Panbo

Siren Marine, best cellular boat monitoring yet?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Apr 25, 2012
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I like receiving an "I'm OK" text message from Gizmo every day, even if she is still sitting in the middle of Wayfarer's back lot, and I'm becoming confident that the Siren Marine Sprite I'm testing will be very useful once it and the boat are fully commissioned. I'll be able to set security or anchor drag geofences and not only get a warning if Gizmo moves but also precise tracking messages about where she goes. And whether on board or ashore I'll get a head's up if the refrigeration fails or if the bilges fill, or whatever other on/off sensor I hook up. I could even control, say, the deck lights with my cell phone, which might be fun when going aboard in the dark or if I get an intruder warning...

I suggest that you click to open the larger version of the screenshot collection above while I explain what's going on. At top left you'll see that the Pixie sent me a Low Battery Alert yesterday afternoon (after a inverter project led me to shut off the main battery switch). I later sent it an Info request and immediately learned that its internal backup battery was in good shape along with the stats for the temperature probe that came already attached. (I don't know if the .17 volts detected from the turned off main battery is meaningful but I guess I should find out!)  
   At any rate, I then asked Gizmo --  there's a command to name the Pixie as desired -- her Position and immediately got back that Fix message with a Google Maps link that shows me how accurate the device is. The third screen is from when I had set a geofence around my truck and then violated it, causing a GAT (Geofence Atomatic Time) track message every five minutes. Everything about geofencing -- like the fence's radius, report intervals, etc. -- can be customized but the defaults would probably work fine for tracking a thief or a kid in the outboard tender. I also tried a simple magnetic door sensor, but I still think I've only scratched the surface of all the technology and firmware smarts built into the Siren hardware seen below...

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I should note, though, that the Pixie has not always responded to commands as quickly as it did last night. But that may be because I'm using a beta SIM card right now, and the reason why is actually reassuring. When I first got the test unit late last Fall, it didn't work anywhere around Camden even though it used AT&T GSM data services and an AT&T iPhone works fine here. Siren Marine was pretty surprised about this, but I wasn't as I'd had a similar issue with a Cobra C-Pod security system. There's something weird about GSM in Camden, and since Cobra couldn't solve the problem, I was never able to test what otherwise looks like an able system.
   But Siren Marine was persistent. Founder Dan Harper -- whom I met almost two decades ago when we both sometimes sailed aboard the schooner Ocean Star (which bristled with sextants under the auspices of Ocean Navigator) -- carefully surveyed coverage along the Maine coast and dug deep into the intricacies of M2M (machine to machine) GSM service. It turns out that AT&T's M2M truly is odd here due to a particular local roaming contract but that T-Mobile -- whose phones don't even work here! -- is expanding its M2M service and that's the SIM that's working pretty well for me now. Incidentally, Garmin's neat GDL 40 weather system, which could also be a NMEA 2000 off boat monitoring system I think, works fine here on AT&T, but apparently it uses 3G.
   Harper is also hoping that the T-Mobile SIMs will let Siren offer unlimited messaging for the same $180 a year as the current service, but in fact 120 messages a month is not bad compared to, say, the Boatsense Solutions monitor I tested in 2007. The Boatsense company didn't have the success it had hoped for, though I understand it's on hiatus as opposed to shut down, but it didn't offer nearly the same feature set value that Siren does. Like how about an iPhone app so you don't have to remember codes like "Info"? Though it's worth noting that Siren's basic text messaging works on most any phone.
  Please check out Siren Marine yourself, because I haven't covered everything by any means. Will this be a boat monitor system that makes it? I'm also interested in other user reviews, though I will be back with my own "Siren Pixie hand's on #2" report eventually.

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Comments

Thinking about boat monitoring systems at this price level made me wonder about the Spot HUG satellite monitoring system, which I saw demoed in late 2010, http://goo.gl/wjUYy

I haven't gotten to test a HUG myself, but I found a user discussion on SailNet ( http://goo.gl/hPG5Q ). It seems like a good value even if the original manual was a little screwy, but I'm not sure it's sold at all well. What will it take to make offboat monitoring work at this level?

