all official hydrographic surveys used to produce navigational charts for ECDIS, are performed with Multibeam technology. So, it makes sense for superyachts to follow suit and use the same standard of equipment.
WASSP Ltd, from Auckland, New Zealand, is one of the specialist manufacturers of multibeam echo sounding equipment based on IHO Standards used by professional surveyors around the world and is currently the only one offering this solution to superyachts. The WASSP (Wide Area Sonar Seafloor Profiler) model W3, developed specifically for the superyacht market.
The WASSP W3 system combines the multibeam sounder with high accuracy motion and position sensors to create an incredibly detailed map in real-time on board the tender, that can be transmitted back to the mothership in real-time via a wireless link. It also allows for long range, remote mapping and features advanced store-and-forward technology in a buffer memory (up to 24 hours), for out-of-range data synchronisation when a connection is re-established.
When the tender is in wireless range again, the mapped area is automatically synchronised with motherships on board PC.
With its wideband CHIRP technology and wireless capability, the W3 can be mounted on a tender which can be sent ahead to scan a 120-degree swathe, port to starboard, using 224 beams. As the system maps up to 3 times wide the current depth this allows the crew to send the tender ahead to quickly map the selected area for hazards. When the tender is in wireless range again, the mapped area is automatically synchronised with motherships on board PC.
Through a new and simplified WASSP CDX user interface, accurate bathymetry information can be presented as 2D or 3D high resolution images, together with the actual position of both the tender and the yacht, either on a dedicated display or on the ship’s bridge monitors.
This can also be very useful in charted waters after a storm or natural disaster like an earthquake you are never quite sure what has moved underwater so why would you want to risk this with your Superyacht when a Tender can do the checking for you. After recent Caribbean Cyclones all the bays and ports needed to be surveyed to be declared safe for navigation again.
The New Zealand navy have installed several customised versions of this for the natural disaster quick response service they provide in the South Pacific.
In addition to ensure safe navigation and anchorage in poorly charted regions, the W3 can also be used to locate wrecks, reefs and other interesting diving objects on the seafloor.
With the trend for superyacht exploration seemingly set to increase, multibeam systems like the WASSP W3 provide the only safe and practical option. Maybe one day 100 percent of the Earth’s watery surface will be mapped but, until then, no superyacht
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