On Board Security Systems

Three levels of options for protecting your boat from even the most determined criminals

We have all seen the notices at the marinas and in our club newsletters to “lock out crime.” Break-ins are on the rise and there are a bunch of new products on the market to help you protect your boat. Not only can you monitor for thieves, but you can also install sensors to monitor for fire, bilge-water level, loss of shore power or engine room temperature. All of this data can then be sent directly to your iProduct or Smartphone.

The first thing to look for is a system that is designed specifically for the marine environment—having your brother-in-law install a car system is not ideal. Then decide what you want to monitor and how extensive you want the system to be.

Basic  The most basic security system consists of sensors on your door latch and hatches, a key fob and an alarm. This is only effective if there is someone at the marina who is able to respond. If you are going to take the time and money to install an anti theft system, you should consider installing additional sensors.

For example, a high water sensor is installed in the bilge slightly below the boat’s existing high water sensor and will alert you to rising water levels. A low voltage sensor will trigger an alarm when the voltage drops below 11.6 volts (on a 12-volt sensor) or 23.2 volts (on a 24-volt sensor) for more than two minutes. Most sensors will monitor any 12-volt or 24-volt battery bank. An engine room temperature sensor will alert you to a change in temperature based on a high low threshold.

A pull sensor or dock disconnect sensor will cause the security system to sound if the sensor is pulled apart or cut. This can be used to notify you if your boat pulls away from the dock or if your dinghy or jet ski separates from your boat. The same technology applies to an outboard sensor that will sound when the engine is tilted or the wiring harness is cut. There is also a trailer sensor that detects movement when a boat is stored on a trailer. A canvas snap sensor does exactly what is says it does. The sensor is inserted through a hole drilled into the boat and secured on the underside of the snap making it impossible to see. This sensor is great for boats that spend time under cover.

These types of systems run on your house or starter battery and, typically, use a fraction of an amp per hour. This means that you can run an average system, on your batteries alone, for a week or more.

Mid-Range  Cabin motion detectors use micro-wave and infra-red technology in one sensor virtually eliminating false alarms and excessive wiring of windows and doors. The other option is a photoelectric beam with photo eyes that can be mounted across decks and walkways. When the beam is broken the alarm will sound. For those hard to protect areas of your boat, you can install pressure mats or deck pressure sensors that sense the weight of a person walking on them or the flexing of the deck. These are also great to protect ladders to the fly bridge. A seagull could set off a beam but would not set off a pressure mat.

A shore power connection sensor will notify you when the AC power is interrupted for up to 10 minutes. This delay is useful in preventing false alarms during temporary interruptions such as a neighbour accidently unplugging your shore power cord. A heat temperature sensor is designed to monitor the temperature in your fridge, freezer or bait storage.  

Advanced  These systems start with a GSM cellular communication box that will send a text message, email or voice message directly to your cell phone. Using GPS technology you can create an invisible fence around your boat and you will be notified if your boat leaves that area.

This can be used to alert you if your boat is being moved or even if you are at anchor. Even if your boat is being stolen, you are able to track the GPS location in real-time. This two-way communication allows you to respond to an alarm or turn sensors on and off from anywhere in the world. You can also connect cameras for either recording intruders or for remote viewing so you can check on your boat directly from your smartphone or computer. The system can be programmed to send regular reports every few hours so that you can monitor your boat’s systems remotely. These systems use more power, but it is a small draw and, fortunately, there is a sensor for that.

For offshore cruisers, you can install a panic button so that you can send an SOS if someone boards your boat. There is also an option for an internal smoke machine so you can disorient a thief and get away. Ironically these systems use glycol, which is a form of sugar alcohol.

About the author: Jeff Cote is the owner of Pacific Yacht Systems, a full service shop delivering marine electrical and navigation solutions for recreational boats. Visit their website and blog for info and articles on marine electrical systems, projects and more: www.pysystems.ca.