Regattas Technologies

Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12: Communications evolution


In an interview for Thrane & Thrane’s in-house newsletter, Race Director Jack Lloyd discussed the importance of communications to both the teams and organisers.

Thrane & Thrane makes SAILOR equipment to withstand the toughest marine environments and the new generations of SAILOR FleetBroadband, Inmsarsat-C and VHF equipment will be onboard every Volvo Open 70.


Q: Why was Thrane & Thrane selected as a communications partner for Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12?
A: Thrane & Thrane has been involved for the last three races and we’re very happy that they’ve come back. We’ve had very little trouble in the past with their products and any problems that have occurred have been mostly our doing, for instance, if something is dropped overboard, which unfortunately, has happened a few times! In addition to the high quality of the products and their operation, Thrane & Thrane has provided us with support technicians in every port we go to, so the products are always serviced and maintained by experienced people.

Stuart Bannatyne talking on the satellite phone, onboard Ericsson 4, on leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Guy Salter/Ericsson 4/Volvo Ocean Race

Q: In your experience, how have communications systems changed during your years as a skipper or crew member?
A: Not so long ago, you couldn’t get any live pictures off the boat as all communication was by radio. The pictures were received when the boat got to the port, where they collected the tapes and programmes about what had happened. Later on they went into tape drops – for instance, when exiting the English Channel, the boats would sail around a mark and drop overboard a waterproof container with the tapes inside it. Other ways of collecting onboard footage included getting a boat or a warship to sail by and collect the tapes when close to land; or for places like Cape Horn, a plane with a microwave receiver would circle the boat, pick up the footage from the boat’s microwave signal and then fly back. Now boats are more independent and can sail wherever they like and with SAILOR FleetBroadband, they can upload video in minutes.

Aksel Magdahl checking the weather, onboard Ericsson 3, on leg 10 from Stockholm to St Petersburg. Gustav Morin/Ericsson 3/Volvo Ocean Race

Q: What are the key communications requirements today for the teams?
A: The teams need to be able to communicate with the Race Office for emergencies and for general communications. They need to be able to receive the position reports that we send to them every three hours and the weather report, which is available twice a day. They also have the ability to communicate by satphone just in case a conversation is preferable to text communication.

Q: What improvements and innovations in communications technology and functionality have you seen since the first time that Thrane & Thrane sponsored Volvo Ocean Race?

Anthony Merrington writes to his wife onboard Green Dragon, on leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

A: Communication has obviously evolved from the original satellite communication, which was fine at the time, but was mostly data and words. Now we can actually get back high quality video in very short time. The ability to send high definition through satellite communication has revolutionised the coverage that we can give our race.

Also, for the 2008-09 edition of the race, Thrane & Thrane gave us its prototype VHF, which has a scrambling option on the channels, so you can use a recognised channel that would be used in that area and it can be encrypted so that only another encrypted VHF can understand what it’s saying.  It lets us work on a channel that is alongside another channel allowing for secure conversations or for being able to talk when we want to, as only one person at a time can talk on VHF, without worrying about others that may be talking at the same time – which is important from a race management point of view.

Part II of his interview can be found here:

Volvo Ocean Race
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About the author


Norberto Moreau is co-founder of the Allied Management Ltd Consulting Group (Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Spain). The group and his associates have activities in Yachting, Properties, Events and Online Services.
Activity with own Projects (70%) / Consulting (30%).

Norberto Moreau is available for Consulting worldwide at Fairs, Regattas etc.

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