Long journeys at sea can be tedious and full of hazards—not Life of Pi kinds of hazards, but more like the kinds of hazards that happen when your Internet connection goes out or the satellite TV doesn’t work. That’s why the owners of this 180-foot luxury yacht decided to prepare for any eventuality by investing in a complete home automation and A/V system before they left port.
Custom electronics pro Don Russell, president of Southern Cinema Design, Cumming, Ga., has done integration systems on yachts before, but this 180-footer with five decks, including a helicopter pad, was the biggest he’d ever tackled. “It’s probably the equivalent of a 3,000-square-foot home,” he notes.
There’s a big difference in putting in A/V and automation gear into a house versus a home at sea. With a boat you can’t simply cut into drywall or drill into wood studs. On this ship, the walls and ceilings are constructed of panels. To run wires in a wall you need to remove whole panels, which could involve hundreds of screws for one wall. And since ships rock, sometimes a lot, you need to secure all the wires inside the walls with clips every few feet to make sure they don’t rattle or shift in bad weather. Compounding that, the ship’s walls only offer a little more than an inch of depth, so Russell couldn’t use the kind of large conduit that’s preferred in home installations.
The floating nature of the installation also influences many of the equipment choices. This particular boat was originally built in Norway, then upgraded a few years later in the United States. As a result, different parts of the boat use different voltage standards. In addition, at sea the boat depends on a generator, while at dock it’s connected to land AC. All of that demanded a rock-solid and flexible energy management solution. Russell used a combination of Furman and Panamax energy products to keep everything running. A custom program also helps manage the shift from land power to generator power when the ship leaves port.
For control and automation, Russell selected Control4. “Control4 is dual voltage, so we primarily used Control4 for everything.” Dual-voltage products were critical for this installation. Unfortunately sometimes that information is hard to get from a manufacturer. Russell found out the hard way when a Blu-ray player that was supposed to be dual voltage perished in a puff of smoke. Most of the TVs on the boat are from LG, because they’re dual voltage like the Control4 system.
Even though this is a pretty big boat, space is always at a premium onboard. “We picked the smallest products we could,” says Russell. Don’t look for large, elaborate equipment racks with shelves of blinking LEDs to show off. Russell had to squeeze gear into any storage area he could find. “One of the main racks is in an under-the-stairs closet that was already filled with communications and satellite equipment for navigation,” he says. “We had a tiny spot and had to turn the rack 90 degrees, slide it back and turn it again, push it in, then fasten it to the floor so it wouldn’t move.”
Even something seemingly as simple as TV reception had to be customized to the environment. Because the ship travels so far (family trips to South America are not uncommon), Russell installed two DirecTV systems. One for U.S. DirecTV service, and another for when the ship passes beyond the U.S. satellite’s range.
Because a long trip at sea may include a lot of time doing nothing (there’s a crew to take care of all the important stuff), this boat includes plenty of audio and video entertainment. Each family member’s cabin includes a TV and audio with access to DirecTV and Internet content, plus game systems for the kids. A 400-disc Blu-ray player also is available for home theater use. There are two surround-sound systems; one in the main salon and one in the master stateroom. Each includes a Sony ES receiver and a large LED TV with a Media Décor Razor motorized system that hides the TV behind custom artwork when not in use. A “Sky Lounge” in an upper deck, which offers grand views of the ocean, includes its own video system. Eight additional audio zones ensure that no one has to be without tunes.
In addition to this impressive boat, Russell also put a similar system into the family’s houseboat, which stays in freshwater, and an RV for land excursions. Russell notes that the family’s main home actually has the least high-tech system, probably because with so many cool toys, they’re hardly ever there.
Internet at Sea
A good network, both for Internet access and for local network communication, is critical for an elaborate audio/video and control system, but getting high-speed Internet while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is a bit of a challenge. “We made it very clear to the client that a lot of this stuff doesn’t work without the Internet,” says Russell. Every stateroom, plus the main living room, has access to online movie and music services. Plus, the control system is IP based and requires Wi-Fi for the iPads and iPhones to connect. For the ship’s Internet connection, Russell installed a KVH system that can receive broadband nearly anywhere in the world (nearly—it’s not 100 percent guaranteed). For the onboard network, Russell relied on products from Luxul to manage the network, and Apple Airport Express for Wi-Fi base stations. Wi-Fi is a particular challenge onboard, because the ship is predominately built of aluminum, which does not play well with Wi-Fi signals.
Check Out More Marine Installations:
Automation Makes Smooth Sailing for Yacht, Home
Automation and Entertainment on a 165-foot Yacht
High Tech on the High Seas
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.