Manufacturing guy-at-large.

What I want my sailboat to tell me.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I only own a racing dinghy - a standard Laser - but I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the challenges of owning a midsized racer/cruiser. I'm thinking in particular about boats in the 25-50 foot range, whose owners who use them for recreation only. In my experience, a boat can become just like a second house - except that you don't live there, and a lot of what you do when you're there is maintain it. It's also particularly difficult to monitor, though with improvements in wireless technology and low-power sensor networks, there are a lot of opportunities in this space.

There are currently a few services for monitoring boat status. Siren Marine's products are especially cool, offering position/geofencing alerts, bilge activity, temperature battery monitoring, and basic security features - all accessible from an iOS app. BoatMonitor offers mooring/anchorage geofencing alerts too, though their system requires a smartphone or tablet to be left powered on onboard the boat. Gost Global offers what appears to be a robust marine security system, aimed specifically at protection from theft.

Of the three, Siren comes closest to what I would want: A full marine monitoring suite which treats a boat like Nest treats a home. In addition to what Siren, BoatMonitor and Gost give me, I would want access to the level of every consumable (fuel, water, cooking gas) onboard; a variety of exterior environmental monitors; detailed data on bilge and sump pump usage; a variety of sensor data from the living cabin; and the ability to trigger any number of onboard instruments and functions from a remote location. If you'll excuse the "x for y" analogy, it's Canary for your boat. Here, in more detail:

  • Quantity of available drinking water
  • Quantity of available fuel
  • Quantity of available cooking fuel (LPG)
  • Waste holding tank status
  • Boat bearing
  • Wind direction/speed
  • Barometric pressure
  • Wave height
  • GPS location (optimally via GPS RTK
  • Cabin temperature
  • Cabin humidity (taken in multiple locations to isolate potential leaks/open hatches)
  • Presence of fuel in the bilge
  • Presence of microbes in the bilge
  • Sound level in the cabin
  • Vibration on the mast/shrouds (useful for detecting rigging failure) 
  • Vibration on the hull (useful for detecting that the boat has run aground/been struck by another vessel) 
  • Cabin entry monitoring
  • Remote circuit breaker control
  • Most recent bilge/sump pump activity & duration
  • Bilge/sump water level

Most of these factors I'd want current and historical data on, so I could see, for instance, a sharp spike in cabin humidity due to a leak. I'd also insist that the entire system be self sustaining via solar cells or wind power - there's too much of each of those for me to be draining my batteries to power a couple of sensors and a GSM antenna.

I'm hoping to be working more on this system in the coming months, and will update my progress as I do.