The Dam to The Big Easy - Atlantic Crossing from METS to WorkBoat
Every year we attend the Marine Equipment Trade Show in Amsterdam followed by the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans.
We keep getting asked the same questions - how do they compare and which should you attend if interested in professional fast boats and equipment?
For a start they are both great shows that run for three days and bring together a vast array of products under one roof. WorkBoat is literally under one very large roof at the Morial Convention Centre on the banks of the Mississippi. While METS (Marine Equipment Trade Show) is divided into 11 halls in the RAI Convention Centre, Amsterdam.
To summarise each show you could say that both the Marine Equipment Trade Show and the International WorkBoat Show live up to their names. The venues work well and the numbers at both events are impressive but never crowded. WorkBoat featured over 1,000 exhibiting companies and 14,000 attendees. METS featured over 1,300 exhibiting companies and 21,000 attendees.
New Orleans airport is well served from the main US hubs and it is about a 30 minute taxi ride to WorkBoat. Schipol airport in the Netherlands is one of the main European long haul flight destinations with a superb rail service to METS, again about 30 minutes. New Orleans has plenty of good hotels within 15 minutes walking distance of the show and on the edge of the French Quarter, while in Amsterdam allow for half an hour tram ride to the bright lights and most of the hotels.
'From The Dam to The Big Easy' is an overview of both events and the maritime economies that surround these two historic locations. International access is easy and both cities offer a broad mix of culture and good nights out.
Instead of a typical ‘boats and engines’ review we are looking at where innovation, technology, budgets and the environment are driving consistent and long term changes on both sides of the Atlantic.
METS is an equipment show and no boats are allowed except for small inflatable tenders up to 3.5 metre (10 feet). METS bills itself as the world's largest trade exhibition of equipment, materials and systems for the international marine leisure industry. If you have an interest in the luxury boat sector then SYP, the Super Yacht Pavilion, is a platform for the worldwide super yacht Industry and a 'show within a show' at METS. The Dutch are experts in the shipyard and offshore sector but heavy engineering is not on display at METS. Many OEM components are relevant to the professional RIB and high speed craft sector from seating to composite boat building materials. There is a broad cross section of both international exhibitors and visitors.
WorkBoat is a 100% professional event that focuses on the work boat, towing, harbour, energy and government sectors. There are a few boats in the halls but they are mainly RIBs and planing craft for the government, patrol and rescue sector up to about 12 metre (40 feet). There is a lot of heavy metal, big engines, towing gear and industrial equipment. Most US professional maritime organisations have a presence including the US Coast Guard and US Navy who outline future requirements and procurements. This event is close to the Gulf coast where the offshore energy sector supports a major industry of shipyards, offshore supply vessels and crew services. There is a mix of US and international exhibitors. The highest percentage of visitors are from the southern United States, followed by the rest of the US, then a wide range of international visitors led by Canada and South America.
Both shows support the huge growth in electronics for RIBs and high speed craft. NMEA 2000 is still the connectivity standard, highlighted by the ConnectFest event run by the National Marine Electronics Association at METS. In the past decade we have seen virtually all the electronics from a ship’s bridge miniaturised and waterproofed for use on the consoles of fast open boats. Up to about ten years ago a coxswain on an 8 metre (26 feet) RIB would have been pleased to supplement laminated charts with a GPS showing Lat / Long, a depth sounder and a VHF. At METS and WorkBoat you rarely see a paper chart, the number displays are on AIS systems showing other vessels positions, VHF is now often noise cancelling and intercoms can be wireless. The future is arriving fast as GPS charting, AIS information and broadband communications can be condensed onto a smart phone, tablet or iPad. Plug the device into a flat screen monitor or with WiFi and Bluetooth conectivity you can have a viable back up system for coastal operations in your pocket!
The latest generation of multi-tasking navigation aids on display at METS and WorkBoat are cross over products that often have leisure industry pricing and pro sector applications. Units combine chart plotting, depth, radar, AIS, fuel economy, engine management and vibration logging. If you have enough screen space both shows offered daytime cameras for onboard blind spots and underwater lights for search and patrol missions. Touch screen navigation always generates healthy debate amongst maritime professionals, but it is clearly here to stay. If you need more viewing space there were plenty of marine grade flat screens to choose from and day time viewing seems to be improving with hi-visibility displays from most manufacturers.
Rugged marine grade PCs are becoming affordable with video as an option. Night vision is on every pro sector organisations specification sheet for new craft. There are still clear market leaders but the next generation of affordable forward looking infra red units were at both shows. The latest versions of electronics are ‘plug and play’ compatible that enables multiple work stations to run as integrated bridge solutions with dual redundancy back up – that is progress!
