We have remote controls for just about everything these days, so why not have one for your boat? It sounds pretty crazy, but the fact of the matter is that in the past five years or so we’ve seen a slew of products hit the market which allow you to do everything from flipping on the courtesy lights prior to walking down the dock, to turning on your bilge pumps from the living room couch.
Remote control of your boat can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the real driver behind the possibility is digital switching. With a digital system, instead of a bunch of mechanical switches, contacts, fuses, bus-bars, and wiring harnesses, a single NMEA2000 “backbone” trunk line runs through your boat. Every accessory and system taps into this backbone, and the display at your helm allows you to control them digitally, with a swipe or a tap of the touch-screen. The system has better long-term reliability than mechanical switches and wires (feel free to raise your hand if you’ve never had a switch or a wiring connection go bad) and also removes a lot of weight from the boat by eliminating all those copper wires.
With a digital system in place, you can then use a cellular or satellite system and an app to interface with the boat. Systems like Siren Marine have a cell-enabled base station that connects with wired or wireless sensors (such as bilge water alarms and a geo-fence as a matter of monitoring and security), but can also be used as an interface to trigger switches. Others, like Mazu, does the same type of things via the Iridium satellite system. Both systems, and most similar competitors, use a free app and your smart phone as the user interface.
The tough part? In order to have digital switching, you’ll probably need to buy a new boat. More and more are constructed with it these days, but the systems didn’t gain acceptance among the general boating world until recently, and prior to five or six years ago, boats with digital switching was almost unheard-of. That does not, however, mean you can’t add some level of remote control to your boat by adding a relay to individual wired switches. You won’t have “complete” control over your boat from afar, and this does add some cost and installation work into the mix, but you can set it up for a few key items – and since it all works through your phone, you’ll never have to search between those couch cushions for your boat remote.