Boat Security & Monitoring Systems: Connected Boat Basics

boat security systems

Thanks to the Internet of Things, boat ownership has become better than ever before. How can having a connected boat improve the experience? In a number of ways, but it’s most evident when considering security and monitoring.

basic boat monitoring systems
Photo Courtesy: NAUTIC-ON

With a connected boat, you always know where your boat is located and what its status is. In some cases, you may even be able to “use” your boat from afar, with remote control.

What is a Boat Monitoring System?

The most basic boat monitoring systems consist of simple GPS tracking abilities. These systems may communicate via satellite or cellular services, but are limited to monitoring your boat’s location and displaying it on Google Maps or in a similar format.

Some do have additional functions, which may include an alert mode (that sends you a text message if your boat moves outside a geofence) or a very limited messaging ability that you can use to alert pre-designated recipients of your position, speed, and direction of travel.

The hardware for basic remote monitoring systems can go for as little as $50 to as much as $1,000. It’s important to remember, however, that monthly service plans are usually required to keep the systems active. Since the data they use is so limited these plans are commonly quite inexpensive, starting at around $10 a month, and in some cases can be limited for seasonal use.

Marine GPS for Boats: Understanding the Basics


Mid-Level Boat Monitoring Systems

More advanced systems incorporating a base station and some sensors can greatly expand the utility of your monitoring and security.

In most cases, the base station and sensors for things like bilge water level, battery charge level, or entry alarms, can communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth or WiFi. Then the base station communicates with the IoT via satellite, WiFi, or cellular. When there’s an event that needs your attention—say, a battery goes dead—you receive a text, email, or alert on an app. These systems all include basic geofence and tracking functions, as well.

Since having a connected boat is a relatively new ability, most people currently using these systems have had them added to their boats as aftermarket marine electronics accessories. This is rapidly changing, however, and many major boat manufacturers have begun offering them as factory-installed options. In a few cases, they’re even included as standard equipment.

Yes, stepping up to this level will cost more than basic monitoring devices, but some fairly comprehensive systems can be assembled for around $1,000 with subscription plans starting at about $18 a month. And it’s important to remember that the costs of boat ownership can actually be reduced overall, thanks to these systems.

Let’s say, for example, that your boat’s kept in a wet slip, the scuppers become clogged for some reason, and a heavy rain storm raises the water level in the bilge above normal. You’ll be notified long before any damage can occur so you can nip the situation in the bud, preventing the need for repairs and/or insurance claims down the road.

boat monitoring systems
Photo Courtesy: Siren Marine

Advanced Boat Monitoring & Control Systems

Roll all of the abilities of basic and middle-level options together and then add in remote control abilities, and you have an advanced monitoring and control system that connects your boat with the wider world.

  • Interacting with your boat from afar, usually through an app on your cell phone or tablet, you can trigger the light switches, turn on the air conditioning, or even turn off the engines.
  • This functionality goes hand in hand with digital switching, which replaces all the toggle switches and buttons for “virtual” switches that you activate via a touch-screen display.
  • Digital switching systems are still a relatively new thing to boats, but after appearing a few years ago have quickly become more and more common.

Naturally, they’re usually seen on larger, more expensive boats, though as is usually the case with new tech it’s slowly working its way down through the product lines of many builders towards smaller, less expensive boats.

Since boats with digital switching are already wired to allow for touch-screen control it’s simple for a monitoring and control system to interface with them. However, if your boat or one you’re considering buying has old-fashioned wired switches, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the same functionality. Digital relays (available in both AC and DC) can be added to specific switches to enable controlling them remotely, the very same way.

Should You Invest in Boat Security & Monitoring?

Is a remote boat monitoring and control system worth the expense? Naturally, that’s entirely up to you. But it’s safe to say that for boaters who can’t drop by their boat and see it with their own eyes every few days, systems like these provide a lot of peace of mind. And for you gadget lovers out there, it can give the term “remote controlled boat” an entirely new meaning.

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