With more connectable devices and more ample Wi-Fi hotspots in marinas, it’s become easier than ever to keep an eye on your boat—even when you’re not close by. “A few years ago, all you could do was alarm your boat or monitor your bilge,” says Charles Fort, associate editor of BoatUS Magazine. “And someone had to be physically present to notice a problem.”
But today, a monitoring device, along with sensors, can make nearly anything onboard “smart” and can send you alerts via text or through apps wherever you are. The result: increased protection from theft or damage. Some monitoring hardware can cost as little as $300, depending on the type and the level of sophistication. (Some can be much more expensive.) Sensors are usually purchased separately.
Sensors are also generally easy to install; the process is usually no more complicated than putting in a standard marine radio. (Look for ones labeled DIY or call your local boat shop) Not ready to go with a completely app-based system? You can have a company rig your boat with similar sensors. The company will keep tabs on those, and alert you or the marina owners of any problems—a service that costs an additional $10–$20 per month.
“These devices can give you peace of mind,” Fort says. “Just remember that the best tech isn’t foolproof, and it’s no substitute for good insurance.” Here are some of the tools Fort recommends.
1. GPS Trackers
Never wonder again about your boat’s location. These gadgets can be set to alert you if your boat leaves a specific area, so that you can notify the authorities. Having one is even more important if you tend to keep your boat trailer-ed (which makes it easier for a thief to haul away).
These monitors alert you and can be programmed to set off sirens if someone opens a door or window without first disabling the alarm. Break-in monitors are a slightly more advanced version: They can detect the shattering of glass windows or the vibrations of someone walking on the deck.
Set up these digital “trip wires” below deck and you’ll get an alert if an uninvited visitor passes through the beam.
Replace a couple of the snaps on your boat’s canvas cover with sensors; if there’s an unauthorized intrusion, you’ll get an alert, with the option for a programmable alarm.
Obviously, you want a smoke detector to sound if anyone aboard may be in danger. But when your boat’s empty, a signal from a smoke alarm could give you a vital jump on addressing the problem before it becomes unmanageable. Temperature detectors work a little differently: They can sense excessive heat (like that from a fire); they can also alert you when the temperature drops below freezing (which is important if you haven’t yet winterized your boat).
If your vessel has started to take on water, you’ll want to know. Once the water’s reached a certain level, the sensor will be triggered, and you’ll get a notice of the problem.
A battery monitor can display information like net amps, voltage, battery temperature and percentage of charge. Set up the system so you receive an alert when the battery’s running low; it could help prevent you from getting stranded.
If you keep your boat in a marina, losing shore power means electrical appliances like refrigerators, battery chargers and air conditioners will go dark. But with a shore-power monitor, you won’t have to wonder if your food has spoiled or your battery has drained due to a power outage. Plug one of these into an open outlet; if the outlet stops receiving power, the monitor can sound an alarm and be programmed to send a signal to your phone.