By Sylvie Quaeyhaegens, Business Development Manager EMEA at Current Corp

The evolution of electro-optical systems

The development of radar technology has dramatically improved the safety of seafarers since WWII. It is now a standard equipment on board any seagoing vessel. Electro-Optical systems provide visibility to any obstacle detected by the radar. This visualisation transforms blind navigation into an intelligent, though passive, awareness of potential threats. Understanding the obstacle in your navigation path or the object coming towards your yacht enables a more accurate decision, faster reaction and less stress on the bridge. But recent technology developments have taken us one step further, enabling active protection of the asset in addition to situational awareness.

Thermal imagers are progressively becoming standard equipment on superyachts as well as in our day to day life. InfraRed sensors went from military-sourced restricted products to a consumer item in a few years, and in some cases even a gadget accessory on a smartphone. But how can one qualify the right system for the project, given such a wide range of performance, configurations and budgets?

Electro-Optical Systems (EOS) are payload platforms, generally mounted on the top of the mast, or a high location with the best possible unobstructed panoramic view. They tend to be controlled from the bridge of the ship but can also be integrated into a security system, VMS, AV/IT, or even be remotely controlled.

Multiple sensors can be combined in different configurations depending on the required functionalities; is the priority security, night navigation, or entertainment, a combination of two of them, or all of the above?

Electro-Optical systems are multipurpose, critical in night navigation to aid the detection of potential obstacles in the navigation path in low light: at night, dusk and dawn. They have become indispensable in security systems, either simply interfaced with the yacht’s radar and AIS, or integrated in a more complex automated security solution. As threats evolve, passive situational awareness is no longer sufficient to ensure safety on board. Active protection, including non-lethal deterrent solutions, integrated into a EOS package is the next step to increase security and safety on board superyachts.

Thermal imaging will work in all levels of light as it is in the infrared spectrum, but its performance is reduced in deteriorated atmospheric conditions such as high humidity, rain, fog, snow. Cooled thermal imaging (MWIR) in 640×512 pixel resolution provides a sharper image and better contrast than Uncooled thermal Imaging (LWIR), although it requires a larger investment. The MWIR lenses enable longer optical zoom for a longer range of detection, recognition and identification of targets and threats. LWIR sensors are the entry level solution to increase awareness of a scene at night, used for search and rescue operations, docking at night, night navigation and shipboard security.

High Definition Cooled Thermal Imaging technology has only just become available to superyacht end users. As for most electro-optical systems, its export requires the submission of an end user statement and issuance by the authorities of the manufacturing country of an Export license. However, the pixel count of this HD technology is much higher than a high resolution cooled thermal imager, at 1280×1024 (versus 640×512). The quadrupled number of pixels results in a better image clarity from greater distances and gives more details about the temperature gradient across the image and target. This helps improve the early detection, recognition and identification of an object at longer range, allowing for earlier protection or avoidance decisions for the safety of the guests, crew, and assets.

Image Intensified Night Vision operates only at night, intensifying minuscule amounts of available light, that our eyes are unable to detect. This compliments the thermal imager, highlighting details of a scene that the thermal imager cannot, such as lights. Night vision can also show objects that have the same temperature as the water because they have been submerged for a long time, such as logs that can damage hulls, or crab pods that can get stuck in the propellers. Distinguishing navigation lights, shoreline lights and harbour entry lights are also essential to keep a good understanding of the orientation of the camera, as it rotates 360? in Azimuth and its extended optical zoom allows it to focus on a detail that would be kilometers away on the IR or day sensor.


SWIR or Short-Wave InfraRed is a new sensor that is now available for superyachts as an additional feature in an electro-optical system. Although light in the shortwave infrared region is not visible to the eye, it interacts with objects in a similar manner to the visible wavelength. SWIR light is reflective light, and so it bounces off of objects much like visible light. Because of its reflective nature SWIR light has shadows and contrast in its Black and White imagery, unlike other visible images. Thanks to its sharp image and wider spectrum, it is better than Thermal imaging at identifying an object or individual. It provides improved performance in degraded atmospheric conditions and has the added security benefit of seeing through glass.

EOS interface with the vessel’s radar and AIS to enable the tracking of targets detected by the radar/AIS from long distances. Video tracking enables the user to survey the movement of vessels or objects not detected by radar/AIS, such as small wooden canoes and bergy bits. And tracking can be done with any of the sensors available in a chosen configuration.

All the sensors discussed above provide passive situational awareness, but in a crisis, they do not actively help deter an incoming threat. Non-Lethal deterrent elements are therefore now the choice of security personnel, either as additional sensors inside a payload, or operated in combination with an Electro-Optical sensor platform for asset protection, to repel/deter/slow down the advance of a threat and increase the time available to secure the vessel, its guests and crew.

A Laser Dazzler is one such high energy, non-lethal deterrent now available in the best Electro-Optical sensor configurations. With its focused and directed light energy, it illuminates the area at night up to 3km, shoots a discomforting glare up to 2km and a disorienting or temporarily blinding pulsed green light to over 1km distance, deterring potential intruders. It is highly secure and operable from a citadel location in case the threat is very close.

More non-lethal deterrent and active threat blockers are currently being developed and made available in the most advanced security systems for superyachts. Earlier detection, recognition and identification of threats provides critical time to protect a yacht and the people on board from potential harmful situations.

The latest Electro-Optical systems today are easy to install (new vessel or retrofit) thanks to their ethernet communication and video streaming. They can be interfaced in a multitude of third party systems, fitting the unique configuration of each superyacht.

When selecting an Electro-Optical system, it is essential to ensure that the configuration is exportable for superyacht end use, that is, the performance of the system is not being limited to ease stringent export regulations (i.e. Hz frequency limitation giving the end user a low image refresh rate) and that the export licensing process will not be too long, possibly delaying the delivery and jeopardising the entire project. The export licensing processes of some countries are more efficient than others, making this procurement more streamlined. This is the case for example with Canada’s efficient export licensing versus the US.

Next to sensors and exportability, the responsiveness of the manufacturer through sales and service as well as the ruggedness, marine design and low maintenance requirement are further elements to consider when making the right choice for you.

It is time to step up security, safety and privacy at sea, from situational awareness to active protection, and this is all possible using non-lethal deterrents integrated into EOS.

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