Rupert Holmes looks at options for monitoring of boats that will warn of intruders, change of location and impact from other vessels
Some aspects of marine electronics have changed out of recognition over the past few years. Security cameras for boats and remote monitoring are two examples.
With Zest, my partner’s 36ft Rob Humphreys-designed one-off, for instance, we get an alert if the boat moves more than 6m (20ft) from her mooring, and low resolution still photographs are taken every 15 minutes, 24-hours a day.
Wireless intruder sensors on the main and fore hatches trigger a loud alarm, plus email and text messages.
At the same time the system takes further photos, which are available immediately on both web and mobile apps.
We can also set alerts for heel angle, bilge levels and impact sensors that will detect another vessel colliding with her when moored.
Equally, it can be set up with an automated alert if the marina shore power connection is interrupted.
Yet this isn’t a super-expensive futuristic system. It’s an off the shelf product from Canadian company BRNKL that took me only a couple of hours to install, although fitting to a more complex boat that requires wiring to be run behind headlinings would take longer.
BRNKL unit and camera
The hardware cost was just over £1,000, plus a monthly subscription of £15.
For all but the simplest and lowest value boats it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind it brings.
At the core of the system is a base unit with an accurate GPS, plus sensors for temperature and humidity, as well as an accelerometer/gyroscope for heel, pitch and motion/impact.
Batteries, bilge pump float switches and one external camera can be hard wired to this unit.
The BRNKL Mate add on includes a wireless interface for networking remote sensors and has connections for an additional camera, as well as NMEA2000 data.
This is a fairly expensive upgrade, but worthwhile for the additional security of adding wireless sensors to hatches, lockers and the companionway.
Camera footage is not top quality, especially at night, but that’s in part a function of needing to minimise bandwidth so the system doesn’t need a fast data connection.
This is an important consideration given many marina berths and swinging moorings lack a strong wifi or mobile data signal.
- Price: unit and camera £999.95,
- BRNKL Mate: £325,
- Wireless door and window sensors: from £19.95,
- Subscription: approx £15 per month or £180 per year.
There are now dozens of companies operating in this field and there’s no longer anything particularly new about remote systems that will monitor a boat’s position and systems.
However, many are surprisingly expensive, both in terms of up-front costs and monthly or annual subscriptions.
It’s also worth remembering that not all marine cameras are designed for security purposes – it needs to be possible to connect them to the internet and view images remotely.
A low-cost basic option that will work for some boat owners is Amazon’s Blink cameras, where hardware costs start at around £60 and monthly subscriptions are as low as £2.50.
The wireless cameras are claimed to run for a couple of years on a pair of AA batteries, while the cheaper wired units (£30) require only a low-power USB connection.
A Sync 2 unit (£30) is also needed, unless you opt for the more expensive outdoor camera, which has this functionality built in.
When motion is detected, video alerts are sent directly to the customer’s smartphone, and the system can be interfaced with an alarm.
It’s also possible to connect a loudspeaker so that you can talk directly to an intruder.
Although intended primarily as a home security device, the low-power and wire-free concept clearly lends itself to adaptation for use on board a boat.
Some marina wifi networks have an adequately strong signal; otherwise the unit could be interfaced with a mifi unit with a 4G SIM.
- Price: from £60,
- Subscriptions: from £2.50.
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Other specialist providers, among the many in the marine market, include British company VirCru, whose base system includes a Hub, Sensor and Tag.
It monitors GPS position, battery voltage, heel angle, door sensor, cabin temperature and bilge alarm.
Further sensors can be added to monitor additional hatches, or tag valuable equipment.
Equally, remote control of appliances is possible, allowing the fridge, for example, to be turned on before you arrive at the boat.
These parameters can be monitored via an app at a cost of £10 per month, with an alarm raised when appropriate.
Sensor battery life is an impressive 10 years.
- Price: Launch bundle £450,
- Subscriptions: from £10 per month.
Yacht Sentinel is one of the longest-standing players in this market.
Its YS Pro system includes all basic functions, plus optional sensors that cover up to 40 different parameters.
These include excess bilge water level, forced entry, PIR intruder detection, loss of shorepower, a loud 105db siren, plus item security if valuable ‘tagged’ items are removed from the boat.
This is only part of the system’s functionality, which the firm describes as being a ‘Next-Gen smart boat solution’ that encompasses security, sailing analytics, digital switching and a wifi hotspot.
- Price: hardware €1,590,
- Data subscription: €10 per month.
Looking ahead, we’re increasingly likely to see remote monitoring functionality built into other devices.
Raymarine’s YachtSense Link Marine Mobile Router, for instance, is a multi-purpose device that includes geofenced remote position monitoring among its many features.
- Price: £1,395.
This is all technology that’s relatively straightforward in today’s world.
The basic functions at the core of all these systems are part of the much-touted Internet of Things (IoT) – objects with embedded computing devices that enable them to send data.
Although I’ve never been tempted by an ‘intelligent’ wireless fridge at home, remote monitoring for a boat brings many potential benefits.
As production volumes rise over the next few years we can expect prices of more basic systems to drop.
It’s also worth remembering that many insurers will give a discount that will help defray the costs of this technology.
Equally, it might not be too difficult for anyone with basic electronics and computing skills to create their own basic system for less than a couple of hundred pounds, using an ultra-low cost IoT data SIM, with prices that can be as low as £1 per month for 40Mb of data.
Free remote monitoring
Many moorings are overlooked by webcams – Spinlock’s camera for instance looks across the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club’s boat park and marina to the southern part of Cowes Yacht Haven
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