A necessary indulgence, Dockmate is establishing itself within the marine community as one of the world’s most future-proof remote control boat docking systems. We take a brief moment to look at the man behind those controls; how he engineered a global docking phenomenon in the face of adversity and how he has successfully steered Dockmate, with finger-tip precision, into such an enviable position…………….
Dockmate: The remote control boat docking tech that Dirk built
If necessity is the mother of invention, and play its Father, then Belgian entrepreneur Dirk Illegems had the perfect upbringing and lineage for creating a global phenomenon that simplifies boat docking. Today, Dirk sits at the helm of Dockmate, a future proof, wireless remote-control boat steering system with a distribution network across 31 countries.
Dirk, who has been a keen sailor since his teenage years and always adopted a hands-on approach to his own repairs, bought a new motorboat in 2011 in his late forties. When he started to look for a remote control to help dock it, he didn’t realise it would be his own vision, business acumen and actual product which would later fulfil that need. “There was only one brand on the market that could possibly do the job, which was way too expensive for the old tech at its core. So, I said we can make this better. Let’s start from scratch,” explains Dirk in his perfect English. One year later, he had developed his first Dockmate prototype. “The whole marina came out to watch me test it on my own boat. No one would let me near theirs with it, back then!” he jokes.
Always an entrepreneur at heart, Dirk ran his own print finishing business for 25 years before selling it in 2006 to turn his hand at globally exporting graphic machines and manufacturing their electronic components from its base in Belgium. It was a chance encounter with his chief engineer, involved in creating remote controls used in coal mines, which led him on to apply the land-based solution to water, making his idea a reality and solving his own personal boat docking crisis in the process.
4 years on the market and Dockmate is one of its largest players but it hasn’t been an easy journey as Dirk explains: “No bank was interested in the investment at Dockmate’s start so, development of the product has been something I’ve had to self-finance. Perhaps, a couple of houses worth! At times the speed of bringing it to market has been very frustrating, to ensure we had the capacity to meet demand, but the slow start has ultimately worked in our favour, giving us the time to check, recheck and test at every stage.
Ironically, Dirk and his long term partner Sandra, rarely have the time to spend on their own boat and haven’t had a holiday together in the last five years but plan to break this cycle with a well-earned break on the water during 2019. With Dockmate installed, they know that docking their vessel, one of the most stressful manoeuvres that a skipper can face, will be a breeze and there will be no arguments or frosty moments, dockside.
Dirk compares the modular design of Dockmate to Lego where its modules are built on a ‘base plate’ to make a final, intuitive product which can constantly evolve without the hindrance of old restrictions and compatibility issues. Dockmate’s ‘Lego bricks’ come in different shapes, sizes and colours. Individually, they are very simple things which fit together, with a snap, to create a bigger more complex and impressive whole. Its modularity and flexibility make it easier and faster to tweak or create custom-built solutions on demand. It also has the infinite capacity to quickly adapt and change to maintain a competitive edge with room for creativity. “Whatever is needed, we can build. We can make whatever can be imagined. We just add more bricks, or change the ones we have to meet the opportunity or challenge. The possibilities are endless.”
When asked about the threat that self-docking boats might have on Dockmate in the future, Dirk responds by saying: “We know that the self-docking tech is only precise to a range of 1 metre from shore so a Dockmate will always be needed to finish off the job, stress free”.
And what is the price of this tech. which never stays still but always provides total finger-tip control of a boat’s movement (without compromising on the responsiveness of its engines, thrusters, anchor winches, windlasses and horns?) Well, that will be £3,000 for an entry level Dockmate system!
“Dockmate is a product that will never be finished. We’ve created a system which works well and will never become obsolete. There is evolution in every product and if you aren’t constantly evolving your product, you don’t have the right product. 20% of our business focuses on the updates needed to keep ahead of the rapidly changing tech behind engines and accessories. In three years’ time the market will be completely different and you will need a product like Dockmate which can keep pace with change to make life on the water more enjoyable”.
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