Posted by: Ben at April 25, 2012 10:50 AM | Reply

Hi Ben,
we have one of these on our company runabout, and it works great. We're using a prepaid sim down here in the Caribbean and we can even execute provider commands and have it relay the results. So, for instance, we can ask it how much credit remains on the SIM. The geofence allows us to know if the boat is out or at the dock and available.
I initially tested one in my truck and it achieved solid GPS and GSM lock even though it was in the glove box of my truck.
Regards,
Derek

Disclaimer:We are regional distributor for Siren Marine

Posted by: Derek Hodge at April 25, 2012 11:12 AM | Reply

I have a Spot HUG I installed to provide position tracking when we take winter trips down to Mexico. The unit works well, especially as cellular coverage in Baja is limited. (Spot is satellite based.)

The HUG can also monitor unauthorized movement and up to 4 sensors. I turned off the unauthorized movement as every time I took the boat out, it would trigger.

That gets to the heart of the problem with HUG. The idea is good, but programing the unit is very tricky. Ideally, I could connect to the unit via WiFi, NMEA 2000 or bluetooth. Instead, the unit is controlled with a series of button processes on on of the remotes.

Not very intuitive and as a result, I have never gotten around to setting up the sensors.

Posted by: Jeremy at April 25, 2012 2:20 PM | Reply

Professional thieves use GPS jammers and cellular network jammers to defeat asset-protection equipment. The jammers are cheap, effective, and available. Casual or opportunistic thieves won't be so equipped, so, maybe there is some value.

Anyone hijacking a $150+K boat, or a tractor-trailer with a load of cigarettes, baby formula, or Intel chips will be so equipped. So, even tracking devices with battery backup can be easily rendered useless.

Most boat thefts involve stripping of motors and electronics, then abandoning the hull. Or diversion to a third-world country...

Posted by: Karl at April 25, 2012 4:38 PM | Reply

This product looks very interesting.

Ben, are there limits on how many of their sensors can be coupled to the main device? For example, I have multiple bilges and it would be nice to have a water level sensor in each. Similarly, I would like temp sensors in multiple compartments.

How is the wiring done? Do I need to run a wire (or cable) from each sensor back to the main unit? Or can a string a cable (e.g., cat-5) around the boat and have each sensor talk on the cat-5?

Thanks for a great blog!

Posted by: guest at April 25, 2012 5:06 PM | Reply

Karl, It's been said on here before that GPS and cell jammers are easily available, but when I search I can't find them. Please send links by email (ben at panbo.com) so we don't encourage the bastards!

Guest, details of Siren Marine's two models are at their site: http://sirenmarine.com/

You'll see that the $100 difference between the Sprite and Pixie is the "addition of a 9′ external temperature probe, a shore power sensor, and two 12v pigtails for 12v accessory monitoring." And I believe Siren is working on a higher-end model with more inputs and controls.

The manual, incidentally, is pretty good and there are also demo system diagrams in Siren's Tips & Support section. All wiring, though, is to the main unit. NMEA 2000 makes excellent off-boat monitoring with less onboard wiring possible, and Maretron is doing some pretty sensational work in this area. However, it's not the same price point ;-)

Posted by: Ben at April 25, 2012 7:21 PM | Reply

Regarding cellphone "Jammers", not that criminals would care but ANY jamming system is illegal in the United States and are extremely range-limited.
See this article for further information:
http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Government-IT/FCC-May-Target-Amazon-Other-Retailers-in-Jammer-Crackdown-406651/

Posted by: Alden Richards at April 25, 2012 10:13 PM | Reply

Reading through these posts, i'm drawing a conclusion that most users are purchasing (HUG or Siren) for theft tracking ability? Boat theft (to me) would not be a compelling reason for purchasing one of these systems. Similar to my car, I have insurance for that reason. I'm not installing tracking devices in my car. In my opinion, these type of systems are best suited for peace-of-mind and forewarning. I can't tell you how many times my diver has disconnected my shore power. Or when my battery charger died. I've had bilge pumps fail. These are my common gripes and frustrations with my boats.

