I was sipping whiskey with a friend at the marina bar the other day. In my glass was a smooth blend of American and Canadian elixir over ice, ideal for whiling away some downtime. The sun was pleasantly warm and the breeze was gentle, barely rustling the tiki thatch overhead. And then my buddy started telling me a pretty sobering story.
A boat from our marina had been found adrift earlier that month, 15 or so miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, with nobody on board and gaping holes where there were once beautiful glass helm electronics displays. What he told me next raised more than my passing attention.
“There was a heavy-duty pickup parked by my boat slip,” he said indicating the one closest to shore. “I hadn’t seen it around before. When I got out of my truck, the other driver started firing off questions.”
“‘That’s new?’ The stranger asked, pointing at my boat. “‘When did you get it?’”
The ice jingled as I set down my glass, and my friend continued.
“‘How much did you pay for it? What kind of electronics are on it?’”
“Who are you?” my friend asked the stranger. “He had a quick answer, said he used to live in the area but had been gone awhile, which is why I hadn’t seen him around.”
“What did you do?” I asked, as I signaled the bartender by pushing my empty glass his way.
“I remembered a device I had in my truck. I moved it off the boat that I just traded for that one. Here, look.”
He held out his smartphone; on it was an app showing a chart. Orange dots marked a trail on it, which from my fishing experience I knew ended on a drop-off about 25 miles offshore.
“Bottomfishing?” I asked. “In your new battlewagon?” The bartender placed a napkin and my freshened cocktail on the bar.
“The kids were here; we wanted some fast fish and plenty of action,” he said almost apologetically.
“So you have a satellite tracker to prevent theft on your boat?” It was clear he wasn’t getting cellular coverage that far out. He told me how it worked.
The device is a Spot Trace, a small transmitter less than 2 inches square and only about an inch thick. When you turn it on, it takes a few minutes to connect to GPS and satellite networks. Once it does, it sends a position update, and then goes relatively dormant for 24 hours until it sends an asset status update with GPS coordinates telling you, in short, that your boat is still where you left it.
But if someone rocks the boat, it wakes up, looks for signs of motion via GPS network, and begins transmitting its position to the Globalstar satellite network, which, in turn, sends it to a predesignated mobile phone or email.
Status updates can be sent at intervals of two and a half minutes (using the Extreme Tracking upgrade) or from five to as long as 60 minutes apart. Dock Mode allows authorized users to move the boat up to 200 meters for fueling or service before alerting the owner. Once costing as much as $150, the device is now advertised at around $100, and tracking plans start at $150 per year.
Theft might stir the most visceral reaction to a loss, and in Florida alone, more than 1,500 boats were stolen in 2015. According to BoatUS, boat theft is the ninth-ranking cause for insurance claims in the United States. However, theft often results in the highest payouts because the loss is complete, or, if the boat is recovered, it is so damaged from the process of stripping it that it’s declared a total loss.
The Spot Trace device is a quick and easy way to track your boat in case of unauthorized movement. My buddy reactivated his on findmespot.com and linked it to the Spot Trace mobile app on his smartphone. He was up and running with the device in a few minutes.
Spot Trace runs on four AAA lithium-ion batteries for up to 45 days. A watertight 12- or 24-volt power cord is also available for hard-wiring the device. Should that power be cut, the batteries will take over. Like a mobile phone, it can communicate through fiberglass and works just fine under a hatch or hidden in a compartment. Sinking and fire are higher risks, especially in boats that are left unattended.
In the August/September 2017 issue, we covered satellite-based services that can monitor other problems, such as loss of power, flooding that leads to sinking, or onboard fire. GOST Global Systems offers monitoring equipment that uses cellular and satellite communications to relay warnings for high bilge water, fire and other hazards. GPLink is another strong candidate that uses both cellular and satellite monitoring to keep your boat safe. Its system even integrates engine information to allow technicians to remotely monitor engines and diagnose operating problems.