I am a private pilot as well as a professional sailor and therefore consider both the sky environment as well as the ocean environment to be inherently dangerous places to do business. Maybe the danger is part of the draw for going down to the sea in ships or for going up in the air in flying machines. We were all recently reminded just how dangerous things can get when Somali pirates murdered in cold blood four Americans aboard their 58-foot-yacht, Quest. This was particularly brought home to me personally because my friend Vivian Callahan, a producer, editor, voice-over artist and professor, was also personal friends of Scott and Jean Adam who owned Quest. Callahan traveled on board with them from Hong Kong to Phuket, Thailand, via Borneo, Singapore, and Malaysia. She was offered the option to continue sailing with them, but turned down their offer due to a scheduling conflict. Callahan could have been yet another pirate victim had she decided to stay aboard.
So the question is how do we make things safer while engaged in our passion of yachting, especially from pirates? To begin with there are a few common sense rules that can go a long way toward safe voyaging. First and foremost is to detour around areas where pirate activity abounds. If it is necessary to travel through these dangerous areas then remember that there is safety in numbers and travel with several other yachts. The Adams were traveling in concert with other yachts, but mechanical problems forced them to fall behind the others, with tragic consequences. If it appears that stalking pirates are about to board your yacht then you need to immediately activate any signaling device you might have on board. One example of this is the SpotHug GPS Security System. You can hit the SOS button of the SpotHug to call for help. After activating the SpotHug, hide the wireless keypad and key fob!
All passenger ships and cargo ships of 500 gross tons or greater are required by law to carry a Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) used to send covert alerts if the ship is under threat from piracy, terrorism or armed robbery. On many ships this is an Inmarsat-based system. Private yachts can have their own covert alert satellite system with the purchase of a $500 SpotHug and a $99 yearly service charge. SpotHug is another product from Spot LLC that developed the original Spot messenger unit designed for sending distress alerts and short messages using the Globalstar satellites.
The SpotHug hardware consists of the actual tracker unit, a wireless keypad, and a wireless key fob. The cost would be well worth it even if SpotHug only functioned as an SSAS, however, it has many other purposes like protecting your vessel from theft, monitoring vessel parameters such as battery voltage, bilge water level, smoke, or fire, motion, door/hatch security. A virtual security perimeter will detect any unauthorized movement and send a notification via e-mail and/or SMS text to your phone if the movement exceeds 500 yards away from its original GPS position.
Other important functions besides SOS and sensor alerts are Help, Check-in/OK, and Track Progress. Help is for notifying your personal contacts of a non-life threatening emergency where you need assistance. Check-in/OK are pre-programmed messages (including your GPS position) that can be sent to your family and friends via e-mail or SMS. This feature can help ensure peace of mind for those back home. Track Progress is a feature that allows you to create an electronic breadcrumb trail for your contacts to follow your course/location on Google Maps.
If you would like more information about the SpotHug follow the hyperlink: http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=113
If you are interested in checking out other electronic GPS security systems for your boat then check out Tim Queeney’s excellent article, Keeping your boat inside a geofence in the March/April 2011 issue of Ocean Navigator magazine.
Until next time, I wish you all “clear skies and following seas.”
Fredrick Gary Hareland holds an AAS degree in rescue and survival operations and in avionic systems technology and is a certified marine electronics technician and NARTE certified telecommunications technician. He has served in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command-Pacific and has worked for Maersk Line Limited and Norwegian Cruise Line. Hareland currently works at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Station as a microwave-communications technician. He lives in Ridgecrest, Calif.
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