Smart Marinas: Book, Berth and Enjoy

With more and more boats permanently moored in marinas, space for visiting vessels can be hard to find. The Smart Marina concept facilitates access to marina services and booking available berths through wireless networks and the Internet of Things.

Smart Marina helps find available berths through wireless networks (Credit: nazar_ab)

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The average boat in a marina leaves the dock only three days per year, according to Dr. Thomas Watteyne, a researcher at the Inria institute in Paris. This seems contradictory, since boats are designed and built to sail. But the fact is that they’re becoming more like vacation homes, recreational spots or even full-time residences. Along with this development, the sheer number of boats is increasing, as are the average size and price. One of the obvious consequences is that marinas must offer services beyond just a place to tie up, an electrical outlet and a water hose somewhere nearby.

“We’re betting that tomorrow’s marinas and floating houses will need IoT.”

Shore services also must improve to resemble those of holiday resorts. With so many boats that never budge, free slots for visiting vessels can be hard to find. Keeping track of availability and occupancy is now done manually, consuming a lot of time that could be spent more productively.

Testing in Cap d’Agde

Improving the process is exactly what Watteyne and his colleagues have been working on for the last couple of months. The result is Smart Marina, which uses wireless network technology to meet today’s challenges. And finding free berths wirelessly is just the first step.

Port Cap d’Agde is one of Europe’s biggest marinas (Courtesy of Marinas.com)

Port Cap d’Agde is one of Europe’s biggest marinas, with room for over 4000 boats. It’s the first to implement the Smart Marina concept. “We are still at the testing stage, trying to find the best solutions,” explained Pierre Weiss, technical manager at Sodeal, a service provider for the marina. “But we’re betting that tomorrow’s marinas and floating houses will need IoT.”

Internet of Things refers to electronic devices designed to collect and share data via sensors. This enables connected objects to use the internet more or less like humans do. The spread of wireless technology has boosted IoT use, especially in medicine and security.

Online Booking

The ultrasonic sensors at the core of the Smart Marina system detect whether a berth is occupied or not. The information is transmitted to a wireless network linked to the internet. Mounted on each slip, the sensors are powered by two AA batteries that last for over ten years.

“The system also guides you to the berth you’ve booked.”

This will enable marina staff to view an on-screen map showing the occupancy status of every berth in the marina from the comfort of the office. As soon as a slip is taken, a light on the map shifts from green to red. When the boat leaves, the light turns green again. “The next step will be to add other types of data to the network—energy consumption, for example,” said Watteyne.

Meanwhile, in Greece, this has already happened. Ioannis Kostopoulos is CEO and co-founder of SaMMY, a digital platform built to service boat owners and marinas. The system is already operational at 15 marinas in Greece and Cyprus, and plans to expand internationally are in the works.

“You can think of it as a digital concierge,” explained Kostopoulos. “It’s a cloud-based platform with one interface for the sailors and one for marina staff. The marina is equipped with a set of ultrasonic sensors. So far, we have developed sensors monitoring berth occupancy, water level, water quality and weather.”

Zea Marina in Greece, one SaMMY’s marinas (Courtesy of SaMMY)

“There’s a booking system included,” Kostopoulos added. “Finding free berths is obviously useful, but the system also guides you to the berth you’ve booked. Payments are not done via the app yet, but this is more of a strategic decision. We need to build trust in the market first. The technology is already there. Water level is useful for knowing the distance to the dock, wave situation, etc. And monitoring water quality helps the marina detect illegal waste, fuel leaks, anything that affects clean water standards.”

Another important feature is notifications. “The marina can communicate via the application in real time with all its customers. This could include information about events, exhibitions, anything that might be of interest to mariners. Even emergency situations like fire can be communicated efficiently to everyone concerned.”

Kostopoulos expects more services to be added to the platform, including communication between yachts and help organizing service, spare parts and repairs for vessels visiting the marina.

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