Part 2: Fully Automatic Computerized Response
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca — March 2002
For routine checks on your boat’s status, you need only log on to the Web site with your user name and password. From here you can even adjust alarm tolerances; just click on a system and set the parameters.
Unlike some other manned monitoring systems, Wireless Watchman has a fully automatic computerized response. In the event of an incident, the system will contact the listed e-mails, phone numbers, and pager numbers provided by the owner. If no contact is acknowledged via the input of a four-digit PIN, the system defaults, resets, and tries again until a response is returned.
A story involving an out-of-state owner who docked his boat behind a friend’s house illustrates the effectiveness of the system. The owner, who allowed the homeowner to use the boat locally, installed the Wireless Watchman and soon realized the homeowner was expanding the term "locally" to include the Bahamas. All this wonderful information accessed from the comfort of his home computer. Can you say, "Busted"?
While the Wireless Watchman system will continue to use the PCS bands it purchased from the FCC for now, another system called Sea Trac from GEOSat Solutions has gone the cellular/satellite route. "We’ve got a two-tiered system [with] cellular capabilities for those boats used close to shore–lakes and so forth–that automatically switches to satellite as you [head] offshore," says Al Behrendt, president of GEOSat Solutions.
The hardware setup is similar to the Wireless Watchman: a small antenna the size of a bike helmet–the transceiver/receiver–for satellite communications, a marine cell antenna, and a black box interface. However, Sea Trac uses a Palm Pilot-style PDA communications device and a third-party monitoring company, as opposed to an automatic response program.
Like its peers, Sea Trac monitors intrusion, bilge level, D.C. battery condition, dockside power, and location via an "invisible fence" around the boat. For example, if a boat owner establishes a float plan from South Florida to the Bahamas, he can also create a 20-mile corridor, and if the boat leaves that corridor, an alarm will be triggered and sent.
With the PDA the owner can monitor systems, use two-way messaging, file or modify a float plan, and transmit a distress message. Thanks to the messaging feature, the monitoring company can let you know when your engines need oil or if there is a repair yard nearby, features that would be especially handy if you charter your boat. Behrendt adds that an owner heading offshore for a day of fishing can even send a text message home via the PDA about when he expects to be back at the dock–and if there’s a reason to start the barbecue.
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.