Electronic Harbor Buddy

Electronics - August 2002
Electronics August 2002
By Ben Ellison

Electronic Harbor Buddy
"Ben, your boat's on the phone!"

 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Boat Monitoring
• Part 2: Boat Monitoring
• Part 3: Q&A

 Related Resources
• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Beacon Wireless

If my megayacht were laying in Cannes while I snowboarded in the Alps, I would much appreciate a daily call from my skipper assuring me that everything was shipshape...in my dreams! In reality, my old, odd 25-foot stern drive Ralph is on a mooring about a mile away in Camden harbor, and I can check on him fairly easily. But often the truth is that many days go by when I am too busy, and the boat I adore becomes a source of worry. I'm pleased to report that I've been testing a nifty cure for "Is the boat OK?" anxiety, the HarborMaster monitoring system.

For starters, Ralph now sends me an e-mail every morning detailing battery voltages, bilge pump activity, and much more. These reports are also kept at a password-protected Web site where I can check them and observe trends. Better yet, if any one of the HarborMaster's 12 alarms is activated, I get an automated phone call as well as an e-mail warning. I tested several of these, and the call came just moments after I breached a magnetic intrusion alarm or lifted the high-water sensor.

The wireless part of the HarborMaster's impressive communications scheme is handled by the Aeris MicroBurst network (www.aeris.net), a proprietary utility that transmits short data packets over the control channels of analog cellular networks. Performance where I live in Maine was excellent, even though my area is quite hilly and a bit backwards in terms of cell coverage. The unit even worked well in my basement shop without using the optional fixed antenna. Beacon Wireless, which designed and markets the HarborMaster, claims good coverage throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The HarborMaster sends data to Beacon's secure server, which is then responsible for getting the information out as voice calls, pager messages, e-mails--whatever the customer specifies via his or her personal Web page. Here's where you start to see what a well-thought-out product this is. For instance, besides the three regular alarm contacts, you can easily set up three more customized ones. Say you live hours away from your moored boat; you can have a couple of critical alarms like high water and burglar intrusion also sent to a friend or marina operation close by. When your ally goes aboard your boat and acknowledges the alarm flashing on the unit, you're immediately notified.

You can also communicate back to the boat, perhaps asking for a fresh statistics report or remotely triggering a relay to turn on lights or air conditioning. You can even remotely arm and disarm the system, allowing a service person to access the boat without giving away a password or keytag. The automotive-style keytag, by the way, is a real kick. You can close up the boat, step onto the dock or into the tender, then hit your button and hear a reassuring beep that the boat is armed. When returning, you can also use the keytag to turn on a deck light. Nice!

The deeper you probe the HarborMaster, the more you'll find in the way of user control. Let's look at bilge pump statistics for a moment. The HarborMaster monitors both cycles and duration of pumping and builds a database of typical behavior. Statistics are kept on everything, and alarms can be set on several criteria. A continuous pump over a certain threshold (30 seconds to 30 minutes) is probably cause for alarm on your boat, as it is on mine. However, since Ralph's open cockpit drains to the bilge, inconsistent pumping is usually a sign of rainstorms, not leaks; therefore I set the HarborMaster to call me only if the pump cycle was ten times the average. On a less eccentric boat you might set the system to alert you when pumps run only two times more than on average.

Next page > Boat Monitoring continued > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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