When the big CES show of consumer electronics hands out innovation awards each year, names such as Samsung and Sony tend to top the list. But for the 2021 awards, a brand well-known to boaters—Mercury Marine—was also in the mix. Mercury was honored in two categories for 1st Mate, a safety-and-security system that integrates a boat’s propulsion system through an intelligent hub.
In essence, 1st Mate is an expandable network of FOBs connected to the same hub as an app and the boat’s engines. While the promise of the technology is broad—and while the system is built for future updates via the cloud—today, 1st Mate has three primary functions.
First, the system handles man-overboard monitoring and alerts. If a captain goes into the drink, the engine automatically cuts off, a GPS location is logged, and the system sends passengers instructions for how to restart the engine and get back to the coordinates. If a passenger falls overboard, the system doesn’t kill the engine, but it does sound alarms and give the skipper GPS coordinates.
“We see folks who tie things to the back of their boat; you could attach this on a dinghy, on a cooler,” says Zach Savage, Mercury’s lead engineer for 1st Mate. “If you’re going forward and something falls off, you’ll get notified.”
The system’s second primary function is distress messaging for solo boaters.
“Let’s say you’re fishing and fall overboard, and you can’t get back on board,” says Rob Hackbarth, Mercury’s director of controls and rigging. “The app knows that you went overboard, and there’s a countdown timer. After it expires, it will send notifications to the emergency contacts in the app. So now, the family member ashore can notify the right authorities and give them the actual coordinates where the person went into the water.”
The third primary feature is theft deterrence. The system can be programmed so that only the skipper can start the engine, or so it won’t start after a certain time—say, if a teenager stays out past curfew.
“We’re trying to think about scenarios for people sharing the boat with large families,” Savage says. “You can log in on your phone and start it back up after he calls you to grovel a little bit.”
More features are in the works, Hackbarth says, with the technology offering “much more potential.” For now, look for the available versions on Amazon.