Wireless technology is your boat’s onboard dockmaster.
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca — March 2002
I remember the dockmaster’s phone call to my Dad from the east marina at Point Lookout, New York. I was a kid, and the weather was horrible. I don’t recall precisely if it was a Nor’easter or hurricane, but whatever it was had damaged my family’s boat. The doubled-up, heavy-weather lines had held, but one of the cleats had let go, and the boat was now in a position to ram up against a bulkhead or, in the event of an extreme storm tide, even come down on top of one and hole herself. The dockmaster and a phone line was all the technology we had that day, and if that call had not come, my family might have lost our boat.
Fortunately, things have gotten better. Today, there is a no-strings-attached technology that is the equivalent of having a dockmaster watching your boat 24 hours a day, seven days a week and which can provide detailed information about the status of your boat and its systems. It’s available from a growing group of companies, more than can be covered in these few pages, so I’ll focus on a few that provide this service, each using slightly different means.
The Wireless Watchman works off a two-way data communication frequency called reflex 25, a narrowband personal communication services (PCS) frequency that Wireless Watchman purchased from the FCC fives years ago. Although satellite communications are abundant and may be considered en vogue by some, Wireless Watchman likes to keep things close to the planet. Product manager Mark Buhrig says that the company may employ satellite technology down the road, but its current intra-atmosphere method minimizes the unit and service costs of the Wireless Watchman. The basic system runs from $700 to $1,295 with two monthly service plans available. Basic service is $9.95 a month, and an additional $2.95 a month provides voice response and e-mails of what’s going on with your boat.
The system consists of a black box tied to an array of sensors and usually mounted and concealed somewhere near the helm console. The only visible component is a dual-band antenna for the unit’s internal GPS and communication channel. Once installed, Wireless Watchman will keep tabs on boat location, battery voltage, engine hours, the presence of fire and smoke, and boarding, the latter via contact sensors installed in doors, hatches, and deck. It can also monitor temperature, bilge pump activity (the number of cycles), and shore-power status. According to Buhrig, "Everything that’s coming into the box can go to a [password-protected] Web site and send a message to active voice response."
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.