In today’s connected age it’s no longer a surprise to find many items on a boat sending data to the boat’s NMEA 2000 or Ethernet networks. To date these have predominately been navigation instruments such as GPS, depth, speed, compass and wind data. However, these are only a small number of the total array of variables that can usefully be monitored: rudder angle is also commonly measured as it’s an important input to a pilot system, but is also an important signal when hand steering that indicates whether the rig is either under or over powered.
Increasingly, there’s a wider range of potential inputs available. Some of the most interesting are from load cells, which are now on the cusp of becoming much more common in the boating world. These have the potential to open up much more understanding of the peak loads on a boat and its structure that we’ve ever had before.
In 2008, when Formula 1 supremo Lewis Hamilton sailed in the Round the Island Race on Alex Thomson’s state of the art IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, Hamilton expressed surprise that the boat was not “…covered in sensors.” However, that situation is changing and for the past few years the highest echelon of racing yachts have been logging key data from strain gauges.
As it stands now, race boats of well under 40ft are not just measuring loads in key areas such as rigging, halyards and sheets, but also logging that data thousands of times a second. That might sound excessive, but it’s the only way to measure the peak loads that occur for instance when a boat falls off a wave.
Load cells started out as solely the preserve of the elite racing scene, however, they are steadily becoming more commonplace in smaller yachts and away from the race scene. Credit: Jesus Renedo/Volvo Ocean Race
The fully analysed boat moved a stage further when Diverse Yacht Services launched a load cell within a ‘dogbone’ rigging fitting at the METSTRADE marine equipment show in Amsterdam this autumn. This development facilitates measuring of loads in many more areas than was previously possible. In turn this will help designers, structural engineers and riggers to determine both peak loads and the number of cycles structures must be able to withstand.
Granted, the technology is not cheap at the moment, but as volume increases, in five years-time the price will have come down further and by then this kind of technology will be commonplace on a growing number of serious cruising yachts.