CrewWatcher Bluetooth MOB Alarm System
By Tom Burden, Last updated: 1/27/2018
There's an app for that!
Other Articles on Connected Boat/Smart Boat Technology
There's a new Connected Boat app called CrewWatcher that lets a skipper know if someone in your crew goes overboard. Crew-overboard systems like this, using small electronic beacons worn on your foul weather gear, are not new. The CrewWatcher system is, and it's the best and simplest application we've seen yet.
Sail Magazine Pittman Overall Winner in 2017
Sail Magazine's Electronics Editor, Ben Ellison, wondered at first about CrewWatcher, "Does it make sense to use smartphones and tablets for a man overboard alarm and recovery system? I can testify that the first reaction of Sail Magazine’s Pittman Innovation Award judges was skepticism. Nonetheless we found PanPan’s CrewWatcher so well thought out and potentially so useful that we gave it an award in the safety category, and then an independent second set of judges picked it for the Overall Winner."
The author of this article, as one of those three independent judges, was "especially impressed with the CrewWatcher’s ease of use" as Ben Ellison reported.
Just clip one of these beacons to each person's life jacket, download the app and pair the beacon with your smartphone.
Clip the CrewWatcher beacon to your life jacket, in as high of a location as possible so it can be above water.
Every member of your crew can wear one!
Just small beacons and your smartphone
CrewWatcher has only one component, a small, Bluetooth beacon. Each person onboard carries one, attached to a strap within their life jacket, preferrably as high as possible.
The other component is your mobile phone, equipped with the CrewWatcher iOS or Android app you have downloaded. Set the system up by simply holding the beacon against your phone and it will pair automatically using Bluetooth 4.2. This is the low energy variant of Bluetooth which has increased range, up to 200 meters. After pairing, you can assign a name to each beacon.
How it works
Every second, the phone checks if the beacon is not in the water and if the connection is not lost. If an activated beacon detects water or loses its signal, the app will automatically sound a “Man overboard" alarm within three seconds.
The alarm gets increasingly urgent over time, even if your phone is set to silent mode. In the confirmation screen you are presented with the three most urgent actions as a reminder: 1. Start the Rescue by pressing the screen, 2. Throw a Life Buoy and Flare, 3. Send a DSC Distress Alert using your VHF radio. In addition to the alarm, your phone or tablet will vibrate and flash its camera strobe light.
Once you hit the onscreen button confirming the MOB alarm, your phone will display a compass rose and pointer, guiding you in the direction of the person in the water. When your boat has returned to the "point of loss", where your crew member splashed down, CrewWatcher continues with updated position data. It shows an estimated search area (based on estimates of ocean current). As long as your overboard person's beacon is above the waves, it will continue to send position updates.
Batteries in each of the small beacons are rated to last at least three years. Battery life varies depending on hull material, with steel and aluminum creating more signal resistance, lowering battery life and slightly reducing the range (if your phone needs to receive the signal through the hull). The manufacturer estimates real-world battery life at up to nine years. Also, the app shows the beacon's battery percentage and it updates every time CrewWatcher is enabled.
Other connected MOB products
CrewWatcher is similar to the Fell Marine Wireless Engine Cutoff Switch, but that product includes a dashboard hub that also kills your boat's outboard motor. See The Virtual Kill Switch for more about this product. Fell Marine's device, like the CrewWatcher, costs less than $200 for a basic kit.