A few news items this month about the move to use devices other than VHF radios to summon help. The popularity of smart phones means even more assistance requests will come via cell phones and other discrete communications.
Up first is the announcement from Boat/US of a new smart phone app for Android and iPhone:
Press the “Call for a Tow” option on the home screen and a 24/7 crew mate of BoatUS will answer, knowing who you are, what boat you’re on and where you are. A key feature, since tens of thousands of the boaters who call for a tow unfortunately don’t know exactly where they are located.
The BoatUS App not only displays the phones latest nautical Latitude and Longitude right in front of you, it’s GPS function should still work even when out of cell phone range.
Off-top question: What the eff is a “crew mate?” Is that someone’s idea of finding a PC gender neutral alternative to crewman? Sheesh
Any technology that will increase the chance of assistance calls to include a reliable LAT/LON is a plus. On the other hand, I’m still very leery of all this technology that moves us away from the openness of VHF. This issue gets exacerbated during real emergencies when multiple agencies should all be listening and responding at once. Do USCG helo crews have the ability to communicate with a boat via cell phone?
I know, marine assistance companies are supposed to be providing non-emergency assistance, and these smart phone apps are suited for that kind of situation, not helo rescues, but when a phone call case deteriorates, getting the boater in touch with the USCG can be a real pain in the transom.
Smart phone apps that include a two-way phone call are still preferable to the latest SPOT device update that adds ability to connect a smart phone to the SPOT Messenger via Bluetooth.
SPOT Connect provides connectivity to global communication satellites for sending location-based messages from around town or areas outside of cellular phone coverage. By simply downloading the SPOT Connect app, SPOT Connect wirelessly synchs via Bluetooth with smartphone operating systems like Android. SPOT message features are then initiated using the SPOT Connect app on the smart device.
This new feature allows the user to send 41 character text messages along with their location. rather than just the factory programed messages. The text “Dead batt, need jump” is much better than Send Help, but my objections about the limitations of a one-way communication device remain. Oh, and SPOT requires an annual subscription fee.
The tide of alternates to VHF communications will only continue to rise. 20 years ago, a big, powerful base station radio was de rigueur for a successful assistance business. In the future, it will be a fast internet connection.