Part 2: Consider seagoing emergencies for a moment.
By Capt. Bill Pike — March 2003
Right now, Volvo Penta is the leader in the marine telematics field with SeaKey, a system with origins in trucks, cars, and heavy-duty construction equipment. SeaKey is comprised of a dashboard control panel, low-battery and high-water sensors, and an integrated satellite transceiver/antenna black box designed for installation below decks and out of sight. (Thieves can't identify and disable the system via an exterior antenna.) It offers a whole raft of features, although those that address the issue of boating safety seem most significant to me.
Consider seagoing emergencies for a moment. At present-- except for flares, mirrors, other conventional signaling techniques, and if you're lucky, cellphones--a boater in serious distress, even in a coastwise situation, has just one communication option: to make an SOS call on his/her radio, an arguably complicated procedure under stressful conditions and in most cases subject to the limitations and vagaries of line-of-sight VHF radio transmission. SeaKey both simplifies and adds certainty to the procedure. By merely lifting a covering device that guards against inadvertent signaling and pushing a special SOS button underneath, a SeaKey boater can automatically deploy an emergency signal via satellite to Volvo Penta's Volvo Action Service (VAS) center in Greensboro, North Carolina. The service is manned 24/7/365 with coordinators and technicians who (after attempting to contact the boat via cellphone, satphone, or VHF) will immediately relay the boat's position, its identifying particulars, and the nature of the distress to the appropriate authorities. The boater knows the signal has been received and prioritized by looking for a green indicator light on the control panel. Thus what used to be a long, uncertain, and somewhat involved process is reduced to a short, push-button affair.
SeaKey's satellite-tracking powers constitute a related feature that's almost as revolutionary as the SOS function. Via continuous positionings from a built-in, onboard GPS, the movements of a SeaKey vessel can be tracked on an electronic chart from a home computer. No more wondering where Dad and the kids are and why they're late or whether the boat moved during the storm.
So-called GeoFencing is an outgrowth of this nifty capability, using the GPS to alert VAS if thieves move the family boat from its docking spot. Once an alert goes out, either the owner or a designated authority is contacted. SeaKey will also alert VAS if the boat begins to take on water or lose DC voltage via the sensors mentioned earlier. Coordinators then carry out predetermined instructions and/or contact the owner. And finally, in addition to a messaging function that offers text-only communication with VAS, SeaKey makes it possible to switch boat functions (like air conditioning and refrigeration) on or off via an owner's cellphone, as well as provide concierge services that offer everything from dockage info to weather reports.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.