Here in So. Cal, Marinas are starting to offer boat monitoring systems to their tenants. Although they don't provide GPS tracking, they are affordable (less than $300) and give me the ability to login from my coputer / smart phone to check on my boat. I have bilge sensors, motion sensors, battery, etc... The system emails / texts me when something goes wrong.

Same concept, but designed realizing that my boat spends almost 90% of its time sitting in the same place.

Posted by: Oscar at April 26, 2012 2:03 PM | Reply

I have perhaps a different use case for monitoring. As owner of a charter boat I like knowing that all systems are working well for my charter guests, and if necessary, I can do some remote diagnosis (or hopefully anticipate) any issues that arise. I anticipate that I might want the ability for the charterer to send additional data such as GPS or other other diagnostic data, using the same app and link. There is also the thought that I might log location data to help with ownership issues around taxes (e.g., how long was the boat our of the US, a concern up here in the San Juans) and maintenance. The Siren system should be quite useful I think.

Posted by: drewc at April 26, 2012 10:45 PM | Reply

The Siren Marine products are certainly NOT just for "thief tracking"!!
The three essential function areas are bilge monitoring,battery monitoring and GPS/Geofencing.
Additionally, two inputs allow remote operation of such items as external lights, refrigerator/icemaker and air conditioning.
Our Sprite unit also sends alerts for loss of shore power.
The firmware contains more that 350 discrete operations and monitoring modes-all programmable from any cellphone that can send and receive text messages.
As opposed to marina systems, our units work anywhere.

Posted by: Alden Richards in reply to Oscar at April 27, 2012 10:49 AM | Reply

Theft is not a big worry for me either, due to where I live and the type of boat I have (it would be hard to hide or fence Gizmo). But if you have, say, a fine center console in South Florida, the situation is very different, as I described when I recently wrote about Global Ocean Security Technology (GOST): http://goo.gl/X5hjB

One thing that the GOST guys have learned over the years is that it's better to prevent a theft than to recover the boat, because the boat will usually never be the same. Also some insurance companies offer a discount if tracking devices like Siren's or GOST's are installed, and some even demand them on some boats in some places (high end center consoles, South Florida!).

Posted by: Ben at April 27, 2012 2:39 PM | Reply

I heard a rumor today that the Spot HUG has been discontinued, but I checked and it's not true:

"SPOT HUG has not been discontinued! We’re still selling the system and actively supporting them. It’s just not a top marketing priority for us, as it’s so vertically focused."

Posted by: Ben at May 23, 2012 3:15 PM | Reply

Well, let me add some "nuance" to that. It seems that what the Globalstar marketing department was trying to say is that HUG sales have not been discontinued -- yet -- though production has. Or as stated in the Globalstar 2011 Annual Report:

"We discontinued further production of SPOT Communicator and SPOT HUG during the third quarter of 2011 due to a strategic decision to focus on our core products; however, we continue to sell the remaining products held in our inventory."

Posted by: Ben in reply to Ben at May 23, 2012 9:48 PM | Reply

I bought and installed the Siren Sprite this weekend and I am very impressed. The unit was easy to install, and works very reliably. It is very comforting to know that I can get regular updates from the unit at whatever frequency I want, and that I can check the unit on demand. Using text messages couldn't be any easier. And, the owner of the company called me back on a sunny Saturday afternoon when I had a tech support question. Seems like a must have if you keep your boat on a mooring.

Posted by: Matt NYC at August 13, 2012 6:57 PM | Reply

I use a MegaIPCam IPS-EYE01W HD 2 Mega Pixels Wireless Security Surveillance Household IP Camera Baby Monitor Day/Night H.264 ONVIF 1600*1200 Motion Detection 2 Way Audio + Plug and Play Newest P2P Technology for my boat monitoring. It was about $125.00 at Am_zon (currently out of stock). It comes with software for most computers and cell phones. It is wireless so it does not need a running computer, only a router. It has PnP and P2P so can be monitored through a public hotspot if wired to the router network. I use, with permission, the wifi at the Yacht Club bar next door through my Nanostation. Works great on wireless if you have an Internet connection that allows port forwarding. Runs on 12v or AC. Multiple camera setups are not more difficult as they are IP. New PnP/P2P technology makes setup as easy as entering the camera id number and password into the software and it searches the net finds the camera and displays the image. Takes less than a minute. No port forwarding needed. On the phone you pan and tilt with swipes of your finger. No zoom, but different resolutions change the field of view. Other software like Blue Iris have digital zoom that works really pretty well.

