When selecting navigation and communications equipment it’s easy to get tied up in comparing specifications on paper, but there is really no better way of seeing how a product could work for your vessel than seeing how a professional skipper uses it on theirs.

Maritime Journal recently took up the opportunity to travel to Norway and see how a fast ferry skipper uses Simrad’s new Argus IMO certified radar and a suite of other Simrad electronics to navigate the sometimes navigationally demanding Egersund area.

Kristen Helgøy is the eponymous owner of Helgøy Skyssbat, a small inter-island ferry and taxiboat charter company, which was born out of a one boat operation to simply serve the Helgøy family’s island, about 15kn north of Stavanger. As Kristen described, with a glint in his eye, island populations in Scandinavia have few distractions in the long winter months, and often end up breeding large populations of children. And so it was in the 1980s, that the Helgøys’ island, with a population of some 35 persons in total, found it had 17 children of school age to get to and from the mainland.

It was clear that the island needed its own small fast ferry company, rather than relying on other providers to taxi these children to and from school, and the vessel could more than pay for itself by serving other, paying customers during the main part of the day between these school runs. To cut a long story short the business model worked, and soon the demand to serve other communities kicked in. Now the Helgøy Skyssbat company runs five boats, with 12 employees, and regularly bids for scheduled routes around the local islands and fjords, often subsidised in part by the Norwegian government which is keen to keep such infrastructure working to serve its many remote and island communities.

The Helgøy Skyssbat company’s latest acquisition is the Helgøy Glimt, a carbon fibre 21 metre catamaran ferry, built in 2015 by brothers Aa of Hyen. Two Volvo Penta D-13s provide 700hp each to power 97 passengers and crew to a cruising speed of 25 knots, with a top speed (lightship) of 29 knots.

The navigation equipment includes dual E5024 ECDIS, Simrad’s Argus X band 12kW radar with 6 ft scanner and also an Argus S band 30kW radar with 12 ft scanner reading to two 24’’ wide screen M5024 displays. So, my first question was why go to the extra cost of this IMO specification kit for a sub-IMO, sub 24m vessel? The Simrad HALO radar with 4ft scanner and R3016 standalone radar panel display, which the Helgøy Glimt also carries would surely meet all the vessel’s navigational requirements?

While part of the answer to this was clearly that Kristen Helgøy had worked out a mutually beneficial deal with Simrad (Navico), that entailed him helping test new equipment in the working environment and provide a demonstration platform in the shape of the Helgøy Glimt, it was actually kit that he would have specified himself.

The reason for this was largely to do with retention of quality staff: “Because we are a passenger service, we need to employ crew with the highest qualifications. While we do not, legally, have to carry ECDIS or S-band radar on our vessels, the company would not be appealing to work for if we did not, because crews’ ECDIS hours and S-band experience would not be built up on our vessels and their qualifications would lapse, affecting their future employability elsewhere in the shipping industry.”

All navigators are trained on ECDIS in Norway, and carrying it means that the Helgøy Glimt does not need to carry paper charts, and have the attendant cost in crew time of updating them.

Maritime Journal was also treated to a discussion with Simrad management on the future direction of the company and the marine electronics sector. The company, which was founded in Norway and is now part of the UK-headquartered Navico group sees that the industry is heading towards a period of consolidation as it has seen in the leisure side of its business. Back in the 1990s there were about a dozen significant marine electronics companies serving the leisure marine market, now Simrad considers that number to have consolidated to 4-5. Simrad sees the number of key players on the commercial side to, coincidentally, be about a dozen, so a consolidation, it argues is overdue.

Simrad stands apart from some competitors as it makes all its own kit in various facilities, principally in Mexico, but it is still firm on its ethos as a company that won’t rush to package together other companies’ products to offer integrated bridge solutions before the time is right. With the predicted market consolidation, perhaps will come acquisitions, and ultimately the aim is to penetrate the ship market better. So, while a full Simrad ship’s bridge is likely to happen at some point, it’s not going to happen next week by rushing it through or cutting corners.

By Jake Frith