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BMEA Conference 2011 Overview by Tony Johns

9 November 2011

Derek Gilbert, BMEA Chairman welcomed the delegates to the 2011 Conference. He told them that over 30 different BMEA member companies were present and  that the majority of the Association’s Waterside Dealers had at least one engineer at each and every premises with BMET or MEI certifications. He then said the conference had a very good selection of speakers and then introduced John Bridgeman CBE TD and Vice-Chairman of British Waterways to give a  presentation entitled ‘Competition and Fair Trading – the Life Blood of an Efficient.

John Bridgeman began by saying that the matter of competition went back to at least 2,500 BC. Various governments had policies on fair trading and he went on to expand on this.  He then talked about the banking system and how the best banks should prosper while the remainder were losers and inadequate.   The country cannot allow such banks to fail!  Trying to change energy suppliers he said was an example and then one finds that the energy prices have also changed. The same principles apply to agriculture and supermarkets. While we have Trading Standards, it is very difficult to keep track of all the scenarios with over 1,000 pieces of legislation. These are, he said two extremes and his view is that laws must be enforceable.

British Waterways with whom he is Vice-Chairman, has to be scrupulously fair and has a 30 page Code of Practice. Break any rules in the USA and one goes to jail but in the UK, not a lot happens. Covert evidence can now be used in the UK.

What does this mean in our industry? The law is there to help you on a level playing field. One is free to use the internet but one is competing with what BMEA refer to as waterside dealers. Any attempt to fix prices is illegal – an offence. In a perfect market, prices are matched and goods as described. The law is clear, industry associations must enforce fair trading. He stated that there had been 160 raids this year by enforcement authorities and this is European in scope. BMEA is he said world class so keep things clean and wholesome.

Finishing with a brief Q/A session, Bob Fry asked what happens if companies A, B and then C ask to become distributors. The answer is if you don’t want that dealership, you have the right to refuse. Exclusivity is OK but you must be honest in representing yourself. Suppliers may try to impose restrictions after contracting with a distributor and this is illegal. It was also asked whether a distributorship can be limited to a fixed area? If this would be in both their interests , it is fine. Finally it is outside the law for prices to an end user to be fixed by a distributor/manufacturer, but recommended pricing is legal.

Following John Bridgeman was Keith Longman presenting a view on apprenticeships and entitled ”Marine Industry Apprenticeships‘. Keith is the Yard Manager of Berthon Boat Company Ltd and very enthusiastic about training. He started with an overview of the long company history within which the company had been training apprentices for over 100 years, something that had generally been done since Roman times and referred to in the Doomsday Book. He was himself a former apprentice. Why train staff he asked – was it for cheap labour – no. He made the point that we are all getting older and those retiring needed to be replaced. Since 2009, and with the help of the BMF, the company had been running industry training that has been fantastically successful with only one fall-out out of 60. In the year 2000, 20% graduated through their apprenticeships but by 2011 the figure had risen to 100% this autumn. The company needs high achievers in both electrical and electronic disciplines, paint spraying etc. He felt that such courses are just as important as college or university courses. His company is in the top 100 employers within the boat building field. He then went on to discuss the costs involved that in the first year the cash flow as negative, in the second year neutral and by the third and fourth years was profitable by around £35 – 42k. By the fifth year the figure rises to more than £50k pa.

Derek stated that BMEA is very active in terms of training and apprenticeships. He suggested that if necessary, companies should ask Sarah Dhanda (Director of Training at the BMF) if help is required.

Following a coffee break, Paul Sumpner of Digital Yacht presented a very detailed talk about AIS as it is today – ‘A Non-idiot’s Guide to AIS‘. He started with an overview of AIS and went on to define the three classes or types: Class A is a transponder for use on IMO ships of > 300 tons, or passenger ships. Class B are used by fishing boats and the leisure industry – vessels that were no-mandatory in their carriage requirements.  Finally there is the basic AIS equipment that is purely a receiver.

