ARTICLE

How Secure Is Your Boat?

SAFETY & PREVENTION

Regardless of the boat you own, you want peace of mind when away. Here’s the latest and greatest in safety, security, and remote monitoring.

Modern boat monitoring systems, such as Siren Marine, allow owners to check on and control their boats from just about anywhere. (Photo: Siren Marine)

Whether you’re talking about security and monitoring systems for homes, cars, or boats, new tech has made today’s options more numerous, easier to install and use, and far more comprehensive. Advances in communications actually gets a lot of the credit.

Thanks to improving cellular, Wi-Fi, and satellite technologies driven by the “Internet of Things,” it’s now become easy to stay connected with virtually anything from virtually anywhere on Earth. The number of connected devices has doubled since 2015 (breaking the 30 billion mark this year, according to Statista). Boat and boating accessory manufacturers alike have picked up on the possibilities this tech provides when it comes to security.

“Delivering situational awareness of problems aboard, scaring would-be thieves off the boat, securely broadcasting the vessels’ exact coordinates globally, and livestreaming video has always been what drives us,” says Brian Kane, chief technology officer of Global Ocean Security Technologies (GOST). “And technology and communication advances in connectivity have made it much easier today than when we launched our first video solution for a customer’s Blackberry in 2007.” So what are the latest and greatest options? We can break down the choices into three main categories: security systems, remote monitoring systems, and remote monitor and control systems.

Security Systems

Straightforward old-tech security systems remain an option today, starting with those $100 sirens that sound off when an intruder triggers a contact. But today you can expand that basic building block to a $10,000-plus system incorporating dozens of sensors and multiple visual, tactile, and audible alarms and/or video cameras. As you migrate into the more advanced systems, these naturally incorporate remote monitoring and/or control functions as well. On the simple, low-budget end of the scale, however, the most basic security systems differ little from those we’ve been familiar with over the years.

Wireless sensors allow a boat to contact the owner when something has been disturbed. (Illustration: Siren Marine)

With most of these systems, contact sensors, pressure sensors, or keyed ignitions trigger an audible alarm that’s intended to scare off an intruder. Base versions may be downright cheap, and installation takes little more than screwing down a siren or pressing a sensor’s sticky-back tape in place. But these systems have the same weaknesses they’ve always had: snipping a wire is usually all it takes to defeat them, they may have batteries that need regular replacement, and if there’s no one around to hear the alarm, it doesn’t matter much anyway.

The one way in which some slightly advanced but still fairly low-tech systems have developed is by incorporating wireless sensors. Still, removal from the vessel or clipping the wire on a siren or base station remains an Achilles heel. Besides, with a slightly higher investment, your security system could instead have remote-monitoring capabilities.

Remote Monitoring

Basic remote monitoring systems amount to GPS tracking devices, usually with a “geofence” function that lets you determine an area the boat should always stay within. If the boat breaks through this virtual fence, you get an alert via email or text and can then keep tabs on the boat’s location and movement on a digital chart or map. Some systems have additional safety features such as the ability to press a “panic button” and transmit your GPS location to the authorities in an emergency.

While these simple tracking systems are relatively inexpensive (the hardware may go for as little as $100), they do require monthly service plans to pay for connectivity via either cell or satellite services. On a yearly basis, this service may be more expensive than the hardware itself. Most services, however, offer limited monthly plans that can cost as little as $15 and can be turned off once boating season is over. Another downside to some options in this category is how they’re powered: Some merely run off AA batteries. Let them sit unused over the winter or forget about them, and you have all the usual battery replacement issues. Other systems tap into the boat’s power source and have an internal backup in case the boat’s juice runs dry. This does make for a slightly more involved installation, but as a general rule of thumb, these systems offer much better reliability over the long term.

The GOST system tracks your boat’s location on a map. (Photo: GOST)

Some of these systems can get quite impressive with the ability to handle well over 100 different inputs, include HD video recording and livestreaming capabilities, and communications via Wi-Fi, cellular, or satellite. Some can even choose which way to communicate depending on what connectivity option is most available and/or least expensive at any given time.

