Actisense’s Phil Whitehurst says the marine electronics firm’s form in leisure and recently granted RINA Type Approval is evidence that its products can sail into commercial marine.

 Set up 26 years ago as a consultancy, the brand ‘Actisense’ was launched in 2001 for the leisure marine sector.


Actisense CEO Phil Whitehurst


After more than 20 years of DSP software and hardware design in smart sensors and underwater acoustics, the company is now at the forefront of intelligent electronics in leisure marine.

The company specialises in NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) Instrumentation and the 0183 standard that has been adopted everywhere to become a ubiquitous standard protocol.

And when Actisense was granted RINA Type Approval last year, this laid the foundations for an expansion into commercial marine, says CEO Phil Whitehurst.

OneNet Protocol

Hand in hand with that is the company’s focus on the OneNet protocol, which for larger vessels would be invaluable, he says.

OneNet uses ethernet as its physical layer, which means it has a much larger bandwidth than NMEA 2000 with speeds of up to 10GB per second – up 10 100 times faster.

This also means it can support radar, video and sonar data streams and can cope with more physical devises on the network.

“I haven’t seen anyone in the commercial sphere looking at the OneNet protocol,” says Whitehurst. “The advantage for commercial vessels is it’s more secure data. At the moment the marine protocols that are running commercial vessels are completely insecure, so in theory if you’ve got a bad network set up, someone could take over your boat.

“The NMEA OneNet protocol is secure in the same way as your financial information is secure on your browsers. On the current network, anyone could inject data because the network is not encrypted in any way.

“The OneNet idea is all about having a single network with everything coming through TCPIP connections – internet protocol connections – everything from your web cams and things all over the vessel to the radar images. In theory you could plug a laptop into the boat anywhere and see all the data, wherever you are. It’s very Big Brother!”

It might be Big Brother but it’s the way everything is going, and Actisense is at the frontline of that.

“All of our kit is working towards this ubiquitous connectivity, so all of our products are getting internet connections on board – that’s the big change we’ve seen and it’s been a lot of work for us, adding that facility to our products,” Whitehurst says.

“We were doing things in a much more basic way, so it’s been a big step up. Each product is almost like a little computer in itself – it’s got its own website, you can see what it’s doing in a live situation – and with a satellite connection you can change all the settings on a boat remotely with a VPN.”

Data is everything – almost

Actisense product

“Behind the scenes, everything is bits of data,” says Whitehurst. “It’s all happening in the background and telling you about the depth of water, speed, direction, hazards, range – everything.

“We’re all about the expertise, about understanding the boring bits that the navigators don’t want or have to know – like how to get the data and convert it. This is what the company’s philosophy is all about, from the sensor right up to the data that connects to the controls.”

He says low-earth orbit satellites could open up a lot for the sector with even more data becoming available, such as live situational data, which could tell a fisherman exactly where all the other

Fishing vessels in the fleet are at any one time.

“We can now make a leaner crew, where the crew on board are there just to keep things running day to day and not necessarily to do the heavy-duty navigation tasks – you might just have a couple of watch officers making sure that visually everything’s okay, but most of it can be done electronically.”

Which isn’t to say we will see fully autonomous ships for a while yet, he concedes – ‘there’s always someone that needs to go round with a screwdriver’ – and in very bad weather if satellites are taken out there needs to be a core crew there ‘at least in limp-along mode’ until things get fixed.

But it’s moving fast, and after the recent Type Approval, Actisense has seen an uptick in orders that as they reach deeper into commercial marine is looking likely to rise much higher.