FarSounder, a sonar and navigation company based in Rhode Island that specialises in patented 3D sonar technology, is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary in what is inevitably a very competitive industry. SYT's Francesca Webster caught up with FarSounder’s CEO Cheryl Zimmerman to find out about their Argos sonar navigation line, how the company continues to innovate and what makes FarSounder standout from its competitors.
What makes FarSounder different from other sonar and navigation equipment companies out there?
One of the main things that makes us truly unique is that our 3D, real-time sonar technology is, quite literally, forward looking with a wide field of view and fast update rate. On every ping of the sonar, we can see that full volume out in front of the ship to the longest ranges. Historically, most systems were designed to look downward, below the vessel, using multibeam sonar and echo sounders, these are very good for looking underneath the yacht. In order to navigate using sonar you need to look forward and that is the innovation that we have introduced.
Our systems offer an array of distances. The Argos 1000 offers you 1,000 metres of range, while the Argos 350 offers you 350 metres. The shorter distances are fantastic for smaller vessels, but when you are talking about a superyacht, ideally you want to be able to see potential danger as far in advance as possible and that is really our unique offering.
While you could simply turn a downward facing sonar or echo sounder to a forward facing position, the results do not give accurate enough information for navigation and resolving that disparity has always been our focus. With our technology you can see the bottom, but also obstacles that are large enough to do harm to a vessel, its passengers, or cause a grounding or collision. In addition, our technology is environmentally friendly, unlike many other products on the market.
You say they are environmentally friendly, can you expand on that?
What I mean is that the sonar itself is benign to marine mammals, because it uses very little energy, often less than a commercial echo sounder. imperceptible to larger Beaked Whales and are very quiet to smaller mammals such as dolphins and our products have been tested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Navy. Both bodies have shown the impact to be benign. When whales and dolphins hear low-frequency sonars they can become disoriented.
In terms of your market, do you work mostly with commercial shipping, or do you see the superyacht industry employing these tools?
The superyacht market is our flagship market and has been for many years, actually having started within this industry. I think this is mainly because the owners and players in the superyacht industry are always looking to the latest technology and when FarSounder began this was a very advanced technology, the hardware is not dissimilar to what you would see in the military.
Our aim was to bring that high-tech hardware combined with our advanced software into the industry. Over the years, we have processed the data we collect in more unique ways than even the military sonar usage. We do sell to commercial businesses and militaries all over the world.
These innovative technologies, do you create them yourselves and how do you keep ahead of the game?
Absolutely! We do everything within our headquarters, within our own team and we have a very aggressive and innovative technology team from both the hardware and software sides. Throughout Covid-19 our teams were able to continue working offsite with no setbacks. They truly channel all the creativity from their brains, right into the computer software. That is how we stay ahead of the game and because it's such an important part of what we do, we pour basically all of our profits back into the R&D programme.
Sonar for superyachts seems to be quite a niche market, was it difficult breaking sonar into the superyacht industry?
When we first started out it certainly was. People questioned “what is forward-looking sonar and why would I need it?”, but we rarely get those questions anymore. Some clients take a while to understand, but as soon as they see it in action, they are sold. Word of mouth is hugely important in this industry as well and as captains and crew move from vessel to vessel, word spreads. Today most of the industry looks to FarSounder as the leaders in forward looking 3D sonar.
When you are approached by an owner’s rep or shipyard, what is your sales pitch?
It's simple. All other technologies can see obstacles above the water or underneath them and it's easy to get a false sense of security from looking at a chart. But most charts today are out of date with old data. The ocean is constantly changing, the surfaces change and that is where we can come in and prevent a potentially disastrous event. Superyachts are expensive assets, as are your family and friends. What we have is the missing piece of the puzzle.
As the move toward explorer style vessels increases, with more yachts travelling to ice fields, have you seen an increase in demand?
Oh yes, a tremendous amount of increase, not only in the superyacht industry but also in the cruise industry, with more ships traveling to challenging areas like the Northwest Passage. In that kind of location our technology really comes into its own and is truly an invaluable asset for any owner.
Finally, aside from the technology itself, what is the biggest benefit about working with FarSounder?
Most definitely our customer support. We have a worldwide network of dealers, meaning that if you are aboard your superyacht in , and you have an issue, we can get someone to assist, whether in person, by phone or on Team Viewer. That is something very few companies can say, and it is something we are very proud of here at FarSounder. Clients don't just purchase our technology and then we say goodbye. It's a lifelong relationship, and we will always be there for them when they need us.