New Boats, New Security Tech

Like they say on TV: “But wait, there’s more!” Some of the newest boats hitting the water today have remote monitoring and control already integrated into their very large boat-brains, as well as pieces and parts that are already self-aware to some degree. If your transmission starts running hot or a compressor develops a slow leak, you don’t have to hope you notice before it develops into a significant problem. Your boat notices all by itself and can alert you and/or your service center or dealership.

This level of security, monitoring, and remote control can’t be accomplished with aftermarket installation, short of a rather massive refit that includes everything from engines to electronics. But having a connected boat brings all of these abilities to an entirely new level. You no longer need a separate security system because your boat knows where it should be and when it should be entered. You no longer need a dedicated monitoring system because your boat knows how many times the bilge pumps have cycled over the last 24 hours and whether there’s any water in the bilge or not. And you no longer need a separate remote-control system because your boat knows when you want to turn on or off the lights and AC the moment you start tapping on your cellphone screen.

This may sound a bit futuristic, and it’s true that the majority of the production boats being sold right now don’t have such capabilities, but some already do. The future is here today, and you can take advantage of it the next time you step aboard your boat — or from the comfort of your living room couch.

Choices, Choices, Choices

There’s a wide range of security, monitoring, and control systems on the market today. As we’ve pointed out in this article, to take full advantage you really need to buy a new boat that was designed and built with integrated systems. But that doesn’t mean you can’t gain some rather amazing capabilities by simply adding gear and services to your boat. Here are four of the latest options that different boaters with different budgets can harness to make their own boats safer, more secure, and just plain better.

The simple and inexpensive Spot Trace: The Spot Trace is a compact satellite tracker that fits in the palm of your hand and can be mounted or placed just about anywhere aboard. It lists for a mere $99.99, with service plans starting at $9.99 per month. It will alert you via text or email when your boat moves and provides GPS coordinates of its location. Though it depends on AA batteries for power, a DC power cable can be purchased and added separately. | findmespot.com

The human advantage with Boatfix: Boatfix comes to the monitoring and security space with a different outlook, having previously provided boaters with tech support. While onboard monitors utilize 3G to send you geofence, battery, bilge pump, shore power, and engine data every 60 seconds, they also communicate the data to a 24/7 tech support center. Boatfix experts can identify potential issues before they become problems, and when troubles do crop up, advisers are available to assist the boat owner at any time, similar to emergency assistance services in vehicles. Pricing is surprisingly reasonable with a $199 membership/hardware fee and $19.99 for monthly monitoring (or $199 per year prepaid). BoatUS Members receive exclusive savings. | Boatfix.co/BoatUS

The capable and affordable Siren Marine: Boaters looking for a monitor and control system that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg but does take advantage of modern tech will want to check out the offerings from Siren Marine. For under $1,000, you can get the hardware for a system including geofencing, high-water/bilge monitoring, entry/motion alarms, and the ability to remotely control systems with digital switching or relays installed. This cellular-based system also has optional satellite communications available. Service plans start at $17.97/month or $180/year. | sirenmarine.com

The über-secure, mega-powerful GOST Apparition SM XVR GPS: If you want the absolute ultimate in security systems for large, expensive boats, you’ll be looking at the GOST Apparition SM XVR GPS (which won a National Marine Electronics Association Product of Excellence award in 2018). System capabilities include the ability to handle up to 192 sensors, 250 relays, and 999 remote controls; both cellular and satellite communication; anti-theft alarms ranging from sirens to glycol-generated cloaking fogs; and 1080p HD video that can be livestreamed or saved (up to three months of footage) on a 4 TB hard drive. As one would expect, price corresponds with capabilities. GOST Apparition SM XVR GPS base price starts at around $9,500. | gostglobal.com

Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine