Boat Monitor, anchor watch in the cloud


It’s obviously not practical to anchor in Camden’s Inner Harbor — especially as there are often two Gizmo-size boats on each of those floats — but it was a good first taste of Boat Monitor, a very interesting new remote anchor watch system. What’s happening here is that I used Gizmo’s low-power Datalux police car computer (seen in yesterday’s entry, and also here) to log onto Boat Monitor’s web site and establish a sophisticated anchor watch keyed to a Garmin 17x GPS connected via NMEA 2000. Boat Monitor’s server then started minding Gizmo’s position, ready to serve it elsewhere and/or send alarms as needed. One possibility is this $5 app on my Android phone, but there are others. The details and flexibility are impressive…

For instance, I could have monitored Gizmo from my home PC or a laptop, and the whole deal would have been free. Or — and I tried this — I could have set up the anchor watch on the phone itself, completely independent of the boat’s GPS and Internet connection, and then left the phone on the boat so I could monitor it ashore with some other device. Almost needless to say, Boat Monitor has iOS apps in the works.
   And check out the anchor watch details, which I’ve tried to illustrate in the collage below. You do have register at Boat Monitor and also install the free client version of GPS Gate to use a PC as the monitor source, but it’s especially simple after that. (GPS Gate is elegant as usual, and now includes the ability to push GPS info to a browser while still serving it to other programs.) When you tell the Boat Monitor site that you want to establish an anchor watch it gives you a choice of using the current position or one based on heading and distance from your boat (1). As we’ve discussed before, you’ll probably want to do the latter (2) to get a more accurate picture of where your boat lays relative to your hook. Then, just before you actually set the anchor alarm, Boat Monitor nicely starts averaging fixes (3), which you can either override or wait until it’s satisfied. And finally you establish the radius from the anchor that matches your scope and comfort level (4). Then you’re done, ready to head ashore and enjoy yourself knowing you’ll get an SMS alarm if there’s a problem or that you can get a “visual” if you have the app or a compatible browser with you.
   Actually the SMS messages aren’t working yet, and, in fact, Boat Monitor is still in Beta, but the ambitions are clear. For instance, developer Kevin Suggitt tells me that the ability to cut pie slices out of the alarm circle — so you’ll know if your boat swings radically to wind or tide, as illustrated in that earlier discussion — is high on the feature road map. And the Boat Monitor FAQ mentions a coming bilge level alarm based on a relationship with Sentram Solution’s TextR system (which I just heard about). This all reminds of what I imagine is possible with Garmin’s new GDL 40 N2K cellular device, but of course that’s just in my imagination at the moment. It seems like most anyone with the needed boat and shore connections will want to give Boat Monitor a look. It is still in Beta, and I did run into a glitch today — quickly fixed by Kevin — but I’m guessing a gang of Panbots can help squish the bugs in jig time πŸ˜‰


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

16 Responses

  1. Timg says:

    I look forward to the iOS version. We sit on the hook hundreds of hours every year and it would be very handy to have an alarm at my bedside via iPhone.

  2. Christopher says:

    While you mention “to get a more accurate picture of where your boat lays relative to your hook.” What is equally attractive and perhaps more lucrative for the Boat Monitor folks is to get a more accurate picture of where your boat lays relative to your dock.
    Current boat location monitoring systems carry service price tags which annually approach the cost of our total loss insurance premium, not to mention the capital expense and proprietary technologies.
    For those of us without megayachts, and their associated cash flows, this App looks quite attractive. So for me, the question is how do I use my about to be surplus, but still useful, Droid, in place of the Datalux PC?

  3. Christopher says:

    Clarification. My comment about the Droid was not technical, but rather about how I get my cellular service provider to allow this in the current data plan restructuring they are issuing us.

  4. Keith says:

    If you use a cellphone or iPad, there is a significant cost, as you now need two smartphones for this service, thus the monthly fees for the smartphone you leave on the boat. I’m not sure one would want to purchase a smartphone just for this service, which would not be a dedicated device for this functionality.

