BRIGHT SPARKS - Tagging along

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Electronic tagging of crew is an effective way of keeping everyone safe onboard

BRIGHT SPARKS - Tagging along

I still remember the moment I nearly drowned very clearly. I was on the 3am watch and we were mid–Atlantic when a change of wind caused me to go forward quickly to trim the big staysail on the 90-foot yacht I was engineer on. As I stumbled along the heaving deck in the pitch dark the boat suddenly rolled in the lumpy seaway, throwing me half over the guardrails. I only just managed to clamber back on deck. Meantime, the other five crew were blissfully sound asleep in their bunks. Afterwards, I remember sitting in the cockpit shivering at the thought of the boat simply sailing on without me.

This salutary tale segues nicely into onboard safety with the summer boating season approaching as rapidly as a Sunseeker under full throttle. The powerboat analogy is a good prompt to mention engine kill switches, an important part of boating safety. If you read last month’s Trade-a-Boat with the series of pictures showing the skipper being thrown from the flybridge, I think you’ll quickly get the idea of engine kill switches.

Also nowadays, the latest wireless technology means that physical lanyards are not the only options. Products such as Autotether ( and Martitech Virtual Lifeline ( can work with both power and sail boats, and there are plenty others to choose from.

Improvements in electronic safety devices has encouraged the WA Government to recently initiate new man overboard (MOB) legislation for commercial fishing boats, which includes the use of these devices. WorkSafe acting executive director, Ian Munns said that commercial fishing was a hazardous industry, with 44 deaths since 1988, and the latest MOB technology could improve safety substantially.

"An impressive array of safety products is available these days, from inflatable personal floatation devices to man overboard alarm systems and personal beacons, and these should be considered on vessels where a risk assessment has indicated that they would reduce the risks," said Munns.

The electronic tagging of crew is an effective way of keeping everyone safe onboard, especially children and even pets. Manufacturers take different approaches with some systems that are reactive and some that are proactive.

Reactive systems are typically triggered when the tag is immersed in water, causing an alarm to go off on the central console. An advantage of these systems is long battery life and some have direction-finding capabilities so crew can locate the victim. Manufacturers of these systems include ACR, Alert2, MariTech Sea Marshall, InView and Australian made SeaSafe.

One word of warning when internet shopping, not all are compatible with Australian radio frequencies, so for instance the Alert2 system is not released here.

Another interesting product is the American-made Maritech range, which has recently been introduced into Australia by the Australian Boating College ( Maritech’s Virtual Lifeline reacts and kills the engine when its tag is immersed. The company prefers this design as a way of avoiding the "circle of death" scenario of an unmanned powerboat circling around to kill its driver because its alarm system failed to go off due to it being within the accepted proximity range of the wireless signal.

Proactive systems work on the basis of a continuous signal being fed back to the central console and should this signal stop — because a crewman has gone out of the proximity range or overboard — an alarm is triggered. The advantages of proactive systems are the higher level of safety because a signal is constantly monitored but false alarms are a downside, sometimes due to radio interference or system malfunction.

Manufacturers who make proactive systems include Raymarine, Mobilarm and Autotether. The Australian made Mobilarm Crewsafe ( product is used by NSW water police on their patrol boats.

In an emergency, the system logs a GPS waypoint and provides range and bearing information of the person in the water. Additional features of the system include manual and automated alarms. Other good features for larger yachts include the paging of groups or individuals and even onboard location monitoring.

Another similar product sold locally by is InView MOB Dolphin. This proactive system also can automatically activate the InView AIS -201 or other compatible MOB mode embedded product to display rescue information such as time, place, and direction. It supports up to 99 pendants at the same time and claims an operational range of 30m from the base station and pendant battery life is 2000 hours.


Raymarine's LifeTag is a proactive system that integrates with its multifunction displays using the SeaTalk data and power interface. The system can track up to 16 separate crew tags which can operate continuously for three months. The system can be activated manually by pressing and holding the button on the pendant for three seconds. LifeTag includes an auxiliary 12V circuit that could be wired to kill an engine or deploy some sort of automated recovery gear. The list price for a basic system with two tags is $869 and extra tags are $159 each.

Photos: MariTech's Virtual Lifeline tag is small enough to fit on a bikini, yet gives you the freedom to know the engine will stop and/or the alarm will sound if you fall in; The Virtual Lifeline kit; Autotether Screamer; The Autotether Screamer has tags that can be fitted to pets and dinghies, as well as powerboats. Base unit cost $299 plus $79 per extra tag; Raymarine's LifeTag; Cruising with kids can be done safely if you fit them with a safety tag, such as the Mobilarm Crewsafe.


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