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How technology is improving boat safety

Boat technology is always improving, and it’s giving captains and passengers better access to tools that can improve safety.

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Image: Navatics

Millions of people love taking their boats on the water, but even the most experienced captains face risks. It pays to know how to handle an emergency at sea, such as a medical issue with one of your passengers or getting stuck in the middle of a tumultuous storm. But even with all the experience, poise, and confidence of a well-trained seafarer, you could face some serious trouble without the right tools and equipment to help.

Fortunately, boat technology is always improving, and it’s giving captains and passengers better access to tools that can improve safety.

Navigation Technology

One of the most promising areas of development in boating technology is navigation. Even if you’re familiar with a given area, it’s easy to get lost on the open water – especially if there aren’t any landmarks nearby. It’s also hard to detect or predict the location of underwater obstacles, other boats, and other obstructions.

These are just some of the latest advancements allowing boats to navigate effectively:

  • Satellite tracking and GPS. With satellite tracking and GPS systems, captains can always know their precise location. They can use this to navigate more effectively, avoid getting lost, and importantly, communicate their exact position if they need a tow or medical assistance.
  • Radar. Radar isn’t a new technology, but it’s seen some impressive advancements over the years. Modern radar systems are capable of detecting other boats, land, and other obstacles with an extended range. With it equipped, new and experienced captains can both avoid collisions.
  • LIDAR. Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology is a type of detection system that functions like radar, but it uses laser lights instead. Using a GPS receiver, a scanner, and of course, lasers, LIDAR improves navigation even further.
  • SONAR. Yet another detection system, SONAR utilizes the power of sound propagation to detect underwater obstacles – and other boats nearby.

In addition to improving boat safety, better navigation technology can improve efficiency, helping you reach your destination in less time, and save on fuel costs.

Communication

When you experience an emergency on the water, you might be miles from the nearest vessel (and from land). That makes it difficult to get the help you need in a timely manner. Radio communication has existed and been a reliable choice for decades. But modern radios are equipped with more reliable features; they can often reach further, hold connections more consistently, and remain in operation for longer thanks to extended battery life.

In addition, most modern boats are equipped with at least one Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), which can send out a distress beacon if you’re in need of help.

Maintenance and Issue Detection

With the help of infrared cameras, thermal imaging, and other high-tech onboard detection equipment, it’s easy for today’s boat owners to notice and analyze potential issues before they cause problems. If there are tiny cracks or small defects in your boat machinery, you can get an alert before you head out to sea – and take the time to fix the issue.

Lifejackets and Flotation Devices

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are one of the most important safety components of your vessel. If a person falls overboard, these devices can keep them afloat long enough to be rescued. PFDs have been in use for more than 1,000 years in some form, and lifejackets continue to be a staple of modern boats everywhere.

Though these devices don’t have to be technologically sophisticated to be effective, there have been many advancements to these pieces of equipment over the years. Modern lifejackets are thinner, lighter, easier to store, and yet just as protective as previous, bulky iterations of these safety devices.

Autonomous Boats

We’re also in the early stages of development for autonomous boats – aquatic vessels capable of operating without the need of a human driver. The majority of collisions and accidents on the water are attributable to human error, such as a captain not following the law or ignoring a critical obstacle. Autonomous tech forgoes this critical weakness, entrusting the maintenance, navigation, and overall operation of the vessel to a machine incapable of deviating from its programming.

Of course, there are some risks associated with autonomous boat technology, and it needs a few more years (at least) before it’s made widely available to the public. For example, with poor security practices, an autonomous boat could be hacked, putting the passengers at the mercy of a malicious actor.

Boat safety technology still has a long way to go, but every year, we see technological advancements that have the power to save lives, save money, and improve efficiency at the same time. Even with the best tech, boat owners are still responsible for operating their vessels as safely and competently as possible – but these devices make things much easier.

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