- March 31st, 2011
- in Yachting
New technologies enable yacht protection
One of the challenges faced by charter operators and other fleet owners is knowing the whereabouts of their vessels at any given moment. Boats get stolen; charter guests go places they shouldn't. Sometimes, boats that are supposed to be undergoing repair and maintenance are discovered to be sailing around with unauthorized personnel aboard. Managing these types of situation is the province of a number of tracking and surveillance systems that range from global GPS-powered devices to small, local systems that run off cell-phone towers.
Cay Electronics offers several systems with differing approaches to the problem. Competing for operators' attention are Sea Key, Pole Star, MarineTrack and BSM, which utilise the global GPS system to locate and communicate with ships as well as other fleet assets, such as trucks, rail cars and rental cars. Another system, available through supplier Rob Lyons, is Sea Alert, which runs off local mobile phone networks. Each of these technologies has its advantages and unique attributes, but generally perform much the same tasks albeit with bells and whistles tuned to slightly different frequencies.
The GPS-based technologies, for instance, became important post-9/11 when all vessels over 500GRT trading internationally were required to fit and activate a ship security alert system. This requirement would encompass many mega-yachts. Some systems, such as SeaKey, offer alert capabilities that will notify an owner of situations aboard a vessel, such as high water levels inside the boat or low battery levels. When underway, SeaKey will assist with mechanical problems, coordinate emergency responses and even assist with restaurant reservations.
Pole Star is more attuned to the requirements of a fleet operator who needs to track a vessel underway. It will monitor a voyage and report on average speed, course deviation and the like and allow an operator to suggest course changes derived from weather information and the like. MarineTrack offers security capabilities attractive to cruise ship and cargo fleet operators as well as large private yachts. Many of these systems offer similar capabilities such as the ability to monitor a vessel's location and establish a boundary or GeoFence around it. They differ in the scale and focus of the technologies.
One system that has carved out a niche different from these is SeaAlert, which is installed on yachts in the BVI Yacht Charters fleet, and which operates by way of the cell phone network. While this is clearly not a system you would use to follow a round-the-world racing fleet, it's ideal for a charter company whose customers rarely venture out of sight of land.
As useful as these systems are, they are not foolproof. Just try searching the Internet for GPS jammers, a category that includes mobile and Bluetooth frequencies, and you'll see what I mean. For upwards of $30 a determined villain can outfit himself with just such a device. Whether he can overcome all the defenses of the systems we are discussing remains proprietary information, of course, but the potential for mayhem is clear.
Absent such villainy, however, these are useful technologies that serve to enhance the safety and security of sailors and their guests whilst enabling owners and operators to track and monitor their vessels. Given these capabilities, it is simply a matter of finding the right system at the best price.