Check the bilge from the bedroom? Send an SOS via a 24/7/365 call center? It’s easy with today’s marine telematics.
By Capt. Bill Pike — March 2003
Telematics. Not the sort of term to stir up a whole lot of enthusiasm in a guy like me. Conservative when it comes to English usage, I pretty much hate buzzwords, catchy phrases du jour, and most other forms of blather that sound important but aren't. So when I was asked to put together a story on what, at the time, seemed like one of the most bombastic buzzwords to hit the marine scene in ten years, I felt just a tad restrained at first. Then I started to doze off. "What is telematics, anyway?" I wondered, just before lapsing into la-la land. Some kind of new cellphone technology? As if we don't have enough on the planet already!
I woke up eventually, of course, a phenomenon that often engenders an attitudinal change on my part, as it did in this case. I tried a little research, then a little more, and ultimately discovered that telematics is compelling stuff--way more interesting than I'd figured. Moreover, telematics technology is on the verge of making major-league contributions to three highly significant areas of the marine realm: vessel safety, onboard security, and owner-assistance underway. And these contributions, in my opinion, rate right up there importance-wise with the invention of the first workable marine VHF radio.
To get a feeling for the how and why of such a stunning development, let's start with a short definition. Telematics is a technology that makes it possible to control or monitor equipment via fixed or wireless communication networks over great distances. Because the implications of this phraseology are a little tough to grasp immediately, let's take a fast, expository side trip into the automotive venue.
Ever heard of OnStar? A hardware/service option available on numerous models of GM cars these days, it uses onboard GPS and wireless technology to provide support to drivers on a 24/7/365 basis. This support includes remote door unlock (in case you're like me and lock your keys in your car now and again just for the heck of it), roadside and accident assistance, stolen-vehicle tracking, and concierge services that run the gamut from driving directions to getting tickets for sold-out events in destination towns and cities. To begin understanding what marine telematic technology is and what it may mean to boaters of the not-so-distant future, it is easiest to think of it as the maritime equivalent of OnStar.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.