The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” might apply to a lot of things, but it doesn’t apply to boats. Today’s owners want to know the status of their vessels at all times. During a storm, is the bilge pump working? Are the pricey multifunction displays being stolen from the helm? Will the batteries have a full charge when the ignition key is turned?
Fortunately, today’s boat monitoring systems can put an owner’s mind at ease. New features gleaned from smart car and smart house technology also give owners the ability — using smartphones or iPads — to control a number of a boat’s systems remotely, adjusting everything from lighting and climate control to refrigeration.
Siren 3 Pro
The newest iteration of Siren’s decade-strong series of boat monitoring systems is the Siren 3 Pro ($750), which adds a host of advanced connectivity features.
New for this year is the black box’s built-in NMEA 2000 connection that doesn’t need a “translator” box, allowing it to interface easily with multiple on-board switches via CZone. By the time an owner gets to the dock, items such as a gyrostabilizer can be spinning, a spool-up process that can take as long as 45 minutes.
And instead of relying on poky 3G signals to connect to smartphones, Siren 3 Pro is fully LTE compatible, which reportedly means it’s as much as 10 times faster. GPS tracking allows functions such as the geofence to alert an owner via smartphone when the boat is outside its electronic corral, and keeps the owner updated about where the boat is being taken — giving law enforcement a fighting chance of recovering the boat before it’s stripped.
Built-in satellite readiness allows an owner to add an optional SirenSat offshore antenna ($249) for long-range tracking when the vessel is out of cellphone range. This addition satisfies most insurance requirements for multiengine boats and provides enhanced theft protection.
The Siren 3 Pro uses 3.0 wireless sensors that eliminate the need to connect a slew of wires directly to the main controller. Subscription prices range from $15 a month for an annual plan to $17.97 on a month-to-month basis. Siren also offers a seasonal plan with service from April 1 to October 31 for $125. Its SirenSat service costs $300 a year.
Garmin entered the boat-monitoring business in 2020 with its OnDeck system. The hardwired black box controller is NMEA 2000 compatible and connects to Garmin’s free ActiveCaptain smartphone app, giving an owner control of as many as five switches that are N2K compatible. An extensive network of boaters uses ActiveCaptain to input information detailing hazards, points of interest and reviews for places such as boat ramps, marinas, restaurants and anchorages.
Like other top-tier monitoring systems, OnDeck monitors and reports any changes to items such as bilge pumps, shore power and battery state. It issues intruder alerts from unauthorized hatch openings, triggered by its array of wired sensors; alerts to owners are emailed or sent by SMS messaging. Should the boat’s batteries become depleted, an internal energy supply keeps the system online for 48 hours.
The OnDeck system costs $850, which includes the GTB 10 OnDeck Hub plus a door sensor, temperature sensor, shore power sensor and relay switch. The first three months are free when customers sign up for an annual subscription. After that, it’s $12.95 per month; a month-to-month subscription is $19.99.
GOST’s Specter system is a Web-based interface that uses new antennas from its IDP series to communicate with the Inmarsat Data Pro constellation of communications satellites, enabling fast and reliable tracking and monitoring anywhere in the world. The Specter interface provides near real-time tracking for fleet managers or boat owners.
The Apparition system gives larger boats an umbrella of coverage, such as tracking, surveillance, defense systems and monitoring capability. It can monitor as many as 192 sensors, along with controlling access to 32 doors or hatches. The owner can create eight partitions — in effect creating a security system within a security system — to control access on a “need to go” basis. In addition to communicating with smartphones and iPads for remote access, the system can support 16 on-board touchscreen keypads.
For wireless monitoring, the GOST Phantom system can support 64 wireless sensors and eight wireless relays, letting a boater control virtually any function of a vessel. In the event of an intrusion alert by one of the pull sensors or infrared motion sensors, as many as eight phone calls or text messages can be sent while a programmed response can control lights and alarms. For larger vessels, owners can install a wireless expansion module in places such as well-insulated engine rooms that can kill a wireless signal. This installation allows the addition of 32 more wireless monitors for items within the engine room.
GOST’s NT-Evolution IDP bundle includes a high-water sensor, a dock pull sensor for detecting intrusions, dual optical infrared beams, and a strobe light and alarm. This system notifies an owner if the batteries are disconnected or if the voltage is getting low.
GOST’s security systems can be armed with two wireless key fobs, and for off-the-grid tracking, owners can use the Specter IDP satellite system. Most GOST systems are custom installations, so pricing varies.
This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.