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Christopher and Keith; minimizing data plan costs is certainly an important issue if, say, you’re not a two smart phone cruising crew using something like Boat Monitor only for occasional anchor duty. It’s one of the reasons that I think big companies like Garmin have an opportunity with dedicated cellular devices that include a negotiated data plan. Imagine the deal Amazon must have that it can sell a Kindle with life-of-device 3G service included for only $50 extra.
    Also I’ve become aware of a company called Vigil Geo that’s developed a line of GSM marine monitoring products with the claim “No monitoring fees! Pay only for monthly Simcard, nothing more.”
    Frankly, I don’t really understand how that works but I have emailed a bit with Vigil, who wrote:
    “Our products are designed to work on any 2G or 2.5G GSM network, such as AT&T and T-Mobile.
    You can use either pre-paid or post-paid cards. We have these units all over the world and have particularly well developed solutions for post-paid cards that are working very successfully in the Caribbean and Americas. We expect to soon be offering a very competitive plan using AT&T and T-Mobile capability in the one Simcard…”
    Can anyone put the Vigil offering in dollars and cents terms?

  6. Cattledog says:

    App called Anchor Watch (free) and Pro version ($1.65) and does SMS. Works well and it seems reliable.

  7. Christopher says:

    Ben, thanks. We are a three smartphone crew. One Droid, I didn’t turn in when the contract was up. We are negotiating with the Big Honking Network Company to service it as a low rate data only device (with SMS counting as data). The problem is the BHNC can’t handle special cases very well. At this point their position is $30 a mo per phone for data take it or leave it.
    That drives one of two outcomes. Pay for well beyond what you need in their rate structure or go to specialized networks and pay well beyond what seems reasonable for fragile networks and really very little data transfer.
    If one considers the cents per “tweet” in social-land vis the cents per position report in nav-land, the nav-landers don’t fare so well. While some of that is a reality of small business capitalization costs, a big part still seems to be boaters have deep pockets and dig while the digging is good.
    Life would be so boring without technology…

  8. KevinS says:

    Ben, thanks for the insightful review. I thought I’d add that with Boat Monitor you can also use wi-fi internet for the onboard device or the on-shore device, on smartphones, computers, tablets, even iPod touch. Obviously for the onboard device this only works in harbors where wi-fi is available, and this can cost as well.
    There are a few others systems I’m aware of that are (roughly) in the same category as Vigil and TextR (mentioned above):
    We’re working on making Boat Monitor so it can communicate with all of these systems so users can get alerts on the map interface, and send commands to the devices using simple menus instead of sending cryptic SMS codes.

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sounds interesting, Kevin.
    Cattledog, I’m guessing you mean Anchor Watch by lukassen: I just bought the $2 iPad version and will give it a try.

  10. Norton Rider says:

    I think the monthly cost for a Vigil Geo system can be very low if a sim card from a prepaid cellular service is used. For example, the Tracfone website shows the cost can be less than $7/month if one purchases the 60 Minutes & 90 Days of Service card:
    Here’s an explanation of how they treat data:

  11. KevinS says:

    A quick update on Boat Monitor:
    We just released the iOS app this week, you can find it on the App Store / iTunes in the navigation category, or search for boat monitor.
    Added the ‘exclusion zone’ feature, so you can easily remove a piece from the pie of your anchor radius circle. Makes it easy to receive an alert when the wind/current shifts.

  12. Timg says:

    Perfect timing for the weeked to give it a test run. Downloading it now!

  13. timg says:

    Well I have tried boat monitor for a few weeks now and sad to say that I didn’t realize when I downloaded it that it wouldn’t perform as a standalone (non-internet connected) anchor monitor. I wanted to run the app while I am on the boat sleeping to warn me if the anchor drags but I routinely anchor out in remote areas and if it doesn’t have an internet connection it will not work. I purchased it more for two features, the exclusion zone feature and the ability to tell it the direction and distance the anchor set from your current location.
    It works great within internet coverage, but if you have spotty coverage as I do I do not recommend it. When it lost internet coverage it locked up my iPhone several times with server errors.

  14. KevinS says:

    Thanks Tim for the feedback. Boat Monitor was primarily designed as a remote monitoring system which requires an internet connection (cell data or wi-fi) because this is necessary for remote monitoring, with the understanding that there are a number of other apps already available for iOS and Android that do local anchor monitoring while you are onboard. However we have had a number of requests recently for local (offline) anchor monitor functionality so we are investigating how to best make this happen.

  15. timg says:

    Please let us know if you modify it to work offline, I love the capabilities it can provide but rarely anchor within wifi or cellular range.

  16. Peter says:

    I tried to download the iPhone applications today, but it is not there. I tried on my Macbook, and get a message saying it is not available in the US. Is this just vaporware?

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