"OnStar, how may I help you?"
The voice at the other end of the line is always soft, friendly and reassuring (at least, in the advertisements). Lost on a back road in the middle of nowhere, you may breathe again, settle into the soft leather seat of your Cadillac Escalade and be sure OnStar will get you back on track. Having engine problems, too? Relax. The system automatically responds to overheating and low oil pressure. Locked out while using your cell? No problem. OnStar will unlock your doors for you by remote control.
Drivers who routinely travel far from home are among the system's growing fan base, with about a million customers estimated by the end of 2000. General Motors plans to expand OnStar into other divisions, the system will be standard on all 2001 Saabs and soon, you'll be able to order it on a variety of Hondas. The idea that you can do most anything-from receiving emergency help to sending your wife an anniversary bouquet-while cruising along unfamiliar territory is certainly tempting. In fact, the idea sounds near-perfect not only on land, but for yachtsmen of all stripes.
Why, then, isn't anything like OnStar available on the water?
The marine industry is dancing around the concept with a variety of programs, some with more potential than others. The latest technology designed to enhance the cruising experience certainly holds promise, but there are definite reasons boating advancements in this area lag behind those on land.
Manufacturers build OnStar directly into cars. The system requires a cellular phone, a computer and internal wiring to handle commands that range from performing diagnostics to ordering theater tickets to locating your car by GPS. If your airbags deploy, an OnStar representative will call to see if you are all right and send help, if needed. The top-of-the-line system at the time of this writing cost about $700 a year, some of which funds the staff and facilities needed to help you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In theory, the service could translate into the marine world fairly easily. In practicality, it's likely to be a long time coming. OnStar itself has no current interest in marine applications. The boat market is much smaller than the car market, and the company's growth in the latter is enough to keep its hands full. Staffing its current system with high-quality women and men has been a struggle, according to OnStar representatives, and finding marine specialists wouldn't be easy.