I have centrally located the camera so it can see my control panels. It pans and tilts so I can see both sides of the boat and out the windows to monitor the conditions at the marina. I leave the bilge hatch open so I can tilt down and look into the bilge. It has automatic infrared night vision. It has two way audio so I can hear what is going on on the boat and talk to people on the boat remotely. It will alert me on my phone if it detects movement inside the boat. (Note: Motion detection on boats takes special camera placement and software tuning.) It has alarm input and output connectors on the camera base. (Note: It is in no way water or weather resistant.) It can be programmed remotely through Windows IE if installed with port forwarding. It has a micro SD slot and can take and store images and video. No computer needs to be on. Currently the manuals are awful, but support is fairly good and they are actively improving the manuals. Did I say free software, and it is really very functional.

The best part is that there are no charges for operation after the initial purchase.

Posted by: Capt John at November 28, 2012 9:40 AM | Reply

I've been meaning to note how much I appreciate the twice-a-day texts I get from the Siren Marine Sprite installed on Gizmo! Since I last saw the boat in early November it's been very reassuring to have it message me regularly with engine room temperature and house battery voltage. It's also fun to show friends how I can send the Sprite a "POS" command and it will usually send back a position in less than a minute, along with a Google satellite map link that often shows not only Gizmo's exact slip but precisely where the Sprite is located on the boat!

I wish I had installed more sensors -- like intrusion and high bilge alarms, and maybe even a remote electric heater switch -- before I left but I plan to improve on that situation when I get back. I also wish I'd tested its cellular coverage during the trip south but again I'll have another chance. Also to see if the Wilson cell booster can help the Sprite get more range in tough spots (it should).

In fact, Osprey Marine is a little marginal in terms of the TMobile 2G M2M service Siren uses (interesting article here: http://goo.gl/j7QpK ) That's apparently caused glitches twice -- both times on Sunday early mornings, which makes me wonder if some sort of maintenance was involved. But the glitches were just repeated unwanted FIX messages which I could shut down by commanding the Sprint to stop monitoring position (NOSET).

Only once has the connection actually failed, and that was because Siren is also accessing my unit for testing and accidentally reset it. It did make me nervous about the boat for a moment, but that's always the drawback of proactive monitoring (I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm OK...say what?). Overall I'd much rather have active monitoring with a few glitches than near total ignorance of a boat I love.

Posted by: BenTest at January 15, 2013 8:55 PM | Reply

The Siren Marine Sprite saved my bacon while in Sweden! Well, actually my Trader Joe's frozen beef bourguignon and some other goodies left over from my trip north ;-)

In retrospect it was not my smartest move to leave Gizmo's refrigeration on and totally dependent on the boat's solar panels while I traveled so far. And naturally a higher power let me know that by providing a nasty stretch of rain, fog, and thick clouds that minimized the panel output.

But even though I didn't have regular phone or SMS texting in Sweden, the Siren is also set up to message my Google Voice account which I receive via email. I could also use Voice online to text commands like "Info" back to the Siren. Which I was doing when I started to see the main battery bank get lower and lower. (I can also see the temperature in the reefer box as I moved the Sprite's sensor there.)

At any rate, I got my buddy Ben Cashen at Wayfarer to put 20 pounds of ice in the freezer last Tuesday and then watched from Sweden as the main bank slowly come back to full charge as the load dropped and the sun reappeared. This weekend I defrosted the whole box, which may have been a contributing factor. I love that Gizmo is keeping stuff cold with solar power, but big thanks to Siren and Ben for saving my battery bank from possible damage!

Posted by: Ben at July 8, 2013 7:34 AM | Reply

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