The Boat Nerd: Remote Boat monitoring

Inconceivable Interface

Mar 11, 2021

Courtesy Barnacle Systems

How do you know what’s happening with your boat when you’re not on board? This is especially trying in the Covid world we find ourselves in when many of us may not be able to get back to our boats!

Well the good news is that there are two companies, Barnacle Systems, the makers of BRNKL (pronounced Barnacle), and Floathub, that can help. Both companies have some features in common and innovations all their own.

Floathub HardwareCourtesy Floathub

I became aware of Floathub about five years ago when they did a Kickstarter offering. Based in Washington DC, Floathub is both a piece of hardware fitted to your boat and a website where you have an account that allows you to see information about your boat on a dashboard. They have a free account with basic information and then monthly ($9.99) and yearly ($99.99) paid accounts. The paid accounts give you access to more historic data and greater alerting capability.

As part of the Kickstarter program, I received a Wifi only module that I installed on our boat in St Maarten. When the boat is in the lagoon I typically have Wifi connectivity and can check battery voltages, bilge operation (hopefully non-operation!) and watch its track when she goes to the yard for hurricane season.

The yellow Floathub module comes in a Wifi only version (US$139) if you have good access to Wifi for the period where you want to keep an eye on your boat, or a cellular version (US$239) that will allow you to see your boat’s information no matter where it is.

Floathub InterfaceOnce hooked to power, batteries and bilge pumps, the module broadcasts to your account on the Floathub website, GPS position, SOG, COG, voltage of up to three batteries, number of bilge pump actuations for up to three bilge pumps, temperature, and barometric pressure. If you hook up NMEA 0183 low speed (4800 baud) or High Speed (38.4) you can see boat information such as wind speed and direction or AIS targets.

Floathub modules can also act as a NMEA server allowing an app or navigation software to connect as a client and receive the NMEA data over Wifi. Should the boat move, the trip is captured and displayed on your account page with map overlay. Floathub does have agreements with cell providers such that for US$99/yr you can get connectivity from the module to their website pretty much anywhere there is cell coverage (for this cost there is a reasonable data limit).

I first heard about Barnacle Systems, the Victoria BC based company, from a press release fall of 2020 and I then attended their virtual presentation in January at the Toronto International Boat Show.

Barnacle Systems was founded in 2017 by Brandon Wright after his 27’ sailboat Inconceivable broke loose from its mooring and washed up on the beach. Brandon started looking for products to allow him to remotely monitor his boat and found none that gave him the capability he was after. With a background in electrical engineering and remote surveillance Brandon started the company to fill void in the market. BRNKL is proudly made in Canada with manufacturing done in Vancouver and final assembly completed at their headquarters in Victoria.

Since then, Barnacle Systems has won many awards for their BRNKL product including Pacific Yachting’s Most Innovative Product 2019, and they were recently named “Top 10 most Innovative Marine Companies for 2020” by Soundings Trade Only. This Top 10 list includes companies such as Mercury Marine, Garmin and Volvo Penta. Further more they were the first-ever marine electronics company to exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Las Vegas in 2019 and 2020.

Barnacle’s security and remote monitoring system consists of a base unit (BRNKL and camera for C$1245), with a cellular connection, that transmits data, photos, and alarms to an app on your mobile device (IOS and Android). A recent addition, The Mate (C$375), expands the offerings to allow third party wireless home monitoring devices (typically ~C$40) to be part of the system.

BRNKL External CameraBRNKL camera

The BRNKL out-of-the-box provides the following features

• Camera
• GPS tracking with anchor drag alerts
• Battery monitoring
• Bilge monitoring
• Temperature, humidity, barometric pressure sensors
• Impact sensor
• Pitch and heel sensor

Supported accessories

• Shore power sensors
• Door/window sensors
• Pressure mat
• Key fob and siren
• Motion sensors
• Smoke sensors

The BRNKL has a small form factor making it easy to install discretely in electronic or equipment cabinets . This also makes it very difficult to locate or destroy if unwanted intruders board your boat.

At the time of writing, BRNKL has transmitted data from boats in over 20 countries through its global cellular plan ($300/yr). This has allowed boaters to leave their boats in exotic destinations losing track of what’s happening on board. As long as your boat is in range of cellular service the BRNKL will transmit updates and alerts to the BRNKL app. An added benefit is that in the unlikely event that your boat is stolen, the system seamlessly crosses borders allowing you and the authorities to track the vessel in real-time.

As Floathub can generate alerts to the user, so too does BRNKL. If a problem is detected onboard your boat, you will receive a real-time notification to your mobile device and computer. These come as a push notification and/or an email. You can share access to your boat data with friends or family, which is useful if you are traveling and leaving your boat unattended.
Through BRNKL’s bilge monitoring, you can get the system to generate an alert to your mobile device if your pumps are running frequently or for long durations. For further peace of mind, you can add a high water switch located above your bilge pump and connect it to the BRNKL. This will allow you to receive an alert indicating that your bilge pump has failed or that your pumps can’t keep up with the incoming water hopefully preventing major damage and the total loss of your boat. 

The BRNKL protects your boat from loss of power in two ways. In the event the voltage from your main house battery (or monitored start battery) is dropping you will receive an alarm indicating the situation could be getting serious. Without the house battery you would have no bilge pump and a slow leak could potentially sink the vessel. The BRNKL has an internal battery so that in the event that your boat battery should die completely, you can still get alarms for a further 24 hours.

Knowing your boat’s position is always useful, whether for anchoring or security. With the app you can set a “geofence” and if your boat exceeds that distance, you will receive an alert that you are dragging or the boat underway. As mentioned above, you can then track the boat in real time.

BRNKL MateWith the addition of motion detectors, door sensors, laser break beams and a siren you also now have a full-featured security system. As mentioned above, adding the MATE unit to the BRNKL, a variety of third party home wireless sensors can be added. These sensors should have a battery life in excess of one year and will alarm on the app when they’re getting low and need replacement. When an unwanted guest is detected by motion, door opening or breaking a beam, a picture of the intruder can be captured and the siren sounded to scare the person away before he has time to remove any equipment.

Cruiser/bloggers Paul & Sheryl Shard on Distant Shores III and S/V Delos are two vessels benefitting from the BRNKL system. As I learned more about the system, I especially liked the camera capability and security function of the BRNKL system and will be installing one on our boat down south as soon as travel restarts.

With all the monitoring of your vessel possible with this system, check with your insurance agent as you may be able to get a reduction in your premium.

The Canadian Coast Guard was so enthused with what they saw in the BRNKL product, that they asked the company to produce a self contained unit in a robust pelican case with a solar panel to allow the CCG to easily monitor derelict vessels remotely.

For more information and video demonstrating the Floathub system go here.

For more information and videos demonstrating the BRNKL system go here.

The Boat NerdCYOB’s Boat Nerd, Mike Wheatstone, has enjoyed sailing since he was in his mid teens. He bought his first boat in 1980, a Shark. With the growing family’s 2-foot-itis saw upgrades to a Grampian 26, CS34 and finally a Hunter36. A retired electrical engineer, Mike and his wife spend summers on the Hunter (Dragonfyre) and winters in the Caribbean on their Leopard 43 cat (Peregrine).

Got a question or comment for Mike? Please send them along to cyonboard@kerrwil.com and put “Nerd” in the subject line.

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