Retaining Ownership.2 Phone Home

Recently I priced systems that will tell me when my boat isn’t where it is supposed to be. Sheesh! (That’s a technical term.) Once again Smartphones (which aren’t) and Apps developers have opened a door to solving the problem at a (much) lower cost.

On our AICW trip we found it necessary to leave our boat in Charleston, Beaufort,  & Myrtle Beach, SC and Titusville, FL for extended periods. Since we paid up on arrival, the boat’s absence during the paid period might well have not generated much of a response. So we made sure they knew we wouldn’t move the boat without telling them first.

But still, a boat stolen by slipping off the pier on a fast tidal current can be long gone before even a responsible dock manager might realize it.  During that trip nothing less than ridiculously expensive presented itself as a solution. Now, I’m coming up on the end of my GPS equipped Smartphone’s contract, and I’m tempted to replace it.  The temptation just went to replace it but keep it.

There are now Apps on the market that will allow one to continuously send the phone’s position information to a mobile-viewable website and in some cases to SMS a position change to another phone.

Suddenly the idea of keeping the phone on a minimal voice minutes, minimal SMS plan with just enough data plan to support an App like that becomes veeeery interesting. The phone can be stored in a secure location sipping amps from the solar panels/house batteries, and suddenly I have an affordable tattle-tale.

Even more interesting would be if I could have the phone take a picture of the companionway if it was opened or take a picture of my nav station where the solar panel/battery status is reported along with the bilge pump cycle counter.

Something tells me if I waited long enough–an App will arrive. I will continue to look. I know I can call or SMS the phone and get it to take the picture; I’d rather not.

In the mean time, Google Latitude and Instamapper are two data services that support the concept. However, my phone’s GPS accuracy is sufficiently poor that it reports position movements of as much as 150 meters while sitting still (and similar accuracies when not jumping around). Both of the services mentioned appear to “snap” the position data to the road map so, on land, this phenomenon is not too problematic. Afloat one might have to set a higher threshold for an alarm. [Update: Actually, this afternoon it had me in two positions several miles from my actual position–at least as reported in Google Earth. Hmmmm]

I bet I will update this in less than six months with the name of an App that does what I want. Perhaps I’ll craft it.

In the mean time Instamapper appears to have excellent and immediate potential for keeping track of crew ashore, crew in the dinghy out and about, etc.

Of course, you need to be where data transfer doesn’t require handing over a body appendage. In those cases we know there are FRS radios that share GPS data on the market. A pair of them is about $700, so a smartphone tracking App could be affordable in expensive data land if only used for short and well-managed periods.

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