Offshore interests finding Nebo

05/03/2021 - 14:00

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The developers of an innovative boat logging system hope it will form part of every sailor’s kit.

Offshore interests finding Nebo
Stephen Winter says Nebo’s tracking device is ready to launch this year. Photo: David Henry

Convenience, community, and safety on the open ocean are the three most important features of Nebo Global, an automated logging system founded in Western Australia.

Nebo, which comprises a smartphone application and soon-to-launch tracking device, is primarily used to automate the logging of sea voyages while sharing boaters’ locations with their families, friends, and fellow Nebo users.

Most notably, the system was recently used to bring renowned Australian yachtsman Jon Sanders home to Fremantle after his 14-month round-the-world voyage.

Mr Sanders’ on-board satellite tracking system was hooked up to Nebo’s boat logging app, which allowed the 81-year-old sailor’s team to match his recorded locations with sea and wind conditions.

It also meant anyone could share in the voyage by tracking Mr Sanders’ progress online.

Nebo was conceptualised in 2015 by Perth-based geologist and yachtsman Stephen Winter, who is now in the midst of preparing to launch the Nebo tracking device.

Mr Winter told Business News Nebo was different to other boat-logging systems as it offered more than just “drawing a line on a map”.

Nebo uses a database of maritime geofences, or virtual perimeters, which are hidden from users and define locations such as bays, marinas, rivers and ports.

Engaging his previous experience in geospatial mining software, Mr Winter and the Nebo team have digitised tens of thousands of geofences around the world, so that when a vessel crosses a geofence boundary it will be registered on the Nebo tracker and used to compile an automated log.

The system also gives boaters the option of adding their own observations, as well as the ability to upload photos of their voyages into the Nebo app.

Since its launch in 2017, the app has gained more than 22,000 registered users, including about 5,000 in Australia, all with very little promotion.

Mr Winter expects this figure to grow to 500,000 by 2023, with a longer-term plan for Nebo to be part of every boater’s kit.

The US is Nebo’s primary market, Mr Winter said, since the nation accounts for 24 million, or roughly 70 per cent, of the world’s estimated 35 million recreational boaters.

Mr Winter came up with the idea for Nebo while sitting aboard his own sailboat, Saratoga, which he purchased in 2010 before selling his resources-focused IT business, ioGlobal, to mining technology company IMDEX in 2012.

He later recruited friend and former JLL managing director of WA, Nick Stanisis, as a Nebo director and early investor.

The team has since raised about $1 million (primarily from friends) to fund Nebo’s development, which is entirely carried out in Perth.

In mid-2017, Nebo struck a deal with UK-owned boat rental service Sunsail to test a prototype app with travellers across hundreds of voyages in the Adriatic.

“We learned a key thing in the process, and that was we can’t rely on people, in particular people enjoying their holiday on a charter yacht, to always remember to start and stop an app or begin logging a voyage,” Mr Winter said.

“We realised we needed to have something more than a phone app, so we developed a tracking device.

“That’s taken a fair bit of our focus over the last few years.”

He said the business experienced a few initial hurdles with the tracker, including around cellular coverage in the US, where members from America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association currently use Nebo to record their trips and connect with other AGLCA members.

Any glitches in the Nebo tracking system have since been ironed out, according to Mr Winter.

“There’s no technical risk anymore; it’s all ready to go,” he said.

He noted the tracking device would become a significant revenue stream for Nebo, with an official launch of the product expected this year. It is priced at $79 in Australia, excluding a monthly subscription fee of about $12 to cover all data-related costs.

Mr Winter expects to significantly lower the price of the US trackers ahead of the launch, from $US175 to about $US79.

“We want to get a groundswell of people using trackers,” he said.

“We will take a small hit on the upfront sale of the tracker but, after that, the subscription revenues will be very profitable.

“We’re very confident once people use it, they’ll want to keep using it.”

The trackers could also detect boats on land and monitor batteries, which Mr Winter said was a strong case for boaters to continue their subscriptions even as they ‘winterised’ their vessels.

“The owner always sees where their boat is,” he said.

That added benefit of security was an important part of a recent agreement between Nebo and RAC Insurance, which involved the delivery of trackers to boat owners taking out insurance premiums. About 20 trackers have been used throughout the trial.

Mr Winter said there was potential for Nebo to gain revenue through advertising in the form of promotional alerts that pop up on users’ phones when they arrive at a new marina.

There is also scope in monetising anonymous user data, which Mr Winter said would appeal to organisations such as the Rottnest Island Authority, should it want to gather information on the number or types of boats that arrive at the island.

However, in the interim, Nebo plans to build on its safety offering by creating SOS and anchor alarm functions, exclusive to tracker users.

Mr Winter said existing anchor alarms (in the form of smartphone apps) were ineffective once boaters brought their mobiles ashore, whereas the Nebo tracker would set up a geofence around vessels themselves to notify sailors through the app if their boats had drifted.

“I think we’re in a really ideal position to develop a killer function in that space,” Mr Winter said.

He said while safety was a key pillar for the business, and influential in Nebo’s decision to sponsor Mr Sanders’ recent voyage, building a sense of community was also important.

The app currently allows users to add, or ‘friend’, fellow Nebo members and find them at sea, as well as upload photos of their voyages to the Nebo feed.

If they so choose, users can opt out of having their locations shared.

“Hardly anybody goes into stealth mode, but it’s important they know they can,” Mr Winter said.

He added that the business was considering implementing a maintenance module to remind users about scheduled boat maintenance or to pay their insurance, among other prompts.

“If we develop a new feature, we don’t have to recall the trackers, we can just update the firmware over the air,” Mr Winter said.

Forthcoming marketing initiatives for the tracking system, including Facebook and print advertising, will in part be funded by a pre-initial public offering under which Nebo hopes to reel in another $1.5 million.

“We’ll do a small round with the existing investors to see if people want to top up their shareholding, and then we’ll go wider,” Mr Winter said.

“Once we start getting the message out there, I think the growth will be quite significant.”

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