PanPan CrewWatcher



Iput the PanPan CrewWatcher through its paces in the pro­tected con­di­tions of our Power & Mo­to­ry­acht Test Shed in Es­sex, Con­necti­cut. Why not brave the bound­ing main to test a sys­tem de­signed to help boaters stay alert to man over­board sit­u­a­tions, and lo­cate and re­cover lost crew, you may ask? I had the idea to see if this safety de­vice meets a base­line of us­abil­ity in ideal con­di­tions, be­fore be­ing sub­jected to the rig­ors of on-wa­ter test­ing. Could we get it to con­nect to a tablet in a warm, dry of­fice?

CrewWatcher is a sys­tem that com­bines an app, which runs on mo­bile smart de­vices, and an elec­tronic bea­con (app is free; $90 for one bea­con, $170 for two). Tablets and smart­phones that use the Ap­ple iOS 6.1 or An­droid 5.1 and up are rec­om­mended. In the in­ter­est of sim­plic­ity, I loaded the app on an iPad 2, a 16-gi­ga­byte model run­ning iOS 9.3.5. The app uses the iPad’s built-in GPS sen­sor (the sys­tem won’t work with as­sisted GPS as found in wifi-only iPads) and Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity (com­pat­i­bil­ity with Blue­tooth 4.0 is rec­om­mended). Also, the man­u­fac­turer of the sys­tem rec­om­mends it for non-steel boats un­der 45 feet.

The CrewWatcher bea­con is a sealed cylin­dri­cal unit mea­sur­ing about 3¼ inches long and 1¼ inches in di­am­e­ter with a lan­yard loop at one end. The man­u­fac­turer says its bat­tery life is three years or more. The bea­con needed to be ac­ti­vated, coun­ter­in­tu­itively, by sub­merg­ing it in wa­ter. And not just a glass of wa­ter, the man­u­fac­turer sug­gests a bucket. Once ac­ti­vated, the bea­con is at­tached to a life­jacket or foul-weather jacket, and sig­nals the app should the bea­con get wet or the sig­nal be com­pro­mised.

When that hap­pens, the app’s happy green screen with the mes­sage “Ev­ery­one’s OK” changes to an eye-catch­ing orange color, while a siren sounds, fol­lowed by a ver­bal sig­nal from the de­vice. As the Dutch-in­flected English em­phat­i­cally warns, “man over­board,” a “start res­cue” but­ton ap­pears on the app screen. Touch that but­ton and, when the de­vice con­nects to the MOB bea­con, it sig­nals the dis­tance to the re­cov­ery point and also gives the lat/lon po­si­tion of the bea­con as well as the com­pass head­ing to di­rect the boat to our imag­i­nary crew­mate.

It’s a good idea, but my main con­cern stems from my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with Blue­tooth. If you find your­self sit­ting on a boat in some sunny port of call with me and a Blue­tooth speaker, and we were to have a com­pe­ti­tion to see who could con­nect to that speaker more quickly to choose the mu­sic, it would be no con­test: Cue up your playlist, be­cause I will lose ev­ery time. Blue­tooth and I just don’t see eye to eye. I find it to be a tech­nol­ogy that some­times doesn’t want to work, and that’s a frus­tra­tion I don’t want to add to any day, let alone a day on the wa­ter. Once ac­ti­vated and con­nected to the iPad, the bea­con worked for me. I’ve had other de­vices where the con­nec­tion doesn’t work. Trou­bleshoot­ing the prob­lem on­line, I found that many fac­tors can in­flu­ence any Blue­tooth de­vice’s suc­cess, in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, the fol­low­ing: The smart­phone or tablet op­er­at­ing sys­tem must be kept up to date as­sid­u­ously. The bat­tery life of the Blue­tooth de­vice may be the cul­prit. And one com­mon so­lu­tion is to turn the Blue­tooth de­vice off and back on. The lat­ter two are clearly not an op­tion with the CrewWatcher’s sealed unit.

An­other thing to guard against with a de­vice like this is the false sense of se­cu­rity that can arise, and the CrewWatcher seems to ac­knowl­edge this in its very de­sign, since it won’t tell you ev­ery­one is OK if it doesn’t have elec­tronic con­fir­ma­tion of that. But only if the crew keeps their bea­cons on—jack­ets and lifevests get taken off at times.

CrewWatcher is a tool to help a boater keep track of ev­ery­one. It’s an­other weapon in a cap­tain’s arse­nal, but it’s no sub­sti­tute for a good sys­tem of keep­ing tabs on the crew.

The PanPan CrewWatcher works best when worn.

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