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How technology can aid on-board safety

Modern technology brings a number of benefits to any boat, be it leisure, commercial, sport or military, they all benefit from having various bits of tech on-board. Two of the main benefits brought with new technology are safety and convenience. From a convenience point of view, it’s easy to appreciate how using an MFD and a GPS + Autopilot makes navigating much easier in comparison to using a map and paper charts, but it isn’t essential. However, safety whilst on the water is, and anything that brings additional safety features is a benefit.

Technology that aids on-board safety is essentially a ‘safety net’ for boat owners, giving them peace of mind whilst boating. Devices that aid safety will see a lot of things that the owner cannot see, and provide a visual display which alert the owner or captain to the potentially dangerous scenario via an MFD. They can also give audible warnings for a number of scenarios, such as warnings of engine component failure, or a course collision with another vessel.

Combining human interaction and modern technology together can create a much safer environment for those on-board, and also other boat owners in the vicinity. Having this technology on-board can allow the crew to focus on other tasks, which in-turn improves efficiency on-board.

 

What devices can bring additional safety on-board?

There are a number of common devices that can be incorporated to improve safety when on the water. Devices like GPS (GNSS), AIS (Class B), Depth Sounders and Engine Monitoring Units can all be implemented to give better visibility, awareness, and an overall improvement in safety.

There is no ‘how to’ book on what tech to have on-board, as every installation is unique, and some of it does just come down to personal preference. For example, some boat owners may not want their Engine Data digitized, because they trust their analogue gauges and alarm panels. After all, technology brings a number of benefits, but there are a number of factors to be considered, including cost, reliability, and maintenance.

 

What are the fundamentals of these devices?

Many consider Automatic Identification System, or AIS for short, as the most important device on the boat. Whilst they aren’t required on small vessels, or cruising yachts, they are a great way to improve safety.

AIS is a collision-avoidance system. Every vessel fitted with AIS (either Class A or Class B), will transmit the identity, position, course, and speed in combination with other information automatically. This information is used by both other boats and shore stations. Shore stations having access to this info means that maritime safety operations can manage traffic, helping to control and reduce the number of hazards and collisions between boats that are navigating on the water.

Alongside an AIS, there is often a GPS or GNSS. The term GPS is the Global Positioning System owned by the US Government. GNSS is the Global Navigation Satellite System, which GPS and a number of other systems accumulate together to create.

GNSS devices offer extremely accurate positioning, down to less than 1metre on the most precise systems. In a mayday scenario, having an accurate position fix to provide the Coast Guard with can massively reduce search and rescue time.

The second benefit of having a positioning system on-board is navigation. In poor visibility conditions such as storms or low light, having a GPS unit or a display with GPS capability can be beneficial. When combined with systems like Autopilots and waypoints, navigating in conditions that would otherwise be impossible to traverse become achievable.

Engine Monitoring Units in combination with NMEA 2000 MFDs are a great way of monitoring the various parameters of the engine and transmission.

Sure, analogue gauges are great and simple, but they aren’t always easy to read, have to be installed in a visible location which can take up a lot of real estate, and there are optical errors to consider as well. Digitising the engine data and connecting it to an MFD which has alarms can alert the crew to any temps or pressures that are too high or low, before anything mechanical is badly damaged.

 

Is safety aiding technology a replacement for humans?

Marine electronics and the ever-evolving technology are great additions to a vessel, and as we know, bring a number of benefits. However, they can’t be used to replace humans. Even the most advanced complete systems such as a class A AIS with GPS, Sounders, Collision avoidance etc, is easily foiled by another boat without AIS. Electronic devices and systems are only able to respond to data fed to them, and function off of this data, but for those scenarios where data doesn’t make a difference, humans are required. We can see things that the devices can’t, and we can respond to poor conditions in different ways to that of electronics.

Human error is a factor, but so is device error… there may be a faulty sensor, broken part or simply corrupt data which then renders the devices useless. The crew should be trained in all equipment on board, but should also be capable of navigating and steering the vessel around traffic without electronic aid.

A perfect example of this is Autopilots. They are capable of functioning in poor conditions, but when the water is very rough or the conditions are too strong, the autopilot may not be able to adjust the vessel in time, or it may simply not have enough power to do so. In this scenario, it must be disengaged and manually captained until safe to re-engage. The crew must be trained on how to enable and disable the tracking on the Autopilot, and also how to navigate a vessel without electronic aid. Without this training, it is an accident waiting to happen.

At Actisense we strive to give you safer journeys through better data. We know safety is a top priority onboard the vessel, which is why our products are designed to give you as much data from the network as possible, whilst remaining simple to use and configure.

View our full range of NMEA Devices here.

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