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Boat theft solution - low cost boat monitoring

'Don’t let this happen to your boat'    Directlink

It was a media report about an expensive yacht that was stolen from the Mornington Peninsula that got David Mott thinking. The yacht’s desperate owner hired a spotter plane to try and find his vessel, which was later found abandoned on Tasmania’s East Coast. Mott had been an electronics engineer and thought: ‘surely there must be a technology answer to this’.

Mott knew what he wanted: a low cost boat monitoring system that alerted the owner if the boat was at risk. As the owner of a yacht on a swing mooring, he understood the importance of designing a system that had very low power consumption.

He wanted a system that would tell the owner exactly what the problem was, whether this was theft, break-in, fire, low battery or water in the bilge. There was no point an owner calling the Fire Department to find a stolen boat, and the police wouldn’t appreciate being called out to look at a low battery.

He researched the boat monitoring systems that were available on the market and carefully analysed their weak points. He knew that if he could come up with a product that solved the problems with existing systems he would be onto a winner. He decided there were three main problems that he needed to address: complexity, cost and power consumption.

‘The ones that were around were very complicated and often included all sorts of additional features that very few people would ever use …But more importantly they drew a lot of power. This means that you either have to have a very expensive recharging system (such as a very large solar cell) or you have to keep going down to your boat to start the engine to charge the battery up, otherwise the system would flatten the battery.’

The new BMS07 boat monitoring system -  Directlink?nid=36000  

This is a critical issue for a boat on a swing mooring or a powerboat on a trailer in the street.

Another problem was cost. Some of the boat monitoring systems looked quite cheap initially, but they required the boat owner to enter into an expensive long term monitoring contract. When you factor this in, and add the cost of an expensive recharging system, the total cost of the system became very high.

Mott designed a series of prototypes and eventually ended up with a product which he named the BMS07 Boat Monitoring System. The system will send an SMS to up to two mobile phones if the boat is towed, sailed or driven away or breaks from its mooring. If you connect other sensors to the BMS07 you will also receive an SMS if they detect break in, water in the bilge, fire or a low battery. It’s like giving your boat a mobile phone and the ability to tell you what’s happening when you are not there.

Mott says the unique design feature of the new product is its low power consumption; BMS07 uses just 1.6mA while monitoring the sensor inputs. As the system’s GPS unit (which is used for movement detection and tracking) draws the most power, the BMS07 powers it up every 15 minutes and switches it off as soon as it obtains a position.

This all means that ‘it draws a very, very small amount of current so it can run off its own small battery. Depending on the amount of sun that your boat receives, and the sensors that you use, you would only need something like a small 5 watt solar cell, which you can buy for $80, to keep the battery charged and the system running indefinitely.’

The BMS07 is very easy to configure and is operated using a single hidden arm/disarm switch.

‘It’s not like your latest fish finder with all the lights and flashing displays. It’s designed to be hidden away and work as your silent partner in the background.

‘If you have a boat on a mooring, nobody has actually got to break in to steal it. They can come up to your boat, unhook you from the mooring, and tow you away.’ When this occurs, no alarm will be triggered. You can only detect this by looking at changes in the boat’s location.

The movement and tracking system works a bit like an anchor drag alarm. The system knows where the boat is and it understands that a certain amount of movement inside this location is ok. Obviously you don’t want the system triggering whenever the boat swings on its mooring or the GPS unit drifts (fluctuations in GPS co-ordinates not caused by movement of the GPS unit).

The BMS07 boat monitoring system -  Directlink?nid=36000  

But if the boat moves outside this acceptable range then the tracking device activates. ‘Once it realises it’s being towed or driven away, it will then turn the GPS on every 10 minutes, get a reading and SMS the GPS position to up to two mobile phones.’

‘And you can then ring the water police, coast guard or even get in a water taxi and go after your own boat and track it down!’

The unit comes with reed switches for the hatches, so if a hatch is opened a siren will activate and you will receive an SMS Alarm message. While hatch sensors are used to keep the power consumption down, if you don’t want to run wires to your hatches, you can hook up different alarm sensors (for example passive infra red detectors).

So that you can be sure that the system is on, and armed, it sends you an SMS active message on a regular basis along with the current GPS position of your boat.

Another benefit of the BMS07 Boat Monitoring System is that is modular: you can hook it up to other sensors to monitor a range of risks. For example, you could connect smoke detectors so that you will receive an SMS if smoke is detected.

Fire can spread from a nearby boat, particularly a vessel moored alongside at a marina, or you may have a problem onboard with a smouldering electrical fire. Either way an early warning will give you a much better chance of being able to do something about it.

As well as inputs for fire and theft sensors, the system has a bilge water sensor input. Mott decided to include this after his own boat sprang a leak.

‘We had an experience where we broke a seacock on our boat and the water started coming in. I thought ‘imagine if this happened when we weren’t there, the boat would just sink without anyone knowing about it.’

‘Even if you started with a fully charged 80aH battery attached to a 1500GPH bilge pump, the boat would sink in 10-12 hours, and this is assuming that the bilge pump motor does not burn out before the battery is exhausted.’

Finally there is the option of linking low battery sensors up to the BMS07 monitoring system. A low battery warning can be critical, especially where the battery being monitored is used to power safety equipment (like your bilge pumps).

Despite having the option to manufacture the unit in Asia at a much lower price, Mott has elected to produce it here.

‘It’s 100% designed and built in Australia…It sounds a bit cheesy, but I really wanted to keep the jobs here.’

The unit was launched in May and is being sold through an online distributor- Technology Wherever I Go, TWIG Solutions- and specialist chandleries.

‘The basic system comes with the main module and wiring loom, a GPS unit, GSM antenna, reed switches and a siren. That gives you a basic alarm, plus the tow away and tracking functions for $900 plus GST, so $990.’ You only need to add a SIM card, a battery and wire for the reed switches. Sensors for the bilge, smoke and low battery inputs can be obtained from electronics stores or marine outlets.

‘The BMS07 is normally AUD $1200 (inc GST) but we’ve started off with an introductory price of under a thousand dollars. When you look at the features, and the low total cost, that is unbelievably competitive.’

Contact details:
Direct Link Monitoring Systems
Level 11 Tower B
Zenith Centre
821 Pacific Highway
Chatswood NSW 2067 Australia
Telephone: (02) 8448 2042
Fax: (02) 8448 2010
TWIG Solutions

by Helen Hopcroft


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10:40 PM Mon 23 Jul 2007 GMT

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