Internationally it had been agreed that two dedicated VHF channels were to be used and the digital interface is the high speed NMEA 0183 running at 38,400 baud rate. Classes A and B have built-in GPS receivers. He then detailed all the transmission information and how there are 26 msec time slots representing up to 4500/minute. The class B types of AIS were an afterthought and to enable these to work, they look for empty time slots. Static data was updated every 6 minutes or less, also on turning the equipment on. He stated that depending on when equipment was powered up, one may miss the static data. For class A transponders the data rate varies with the vessel’s status; anchored, it speed etc. The class B equipment also varies its update rates but these are slower. 

Paul also made the point that not all chart plotters can read all the messages and therefore some products may not display all the targets. NMEA has recently released new PGNs (Programmable Group Numbers) for use with NMEA 2000 interfaces.

Depending on the height of the AIS antennas, the likely ranges varied with class A having  12.5 watts achieving around 20 – 25 miles, class B with just 2 watts perhaps 7-8 miles as compared with SARTs and their 1 watt around 3-4 miles.

The RNLI is now using AIS and hence yachts should consider AIS as very useful for SAR purposes! AIS won’t replace radar but one great advantage of AIS is that it can ‘see’ round corners! Class B transponders have the ability to prevent clutter in highly congested areas by using a ‘silence button’, then only transmitting in poor visibility or in shipping lanes etc. If you look at for example www.marinetraffic.com, one can see vessel movements and there are other websites providing similar facilities.

A Q/A session followed which Paul handled perfectly, answering all the questions raised.

Following a break for lunch, Hayley James, BMF Membership, and Ian Lockyer, Icom UK Ltd jointly gave an overview of the benefits of Federation membership, the exhibition discounts as well as training. Training grants were there to be applied for and used! Any members with queries in this respect should talk to either Hayley, or Sarah Dhanda as BMF Director of Training. Slides were shown highlighting the benefits that maybe members didn’t know about or at least didn’t appreciate.

Ian gave a list of all the things that BMEA do on behalf of its members as well as advising the Federation on technical matters when these arose. Regarding training, Ian quoted some 130 engineers with either BMET or MEI certifications. With the help of the Federation, BMEA provides training for both electrical basics resulting in a BMET certificate or, the MEI certificate for the installation of today’s complex electronic equipment, again with certification following a very full day’s course and intended for those engineers who have sufficient basic experience on such work.

Ian made the point that the Conference itself provided a great opportunity for networking. He also told the delegates that the Association website was undergoing a revamp including an easy way for boat owners to find their nearest BMEA dealer, even when away from the base and cruising around the coast. He then went on to say that visitors to the website are looking for information, where to buy products etc. He is always looking for company profiles and news stories. Finally he explained the industry awards, this year’s winners would be announced during the Dinner later.

Neil Akroyd, Director of Data Collection and Management at the Ordnance Survey gave a very interesting presentation entitled  ‘Thank you Einstein for Sat-Nav‘.

He started his presentation by making a point of the high precision of satellite navigation using less power than a microwave oven and designed in the 1960s. New designs are underway and he showed a ‘timeline’ slide for future developments. A revolution in the next 5-6 years will result in several national constellations of satellites. He also made the point that clocks on board satellites gain around 46 microseconds a day compared with those on the earth’ surface due to the lower gravitational forces that exist at orbital heights. By 2015, over 100 navigational satellites will be in orbit providing very high accuracies with a resultant need for maps and a baseline to suit. 112 GPS stations are in use around theUKand together provide sub-centimetre accuracy. Aircraft are moving away from barometric altimeters and relying more on 3D GPS. Today it is possible to measure the approach of rain to within a few minutes of time.

As an aside, he told us that the UK is moving around 5 mm per year towards Norway and that the SW of England moves up and down by some 50 mm each day due to the weight of tidal water as this cyclic water bears down on the earth’s plates.

Hans Groenenboom of FLIR provided the delegates with a very comprehensive guide to today’s infra-red camera technology, both as it is today and a look into the future.

