There was a time when a simple (relatively speaking) handheld nightscope was the toy to have on board. Based on image intensifier technology, these handy bits of kit were perfect for supplementing your nav night vision to check out what was happening in the dark – even if the images were green and, frequently, a little grainy. But all that has changed as thermal imaging cameras from the likes of thermal camera giant FLIR Systems and independents such as Current Scientific Corporation take on ever greater specs based on ever advancing technology.

Now, larger yachts in particular will typically spec multiple thermal camera installations to give blanket coverage both for integration into the yacht’s security network and also to facilitate navigation. What’s more, the latest generations of these cameras are employing cooled-core technology to increase range and definition, meaning potential targets can be spotted and identified at far greater distances than was previously possible. Formerly the preserve of military spec cameras, cooled-core tech is the buzzword as FLIR and other suppliers receive licence to add cryocooled sensors to commercially available equipment.

“When you’re talking about the marine market, there are actually two different types of camera that you can have,” explains  Hans Groenenboom sales director EMEA for FLIR’s Maritime Thermal Systems division. “The majority of the maritime cameras we sell for yachts and superyachts are so-called uncooled cameras. [Cooled core cameras] mean that the range is far better, and the picture clarity and quality is much better compared to uncooled cameras.”

So what does this mean for the future of cameras, and does cooled technology mean that HD cameras are just around the corner? Unfortunately, it appears that ultra-high resolutions may still be a way off, at least for yachts. “HD is still restricted to government and military applications,” explains Sylvie Quaeyhagens, business development manager at Current Scientific Corporation, “so if you want a cooled HD camera for a superyacht it might take a few more years before it becomes available. But all these technologies are evolving really fast.”

While combining thermal imaging with optical imaging and zoom functions is typical for onboard camera solutions, some new gear is taking the concept of functionality much further. Current Scientific Corporation’s range, for example, includes cameras that offer thermal, optical and image intensifier sensors with the addition of laser rangefinders and even laser dazzlers as a security countermeasure. It all hints at a progression to a more holistically integrated piece of kit that could prove beneficial to yachts in the future. “I’m convinced the future is further integration and out of that I believe visual situational awareness is foundational in how our equipment fits on the vessel,” comments Greg Menzies, president and CEO of Current Scientific Corporation. “We are developing and will be launching a 360-degree day/night observation device that will offer not only the best situational awareness of the sea but will also allow you to detect, identify and evaluate whatever threat or obstacle there may be.”

But while large-scale thermal cameras are coming into their own, at a price – FLIR’s range extends from around $9,000 to upwards of $150,000 for it’s big yacht cameras, while Current Scientific Corporation’s range extends from $50,000 to $300,000 – there are also developments at the bottom end of the scale that are starting to find uses in other areas of yacht operations. Indeed, with handheld devices and even camera attachments that can be added to your smartphone, every yacht can take advantage of what thermal imagining offers.

“Thermal imaging is very good for telling you what the temperatures are – I use it inside boats on windows and hull-deck joints, for example, because it will tell you if there’s water leakage which you can’t see visually,” offers chartered surveyor Captain Ed Geary. “it’s also very useful for engines because it will tell you if you have overheating problems with any part of the engine.”

It goes beyond that too – it can be used for checking everything from switchboards to the flow of air through the HVAC system, and it can be used by engineers on board to better know their yachts. “I was introduced to the technology on the yacht Limitless, and now I regularly use thermal imaging,” says Dean Vaughan, marine operations manager at Quorum Management. “The technology is extremely portable and reliable. In the hands of experts it is a precise tool, and for the less qualified it highlights dormant problems.”

It is clear that advances at all levels of thermal imaging – from the top-flight cooled core behemoths to the humble portable units costing a few hundred dollars – are set to influence all aspects of a yacht’s security, navigation, operation and maintenance. And with the technology advancing at a rapid pace, there’s no longer an excuse not to have some form of thermal imaging in your equipment drawer.

 

We take a detailed look at the latest advances and applications in all areas of thermal imaging for superyachts in issue 181 of The Superyacht Report. Have you subscribed to The ‘new’ Superyacht Report? If you are a captain, owner, yacht manager, chief engineer, first officer, broker, designer, senior shipyard management, an owner’s representative, investor, or a family office, you are eligible for a complimentary annual subscription to the only superyacht industry publication worth reading. To apply for your VIP subscription, click here.  

 Technology will also be a key focus in this year’s The Superyacht Forum, taking place 13-16 November at Amsterdam RAI. Following a theme of A 10-year Blueprint for the Superyacht Market, the forum is set to be the networking highlight of the superyacht calendar, with 800 delegates and key decision makers from the technology, operations, owner and family office, project management, yard and construction sectors brought together to discuss the key factors affecting and influencing our industry. To book your place and for further information, click here. 

 

Images: courtesy of Current Scientific Corporation


Profile links

Current Corporation

FLIR Commercial Vision Systems