Sunday, May 13, 2012

Boat Beacon

When I was about 8 years old my Dad took me to see an old boat that he had been looking at.  It was a 1952 Century Resorter. It was 18 ft long and had a Chrysler marine straight 6 cylinder engine.  It was a wooden boat made out of beautiful red mahogany.  The problem was it had a broken plank in the bottom, the rudder and prop shaft were bent and the engine was torn apart and in pieces all over the boat. The boat had been neglected and was destined for the bone yard.

My Dad saw beyond the obvious condition of the boat and had visions of many fun filled weekends on the area lakes.  The other important part was that it was in his price range.  He cut a check for $300 bucks and it was ours. He rented an old flat bed trailer and hauled it home a few weeks later.  He evidently did not tell my mother about the boat purchase so when we pulled in the driveway there was a lot of screaming and door slamming.

So began the two year restoration project.  My Dad and I pulled the engine out of the boat and rebuilt it over the winter with new pistons, rings and bearings.  The boat was completely stripped of all the old varnish and sanded smooth. The whole family took part in the process except for my mother. The boat was re-stained and varnished till she shined like new.  Thousands of brass screw were removed and a new plank was fashioned for the bottom.  An old pickup frame was converted into a trailer and we were ready to for the maiden voyage.

Many lessons were learned while we restored the old boat. A classic is worth restoring, anything worth doing is worth doing right, patience, teamwork, details matter, make due with what you have, hard work is rewarded, anything can be fixed, delayed gratification and see the big picture.  I am not sure if this was my Dad's master plan but he manged to teach us all these things. In the end it turned out to be much more that a boat project.

I have some very fond memories of learning to ski behind the "Old Woody" as we use to call it.  So boating has been in my blood for a long time. 

I finally got our boats out of storage and put them in the water this weekend.  My fleet consists of a 19 ft Crownline ski boat, a 22ft S2 6.9 sailboat and a Kawasaki Jet ski.  Now I feel like the boating season has officially arrived. 

The nice thing about fiberglass boats is that there is no varnishing, just scrub them down and your ready to go. The Crownline has been a great boat and the 19ft size is just right for our family.

My two kids like to wakeboard while I am still a die hard slalom skier.  I do wakeboard also but I still get a kick out of laying down a nice edge on a ski.

Application: iPhone, iPad
Function: Marine information, AIS

Boat Beacon is an app that allows you to use your 3 or 4G iPhone or iPad to see and prevent collisions with other commercial ships and vessels.  The app was developed by Steve Bennet and Electric Pocket. Steve sails in some pretty busy water in the UK and developed Boat Beacon to keep him out of trouble.  This AIS like app requires that you have access to the Internet to work so it will only be usable in the coastal areas or on the US Great Lakes.  Many regions of the US have cell service up to 12 miles from shore.   

AIS is one of the most significant developments in the marine industry since radar.  It has been around for years and requires larger commercial ships to broadcast information about their identity, speed an course.  This system has helped tremendously with collision avoidance and safety.  Recently, AIS receivers have become popular with smaller vessels and cruisers who want to keep tabs on these commercial vessels. Special AIS receivers, software and antenna installations are required to accomplish this.  Boat Beacon makes use of this AIS data provided by other ships and brings it to your iPhone or iPad through the Internet.

I reviewed gTrax which is an Internet based AIS app quite a while ago.  Marine Traffic, AIS Hub and Ship Finder are a couple more Internet sites that use land based AIS receivers and then plot the position of the ships in that area. Not all areas are covered so make sure to check the coverage for your area.

Boat Beacon gives you the ability to have your position show up on all these sites and track other ships relative to your position. This app gives you an AIS like tracking and collision avoidance system.

It is very important to remember that you will be able to see other vessel's AIS data on your iPhone but those ships will not be able to see yours unless you have an actual AIS transponder on your boat.   Boat Beacon is not an AIS transponder.  So don't assume that you will be seen by other larger commercial traffic. Make the necessary communications with these vessels via VHF radio or adjust your course to avoid collisions.

  • Real time mapping of your vessel and other provided by AIS
  • Onscreen compass
  • Position Indication, latitude and longitude
  • SOG and COG
  • Color coded ship types
  • Ships speed and course vectors
  • Ships will flash if on collision course with you
  • Tap a ship for more information
  • Heading indication
  • Magnetic and true settings
  • Share your position information with family and friends
  • 60 Mile over the horizon using CPA (closet point of approach calculations)
  • CPA and AIS position update continuously
  • Transmit enabled allows your boat to appear to other Boat Beacon user.
  • Enable AIS sharing and acquire an MMSI number to have your boat appear on AIS sites like Marine Traffic, AIS HUB and Ship Finder.
  • Communicate with other Boat Beacon users 

Boat Beacon opens to a Google map of your immediate area and begins to show ships and AIS data.  These ship are color coded according to their type.  An on screen compass helps locate ships.  At the top of the screen latitude and longitude are displayed along with speed and course.

At the bottom of the screen you will see six icons to control the features of the app. 

To find out more information select the ship and an additional page will pop up showing vessel name, type, status, speed, course, distance, MMSI and CPA.

The first icon will take you to the Settings page. Here you can enter your ships details review your trip details, select a map type, review the users guide, map legend and make several setting changes.

The second icon is a Refresh button. Select this to refresh ship positions and AIS data.

The next icon is the Position icon. Select this to show your current position. The map will automatically center on your location.

The fourth icon is for the Compass. Select this to overlay the compass rose on the map. The compass rose shows the direction you iPhone or iPad is pointing and the map rotates accordingly. Tap the icon again to turn off the compass. The map will then automatically align to true North. There is also a setting that can be turned on to always display North up.

The magnifying glass icon is used for Searching for a vessel by name or MMSI(Maritime Mobile Service Identity)

The last icon is for turning on Transmit mode.  With this turned ON the app continuously transmits your current position and details about your vessel to the Internet.  A Green indicator light at the top of the screen will show that your data has been sent. An Amber colored light will mean some type of communication failure and Red is off.

To have your vessel show up on Internet based AIS sites like AIS-HUB, Marine Traffic and Ship Finder you will need to first acquire a valid MMSI number and turn on AIS sharing on the Settings page.

In the US a valid MMSI can be applied for through BoatSUS at their site. In the UK see Offcom MMSI.

The Boat Beacon app tracking features can be use any time you need to keep track of a group of boats. You can outfit all racers in your fleet with Boat Beacon and keep track of their position in real time.

This app is unique and has many benefits for the coastal cruiser.  When you have ships bearing down on you from all directions Boat Beacon might be a handy tool to have on board.  The way it interfaces with existing land based AIS interent sites can be confusing so make sure you understand the technology and the limitations.  At $9.99, Boat Beacon is a lot cheaper than a full blown AIS installation on your boat. If your primarily a coastal cruiser it should serve you well.

Keep safe out there!

~~~Sail On ~~~


  1. Marine Two-Way Radios Shopping at:

  2. Hi Mark,

    FYI We now have Boat Beacon available for Android Phones and tablets too! Its in the Play Store

  3. Thanks for the update, appreciate the news about an Android verions of Boat Beacon. Stop back again soon!