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Jun 15, 2016

Boat Security Systems

Whether it’s for your own slip at home or when you pull into ports away from home, your boat is an investment, and securing it and how, is a decision you need to make.

Here’s an article addressing some of your security options.

Safety, Security & Peace Of Mind For Your Vessel

By Tom Neale

My first boat security system cost around 10 bucks. It came from RadioShack and wasn't just for boats. Two little components were fastened to my hatch and hatch frame with sticky tape. When their magnets separated, an alarm sounded. It always let me know when the sticky tape came unstuck, except when I wasn't onboard. If I were a thief, I'd have simply pulled the alarm component off and thrown it overboard. Today, boat security systems have gotten much more sophisticated and can cost anywhere from $100 upwards. They can tell you anything you want to know (but perhaps wish you didn't). It's simply a matter of what you need, and how far you want to go for protection.

Types of Systems

Simplistically put, notification of alarm events can be at three different levels.

  • Local alarm only: alerts those onboard or on a nearby pier that there's an alarm event.
  • Remote communication: alerts a distant owner or monitoring center via cell phone or satellite, using text, voice, or email.
  • Interactive: systems that allow owner to effect responses.

The last two require an appropriate communications capability on your boat — either cellular or other Internet access device, and/or a satellite communications device. These may be a part of the system you purchase. With some systems, you pay a one-time fee to build your system, or a fee to establish a basic system, which you may add to later. With systems that communicate, you also pay a recurring fee for monitoring and communications.

Types of Sensors

Systems can utilize multiple sensors, depending on what you wish to monitor and how much you're willing to pay. The sensor is the device that detects an alarm event, then communicates via the system to a local alarm or monitoring service or owner. That which a sensor monitors is often referred to as a "zone." For example, a hatch may be referred to as "zone 1."


When shopping systems, ask about the price of the system and the monthly charges to get an accurate picture of the true cost.

We're all familiar with high-water, fire, and intrusion sensors. But even these have different levels of sophistication. For example, there are sensors not just for high water but also for irregular bilge-pump cycles, which would indicate future flooding. We're also familiar with "burglar sensors," which tell that a door or hatch is open. Sensors can now detect deck vibration to indicate that someone has stepped aboard. Motion sensors can alert to motion within the secured cabin spaces. Sensors can also tell you if the engine has been started, if there is a dangerous noise such as glass breaking, or even if the boat has moved away from the dock, or from a GPS-determined perimeter around a mooring. You can even get sensors that let you know if a cockpit cover or bimini has been unsnapped.

There are also sensors that can detect when a component such as a radar or chartplotter or outboard has been disconnected. At this point, it may be too late for a remote owner to intercede, but you can buy systems that can track the boat or outboard using GPS. Many systems include cameras that record, like a typical security camera in a store, or also broadcast so that you can see what's happening aboard even though you're not there. This may allow you to make a more informed decision as to the action you'd like to take.

The information "sensed" must be effectively communicated. Do you want just a bilge alarm that sets off a horn so that those at the dock know you've got a problem, or do you want it to let you know even if you're on another continent? And do you want the ability to "do something" remotely? The range of possibilities is huge.

Talking Back

When you can respond to your boat, you can do things such as turn on floodlights. This is handy for scaring off boarders and also handy when you're going to arrive at the marina after dark. You can kill your engine(s) if you've been notified that the boat has moved beyond its designated perimeter. You can switch to a different battery bank for more pumping power, or release deterrent gases inside the cabin spaces.