By David Gee
In this ongoing series about smart boats, we are going to explore the smart boat space in general, and also interview the entrepreneurs and executives who are trying to make your boat smarter and boat ownership easier.
This is a Q&A with David Villegas, co-founder and business development director of Boatrax, a Florida-based telematics service provider.
BI: Tell us about your boating background personally, where you grew up, what you did on the water, etc.
DV: I was blessed to be born in the Caribbean, Isla de Margarita, about 24 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland. My family was fanatical about boating, and my fondest childhood memories are fishing with my father on his boat. When I was 10 my family decided to move to Miami, so in my entire life thankfully I have never lived out of line of sight from the ocean. Very shortly after the move my dad purchased a small center console and to this day most of my free time is spend out on the water.
BI: When did you first become aware of the “smart boat”?
DV: My first connection with “smart boating” was before it even really existed. My dad had installed a tracking system on his boat so he at least knew where it was at all times. But at that time for the average boater there weren’t really any platforms that could tell you the status of the boat or any systems like bilges or batteries remotely.
BI: When did the idea for the business first come about? How did you start?
DV: About eight years ago I was preparing to head out on the family boat and as I was filling out my pen and paper logbook my brother-in-law asked if there wasn’t a better way of doing it. As we found out, at the time there really wasn’t an easy automatic solution to log what was going on with your boat. A vision was born to develop a platform focusing on the most granular data and analytics to provide accurate information that result in safer boating, lower costs of maintenance and therefore, more time and fun on the water. We are very proud to be the first remote monitoring device to be NMEA 2000 Certified by the National Marine Electronics Association.
BI: Explain your unique value proposition?
DV: There are several different solutions that allow you to monitor your boat remotely and get specific alarms for bilges, doors, ignition and sometimes batteries. We believe that boat owners need a lot more than that to improve their boat ownership experience. We want a smart boat platform that can predict and alert owners when the vessel needs maintenance, or fuel based on upcoming trips, or that can communicate directly with service providers and the boat’s manufacturers to allow them to diagnose issues remotely with accurate information about the boat’s operation. That is our Smart Boat Platform.
BI: This technology came into being with yachts and bigger, expensive boats. Do you see it filtering down to the point where most every average owner with a bass boat or a 22-foot wakesurfing boat will have a smart boat app? Will it become original equipment on every boat sold?
DV: Absolutely, because all boat owners have one thing in common. Every time we turn the ignition, we are anxious that we might unfortunately spend the day stuck at the dock. In today’s world, we have grown accustomed to everything being smart…from our fridges to our homes to our cars. Adding smart technology to boats is inevitable, especially when you consider that boats are not inexpensive and that the whole purpose is to enjoy being on the water worry-free. All of your prep work can be done successfully prior to your outing by the smart boating app.
We believe smart boating platforms will eventually become standard on all boats. They will provide true transparency and predictability to boaters who want amazing experiences, engagement to their preferred boat brand, and easier ownership. Manufacturers will want to improve their boat offerings as well as brand engagement and a continued quality service relationship through preferred dealers.
BI: Where do you see the category going? What do you envision one day being able to do with smart boat technology?
DV: The 2020 Covid sales surge shows the industry skewing toward younger boat owners whose engagement is accelerating through digitalization. The sooner the industry realizes boater engagement is increasing with digital tools and connectivity the faster boat manufacturers will include this smart boating platform on their new boats. The after-market will follow the trend and benefit too.
BI: Additionally, the sharing economy is growing and being able to track valuable assets like boats being used or leased by others will be an important factor in the adoption of this technology.
DV: Our vision is for smart boating technology to become a full-cycle platform making boat ownership, maintenance, and continued engagement as hassle-free as possible. Data will enable safer and better boats and new service products with higher resale values. Data will help boaters predict issues they can affordably address before avoidable and expensive breakdowns occur. Imagine never having to wonder if you will be left stranded at the marina with your family disappointed, or if a storm will damage your vessel in the marina, or if an electrical fault might occur when you’re not in close proximity, etc.