Blog: How we are raising the bar in the America's Cup

By Matt Cornwell

As competitive sailors, one of the challenges we face is the ability to hear clear communication from the helmsman, tactician and trimmers on board while at the same time being able to converse with team mates at close quarters.

From the other competitors on the water to the sheer noise from the race boat at high speeds, as well as high winds, the sound is immense and we need a bespoke audio system to ensure clear communication with crew members at the end of the boat.

In addition, we need a close one-on-one communication to prevent too much chatter from clogging up the audio system. 

As one of our technology partners, BAE Systems has adapted cutting-edge bone conduction technology, used primarily out on the battlefields by soldiers, to the demands of high-speed sailing in the America’s Cup. Using bone conduction technology enables us to keep our ears free from headsets and earpieces and yet still clearly hear team instructions across the audio system.

We first tried the technology when we visited BAE Systems at the DSEI trade show in London in 2015. Straight away we could see how this could work in a challenging and fast paced environment such as the America’s Cup and were amazed at how well the bone conductors transmitted sound through the skull.

We tried a few variations to get a feel for which would work best at the high volumes we experience, whilst maintaining the critical safety requirements of our helmets. The best solution we found was to put the bone conduction on the outside of our helmets, effectively turning them into speakers. The next trick for BAE Systems was to increase the volume without distorting the audio quality.

As a unique research and development project, BAE Systems developed a number of prototypes which we trialled out on the water. Using our feedback from the trials they finessed the design and, combining our expertise of competitive racing with their expertise in technology, we were able to find a solution that will make a substantial difference on the water.

We have benefited from the expertise at BAE Systems in developing the bone conductors.  Communication is absolutely key to racing and BAE Systems’ technical knowledge and expertise has helped us to greatly improve a key area in racing the America’s Cup Class boats. Communication is a performance differentiator and ours is one of the best in sailing thanks to them.

Originally published by BAE Systems