He showed as examples, the uses to which this technology is put, saving lives, detecting electricity, water pipes etc and made the point that everyone has a need for such cameras. Interestingly, the lenses for these cameras are made from germanium and not glass, glass being opaque to the wavelengths used. Hans showed a corporate video to display a wide range of applications in all walks of life. He went on to talk about Hershel, a musical composer but who discovered the dispersion of light through glass. As an aside, rattle snakes can detect IR and are thus able to strike hot blooded victims!

A selection of slides illustrated the way in which IR cameras work with comparisons being made to visible light. Given cooling down to around -150°C, ranges of up to 20 km are possible and even a 0.1°C difference can be detected. Long wave IR is used for security purposes employing un-cooled vanadium oxide detectors. These have a high penetration in fog and smoke. However, rain can stop almost all IR radiation, rain being detected over a distance of 1 to 4 km. For these reasons, on boats cameras should be mounted as high as possible to minimise the water vapour near the water surface. Legally, IR images cannot be used to identify people. IR is useless in heavy rain, fog and snow. Expensive cooled systems are much better and the latest developments can result in detection up to 15 km, recognition up to 6 km and identification to 3.3 km. For marine applications, a NMEA interface is provided.

Our final speaker was James Turner of Kannad Marine, part of MC Murdo Ltd. He demonstrated and talked about Personal AIS Transmitters as distinct from the main stream AIS transponders presented earlier by Paul Sumpner.

When being designed, the thoughts were that they had to be better than PLBs as with these there was too much delay for a guy overboard. Satellite delays followed by transmission of data to shore stations and then to a boat involved around a 15 minute delay. Divers surfacing can have their location displayed on chart plotters within 1-2 minutes should they lose contact with their boat. These are class A devices and the repeat transmissions are such that the wearer of an activated SAR AIS statistically guarantees detection being when the casualty is at the top of a wave, regardless of wind forces. The range of such devices is quoted as up to 4 miles under calm conditions, compare this with the human eyesight range even on a calm day of perhaps 0.2 mile. The way in which these personal AIS transmitters displayed on chart plotters varies with the software employed but typically a man overboard would appear as a small circle with a cross inside it. Again and typically, there would be just a 15 second delay following activation by the casualty.

The Conference day finished with the two Annual General meetings that the Association is obliged to hold:

Firstly that of the Association itself during which there was one resolution that was agreed nem con and which related to the requirement for all members to carry appropriate insurances to suite the nature of their work. The current Chairman and the Executive Committee were re-elected en bloc.

Following this, the Dolphin Inspection Scheme Ltd Annual General Meeting was held with virtually nothing to report as the company does not trade. Members had been advised in advance, the company being dormant and un-used in any way, it was the wish of the committee to dissolve the company, the legalities being handled by Emmily Barrow, a lawyer within the Federation. This resolution was also agreed nem con.

The Annual Dinner followed at 8 pm and during the coffee stage, the annual awards were made.

Firstly, and sponsored by Boating Business, Sandra Mckenzie of BB gave this year’s award to Navico Ltd for their Zeus equipment. The picture, right, shows Sandra presenting the award to Rupert Pearn of Navico Ltd.

The Dealer of the Year award was won by Roger Upham of Roger Upham Marine Electronics Ltd. This award is sponsored by Garmin (Europe) Ltd and the picture, left, shows Dawn Ramsay presenting the award to Roger Upham himself.

The ‘Newly Certificated Engineer of the Year was awarded to Lee Harris from Darthaven Marina Ltd. He shown here on the right receiving his award from the BMEA Chairman, Derek Gilbert, left, the award itself being sponsored by Raymarine UK Ltd. Lee was totally unaware that he had been chosen for the award and taken completely by surprise.

Finally, another totally surprised person. None other than Reg Suter (right) who was delighted to be given a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his un-ending work within the industry and covering many, many years – a very popular figure, known to scores of others who have also served their time in the leisure boat markets. Shown here is Reg to the left and Derek Gilbert as Chairman to the right presenting the award.

Well done Reg!!

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