#maritime – Getting your message across has never been easier thanks to the power of the internet. From computers to smartphones to tablets, access to the web today is almost ubiquitous - increasingly even out on the water! - and it's often the first place marine-minded people go to find whatever they're looking for, whether it's buying a boat, looking up sailing conditions or checking out a new club to join.
So it nearly goes without saying that websites are the first line of interaction with the public - the virtual shopfronts that put across who you are, what you do and how you can be of service, often at little more than a glance.
In light of this, it's no surprise that a great web presence - a well-designed usable website, topping the web search tables with active social media connections - can mean the difference between boom and bust for any business or service, especially in the current economic climate.
But since everyone else is getting on the web, too, it's becoming a lot harder to get noticed in the crowd. No longer is it enough just to look good. Winning websites must form part of a digital strategy: attracting interest, getting talked about and making an impact beyond the bytes.
What do web users want? How can we reach them? And how do we keep them coming back? That's the biggest challenge for clubs, organisations and businesses in the marine and maritime sectors in this digital age.
We at Afloat.ie know this more than anyone, which is why we've decided to recognise the best in what we and our readers see in Irish marine digital communications with the inaugural Maritime Web Awards.
We want to highlight excellence in marine websites making the biggest mark across a variety of categories, from the business end (brokerage, chandlery, ports and marinas) to those vital services (water safety, rivers and canals, watersports) for anyone who takes to the water, whether on the coasts, offshore or inland.
Nominations for the first Afloat.ie Maritime Web Awards were accepted on any and all marine-based websites via comments on Afloat.ie and on Twitter and Facebook. Selected sites were then scored for design, usability, interaction, social media, community and speed, with voting taking place with a judging panel representing our 11 award categories: Sailing, Brokerage, Chandlery, Clubs, Classes, Safety, Inland, Ports, Marinas, Watersport and Conservation.
The sites awarded below represent our judges' choices of the best of the web in Ireland's marine and maritime sectors in a landscape that's constantly shifting. But that's exactly why these sites deserve our recognition - they're keeping ahead of the curve, and will surely adapt to what changes may come in the next few months, let alone years.
So without further ado, the winners of the inaugural Afloat.ie Maritime Web Awards are...
SailCork - www.sailcork.com
Coming in tops for its search engine ranking and easy-to-navigate website that's constantly updated with the latest course offerings and blog updates, SailCork looks forward to its 40th year in business with a Maritime Web Award in the Sailing category. Though geared towards education - with courses in navigation (including iPad navigation for the tech-minded) and radio operation among its offerings - this Cobh institution also specialises in adventure sailing holidays at home and abroad, all available at a mouse click or screen tap.
Surf Republic - www.surfrepublic.ie
Surfing is serious business to the team behind Surf Republic, run 'by Irish surfers for Irish surfers' and built around a commitment to 'accurate Irish surf reporting, quality web cameras and advanced ocean and swell forecasts' - not to mention providing a forum for Ireland's growing community of waveriders. News? They keep things up to date so you'll never miss a swell. Social media? Get connected on Facebook and Twitter. Want to see how the water looks from wherever you happen to be? Links to eight surf cameras should sort you out!
MGM Boats - www.mgmboats.com
MGM Boats has been ahead of the game when it comes to expanding its boat brokerage vision from Britain and Ireland to the continent and far beyond, establishing offices in the Mediterranean and making its presence known at boat shows as far afield as Dubai and Russia. Its website takes its reach fully global, listing hundreds of new and used boats between 15 locations worlwide that can be quickly filtered by your requirements, from brand to size to price. MGM Boats makes selling your vessel easy, too, while maintenance is a doddle thanks to their various boatyard services, all fully detailed online.
CH Marine - www.chmarine.com
CH Marine is billed as 'Ireland's leading marine equipment supplier' and it's easy to see why, boasting as it does an impressive range of chandlery, sail clothing, the latest electronic gadgets and more, available via five walk-in superstores nationwide (in Cork, Skibbereen, Belfast, Kilkeel and Newry) and its fully stocked and browsable online shop, which provides free delivery in Ireland for orders over €50. CH Marine also ships worldwide, broadening its market considerably. The site also links to CH Marine's nationwide network of chandlery partners, making it even easier to find exactly what you want.
Kinsale Yacht Club - www.kyc.ie
Compared to Ireland's storied yacht clubs - Kinsale Yacht Club, established in 1950, is the baby of the bunch. But does its comparative youth mean the club's more clued in to the power of the web? It's sleek, club livery themed website is certainly good evidence for that, presenting the latest news, results, reports and social connections up front - Facebook and Flickr both used well - and boasting a pagerank to make the competition green with envy.
Flying Fifteen Association of Ireland - www.flyingfifteen.ie
The Flying Fifteen Association of Ireland may not have the sleekest website in appearance, but they're streets ahead of their fellow sailing classes in terms of knowing how to use it. Boat specs and club details are all easy to find on the site that keeps members and the public alike regularly informed on the latest results, fixtures and other events, and engaging with the Flying Fifteen community via social media - including a Flickr page for beautiful on-the-water shots, something that should be noted by the rest.
Irish Water Safety - www.iws.ie
'Promoting water safety in Ireland' is the goal of Irish Water Safety, the national charity that works tirelessly to educate the public about respecting the water. After an exceptionally hot summer that saw an alarming rise in drowning tragedies, the work of the charity and the lifeguards its helps train is needed now more than ever. The first line is this website, an efficiently designed connection to nationwide training courses, water safety advice and rescue services to get the public clued in to safer behaviour at the beach, by the pool - anywhere there's water.
Waterways Ireland - www.waterwaysireland.org
The cross-border navigation authority Waterways Ireland launched its new website earlier this year and it's a significant improvement as a resource, putting everyday usage of Ireland's rivers, lakes and canals to the fore. A colour-coded system makes distinct every one of the seven major water systems across the island of Ireland, each with its own section detailing maps, navigation info and activities. Marine notices and events nationwide are available with a single click, as are education resources and registration for waterways services. The Waterways Ireland website is doing it right.
Port of Cork - www.portofcork.ie
Ireland's commercial ports are well served online, but the Port of Cork website is far ahead of the class. Distilling everything one wants from a port website - shipping times and services, cruise and ferry schedules, and berthing details for visiting boaters - into a simple but effective modern and clean layout, the Port of Cork site follows the axiom 'less is more' to the correct effect. Community engagement is another important aspect, and one can't ignore the port's popular and active Twitter account.
Greystones Harbour Marina - www.greystonesharbourmarina.ie
Greystones in Co Wicklow was the brightest spot on the Irish marinas map with the launch of its world-class berths earlier this year. And it's little wonder that Greystones Harbour Marina has a website to match. Cleanly designed, with direct links to details of its available berths - plus integration with boat sales partner BJ Marine - and active on social media over its first summer season, the website's doing a wonderful job of putting Ireland's newest marina on the international stage. Here's looking forward to 2014's season arrivals!
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group - www.iwdg.ie
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group knows how to put the power of the web to its advantage, using its website as a platform to educate about the many species of whale, dolphin and porpoise that frequent Ireland's shores - and get the public involved in gathering data on sightings and strandings (both can be reported directly on the site) to assist in its important conservation work. The site's news and events sections are regularly updated, and the IWDG also reaches out via a very active Facebook page with thousands of followers.
Afloat.ie will be promoting maritime web initiatives throughout 2014. Please get in touch with any website information, enewsletters or social media campaigns