More power to the tower
Pump-out systems and power pedestals have also had their share of innovation: likewise these have to be robust since they may have to take on boaters suffering a ‘John Cleese’ moment as well as the environment.
Further, these systems have to do their job without a lot of staff intervention.
Taking it from the bottom end up, Gary Sutcliffe of LeeSan explains the pump out places in marinas have to be both bullet proof and idiot proof. He says that the culprit on one recent call out was found to be a whole set of drill bits, which left several hundred pounds worth of damage in their wake.
He explains that because pump out stations do get this kind of treatment, you want the waste to get past the pumping equipment as easily as possible, with nothing in its route. ‘Putting it bluntly, you want a poo superhighway, no barriers on the way,’ he says.
To this end, LeeSan strips out as much technology as possible from the pumping element, keeping the heart of the beast simple. Although the most efficient pump outs are central vacuum systems, sophisticated change over valves from means lots of equipment on route and to make it automated so the boater only has to press one button causes problems.
So, LeeSan uses a system called peristaltic pumping a large proportion of the time - although not exclusively. Mr Sutcliffe explains that, like your guts, a peristaltic system deals with waste by squeezing it down. There’s an external rotor that creates the squeeze – and this puts differentials in pressure into different areas of the tubing. It’s a simple method, says Mr Sutcliffe, and you get pretty rapid rates of evacuation: an average 200 litre tank can be emptied in a just a couple of minutes.
As for the external housing and ‘user interface’, Mr Sutcliffe explains that there’s a rising area of personalising facilities for the customers. Tokens are still quite popular, but charged up dongles and smart keys are the coming in rapidly, and it makes for flexible use.
Adaptors no answer
However, as far as he’s concerned, one overriding factor has really been addressed yet.
‘Technology in our game is customer driven,’ says Mr Sutcliffe, ‘and pump out hasn’t become the norm yet.’ He explains, ‘There is an ISO standard for pump out connections, but there are many boats and marinas that still aren’t up to scratch. We are still, basically on the same level as we were in a few years ago with the old electrics, where you had to carry round an assortment of plugs and extensions and adaptors to get anything to work.
‘However, this isn’t really as easy when you are dealing with connections carrying waste. You can imagine carrying adaptors for 'that end of things' is a lot more problematic that just having electrical adaptors to hand.’ He goes on to say that it’s a matter of not-if-but-when everyone has a holding tank, and its this phase that will move things forward. ‘People will start screaming that they need a foolproof link-up and most importantly, consistency in their connections,' says Mr Sutcliffe.
Electro-Tec specialise in the metered delivery of both electricity and water to berths. The company have supplied everything from stand-alone units to 600-berth installations. At the lower end, the Sentinel Solo units can be used by boaters through a card or tag system, which are pre-loaded with credit. Software in the office sets the rates or times, and each card is specific to a particular berth.
It’s very useful for a marina or berth which doesn’t have a regular office presence, as the system can be configured for activation by a coin or token into the pedestal, and its’ fairly easily to put a vending machine on site.
Features include a master key to override the system, control of up to a dozen outlets on one pedestal, an optional LCD screen detailing remaining credit and optional touchscreen activation.
At the top of the range, the Sentinel Commander units do everything except make tea. Able to monitor meter readings and consumption data remotely, this system means users can be placed on an account mode or be required to pay in advance for power and/or water. When it runs out, they are disconnected until more credit is added. It can also be expanded for full user control through a pin number.
So, if the boaters wish to leave their berth, they can disconnect their supplies, and the marina can go ahead and use that berth for someone else until the previous occupiers return and reactivates their remaining credit.
It has to be said security is a growing concern on many facilities. As many marinas do already provide some form of access control, it’s doubly useful that this sytem can be incorporated into most gate entry systems, often on a card-swipe and sensor basis.
Further, the system can be further expanded to include amenities such as shower blocks for example, all using the same card used to activate the berth services. Since it all can be monitored remotely, a marina operator can find out how many and exactly which customers are on or off the premises – even across multiple sites.
And if you are really keen on marketing, It also makes it easy to compile marketing data for targeted campaigns.
The unit can also reduce overall power consumption and reduce power outages due to site wide overloads. For example, in cold months, many users, (particularly residential berth holders) use additional heating. On a widespread scale across a marina this can cause power outages across the entire facility.
Happily, the system can reduce this kind of occurrence by setting a threshold, which once reached, will automatically lower a user’s available power to prevent a site wide blackout. It can also set off a flashing light to alert the offending boater that their power usage is too high – the pedestal reactivating once the demand drops to an acceptable level.
On top of this, specific requirements can be added, such as water leak or fault detection, remote support and service (if someone gets stuck with their credit), online billing at customer’s control, and SMS activation.
...or out of it?
However, there are a couple more things that could lead to one of those ‘Texas Chainsaw’ moments. Firstly, the system of flashing lights and downsizing the supply can be manually accessed, which is necessary. However, it will also lead to the nasty idea that if your heater suddenly stops working or your pedestal lights start to flash in the middle of the night – someone somewhere has taken a dislike to you.
Secondly, there are advertising options on the touchscreen – in other words, users can be ‘forced’ to view adverts on the pedestal touch screens before inputting their pin.
And lastly, if you have remote support, there is less reason again for good old human contact to sort things out, and a marina may well decide to cut back on staff if it has Metal Mickey to do the work.
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