As well as being able to summon an Uber taxi or your dry-cleaning service on land, rapid changes in mobile technology has made its impact on boating safety. These advances are helping boaters access lower cost safety and navigation aids. Mobile APPs with navigation data have been available for a while, and are handy if you do not have a chartplotter.
Last year saw the introduction of some new safety tracking wristbands from a variety of manufacturers, including the OLAS Tags from Exposure Lights. When virtually ‘tethered’ with your mobile or tablet, the tags mean that sailors can track back to the point where the wristband (and its wearer) have gone overboard.
These technologies can do more for the consumer when they are integrated together and the Exposure Lights R&D team, with their heritage in specialist bike lights, have pushed this forward. The starting point was adapting LED technology for marine safety use beyond just search-lighting. Using Exposure’s patented water-activation technology, a seemingly normal high-powered torch can automatically switch on an emergency strobe when fully immersed in water. Either when thrown towards a man overboard or worn in a holster, the MOB torch activates when it hits the water.
The next step forward for boaters has been integrating LED and MOB technologies with mobile and Bluetooth. Now a very small, lightweight torch, smaller than the palm of your hand, has the capacity to help you navigate back to the position it went in the water.
A powerful light is an essential safety item for all sailors, so building in additional safety features makes sense, rather than purchasing separate devices. Through developing the OLAS wristband technology further, a ‘smart’ LED light can be actively connected to a mobile APP. When the light is separated from the mobile device, breaking the connection as in an MOB situation, the mobile alerts the crew and informs them what to do.
BLUETOOTH LOW ENERGY
The core technology lying behind this is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Using standard Bluetooth or WiFi would have high battery usage meaning the tags or torch could only last for a few days. With BLE the battery usage is minimal, which keeps the size down and enables devices like the new OLAS Float-On torch to last up to 1.5 months, continuously broadcasting and searching for water connection.
The other core technology, as contained in the OLAS App, is the integration of the mobile device’s in-built technology, such as the GPS and compass. This means the system operates effectively without any cellular signal, so that even mid-ocean your mobile will track you back to the point the device went overboard.
These devices are handy for inexperienced or novice boaters, plus many people worry how they will react in a real emergency. The OLAS App’s informative screens prompt the crew left on board back to the initial MOB position, and walk them through calling the Coastguard and recovery procedures.
Whilst these devices do not replace EPIRBs or PLBs, at sub £100, they are making safety devices more affordable to boaters who may not otherwise have purchased any tracking device.