Personal safety equipment is a major theme at both events. Man over board (MOB) used to be covered as a drill involving a shout, an auto inflate lifejacket and turning the vessel to search for the casualty who may have only had a whistle to attract attention. At both shows there were various systems that instantly alert the crew to an MOB then automatically track the casualty. Locator systems use GPS, EPIRB and AIS. Many devices now enable the person in the water to send out a signal.
Over the past 5 years it was hard to go on an engine stand in Amsterdam or New Orleans and miss the words 'emission' or 'pollution'. Europe has always been conscious of these issues and now not just California but the whole US is talking about emissions. The hot topics now are 'hybrid systems' and 'energy storage'. With budget constraints the challenge seems to be how much can existing craft be retro-fitted and improved. Electric is proven technology in many non-marine sectors. Various challenges for 'electric propulsion' in the fast boat sector include onboard space, safety and compliance, plus managing the shock and vibration that can affect battery cells and fragile electronics.
Anti pollution products and methods are apparent both sides of the Atlantic to satisfy everyone from small companies with enthusiastic environmental objectives to international MARPOL regulations. Anti fouling and chemical products for on the water cleaning now focus as much on how ‘green’ they are as how effective they are. Hydraulic and air filled boat lifts used to be a luxury item for convenience and security. The professional sector now sees lifting or sliding boats onto floating pontoons as a viable way to remove the need for toxic anti-fouling, particularly on fast boats up 15 metre (50 feet), plus clean hulls improve speed and fuel economy. Back to environmental issues driving change....
Flying over the North Sea to the Netherlands it is obvious how much effort Europe, and in particular the UK, has already put into offshore wind farms and they are now moving from the coasts into deeper water. Conferences on renewable energy agree that the commercial marine industry in the US is at the edge of a significant boom - but will it be wind, tidal or wave energy that dominates in US waters? Offshore renewable energy production will clearly benefit the marine industry worldwide. Hundreds of new vessels will be needed to build and maintain new energy farms in waters around the world. Major UK boat builders who specialise in wind farm support boats bring years of expertise and will launch joint ventures to build in the US and beyond.
Training and simulation is a growing sector at WorkBoat, with significant developments from ship simulation starting to reach the RIB and high speed craft sector. First generation ‘boat’ simulator units have focused on lifeboat launch training. Health & Safety and SOLAS are compliance issues so have the highest value. Back to the environment...if you link reduced emissions from reduced engine running time with improved crew safety there will be more onshore simulators and less training craft purchased for navigation exercises. The training for the leisure sector that is crossing over into the super yacht sector at METS is mainly PC based training for core skills including navigation and Colregs (the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea). For offshore operators PC and web based solutions can be taken a stage further and linked by satellite communications to 24/7 global first aid support at sea.
Overall both METS and WorkBoat had a genuine feeling of optimism - which is great progress after the past few years of recession. The professional maritime sector has a long history of evolving slowly and many operators are reluctantly adapting to change. Regulations are driving many of the changes, from EC directives to US legislation, but in this economic climate many established organisations will only spend when they have to. Boat builders and equipment manufacturers that grasp the concept of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) procurement plus innovative propulsion systems that reduce life cycle costs will have advantages in future tenders around the world.
Mobile phone apps, iPads and social media are already part of boating in the leisure sector. Handheld devices and digital media are coming to the commercial sector, but the Facebook mantra of ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ still does not work for professional mariners at sea!!
John Haynes, AFNI
'The Dam' derives its name from its original function as a dam on the Amstel River, hence the city name of Amsterdam. Built in approximately 1270 the dam formed the first connection between the fishing villages on the sides of the river. As the dam was gradually built up it became wide enough for a town square, which became the core of the town. Its notable buildings and frequent events still make Dam Square, or simply The Dam, one of the most well known locations in the city. The Amstel River terminates in the city centre and connects to a network of canals and links to the Ijsselmeer or Ijssel Lake.
'The Big Easy' has roots in the Prohibition era and a reference by musicians to the relative ease of finding work in New Orleans. Founded in 1718 New Orleans is a centre of maritime industry with one of the world's largest and busiest ports. The New Orleans region, located in proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the offshore rigs, accounts for a significant portion of US oil refining and petrochemical production. The Mississippi River rises in Minnesota and meanders south for 2300 miles. New Orleans is located in the Mississippi River delta on the east and west banks of the river and south of Lake Pontchartrain.
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