— August 2002
By Ben Ellison
Electronic Harbor Buddy
|Part 2: Well thought out and well documented, but not a trivial task|
It's noteworthy that this valuable data analysis doesn't stop when you get aboard. Unlike typical black box monitoring systems, which only give wireless reports, the HarborMaster's LCD also operates while you're underway, keeping history files and ready to notify you of problems. The unit's installation process is also well thought out and well documented, but not a trivial task. A number of sensors and relays come with the unit, but a lot of wiring is necessary. I couldn't help but think how much easier it will be when and if NMEA 2000 really becomes a common way to send small data packets around a boat; almost every sensor the HarborMaster needs could be on that bus, and installation might be very simple indeed. Beacon Wireless agrees and says it will be ready when the time comes.
Even with its advantages, HarborMaster is not perfect. The Aeris network does not have coverage in the Caribbean (though a secondary satellite connection is being discussed). And while it can interface with a boat's GPS, it doesn't include the integrated positioning chip or Web mapping functions of some of its rivals. Capt. Patrick Sciacca described a number of monitoring services in the March 2002 PMY ("Private Eyes"), a couple of which seem stealthier, thus better designed to thwart serious thieves. But, having looked at a lot of spec sheets, I think the HarborMaster excels at giving a thorough overall link to a boat's vital systems, at least for now.
In fact, the rapidly growing number of new monitoring products and companies makes comparisons difficult and also triggers concerns about business viability. These days, when marquee companies are closing shop at an alarming rate, a consumer has to ask himself, "Is this one-product company in Canada going to keep going after I've invested in hardware and installation?" Given that Beacon charges $899 for the HarborMaster and its service costs $25 or $35 per month, depending on the frequency of statistics desired, I put the "viability" question to Beacon's principals and was reassured by their responses.
Chief technologist Tony Lash and Beacon president David Lash are a father-and-son team with a combined 40 years of experience providing secure networking to stock exchanges. The proceeds from selling that company and the lessons learned in providing critical data gave the Lashes the wherewithal to spend two full years developing and testing the HarborMaster. Their efforts are abundantly evident in the unit I'm using and lend credence to Tony's declaration, "Beacon Wireless is in this for the long haul."
The company is also actively seeking partnerships with bigger marine electronics outfits. The idea is not only to put the HarborMaster under a familiar brand name but also to develop its capabilities to the max. Imagine Beacon's data acquisition and communications skills integrated into a souped-up plotter or onboard computer. Such an arrangement could reduce hardware and installation costs while also opening the wireless link and distribution service to other data like digital engine diagnostics, even e-mail. Overall, I call the HarborMaster a fine product now, with an exciting future ahead.
Beacon Wireless Solutions Phone: (416) 696-7555. Fax: (416) 696-8185. www.harborstore.com.
Ben Ellison has been a delivery captain and navigation instructor for nearly 30 years and was recently editor of Reed's Nautical Almanacs.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.