Security and System Monitoring Experiment?
27 May 2016 | Herrington Harbour South, Friendship MD
We are liveaboards...the boat is our home - which means we have more than the usual "stuff" that is important to our lives with us on the boat. Naturally - I am more than a bit anal about ensuring that systems designed to ensure that all things function properly (refrigeration, water, humidity, security, power) on the boat are working (especially when we are not aboard). We often leave the boat for days at a time (land travel). I did a lot of research on boat monitoring systems and will share my solution here.
Bottom line up front: I chose the IRIS security and home automation system (by Lowes) as our vessel monitoring system of choice. Its cheap, simple and versatile - I will explain below with the following caveat... I have been an IRIS fan for several years and have the systems installed in 2 of our 3 homes around the country. Unfortunately, my loyalty and confidence was tarnished when Lowes IRIS recently erred in upgrading its hub (the central brain of the system) and software with a piss-poor transition plan that caused some loss of functionality and convenience (and they are still working to resolve this mistake). However, I am still able to effectively monitor and control what I need - just not to the level of automation and convenience of the previous hub and software. All that said - I still intend to use the new system and tolerate the temporary interruptions as they transition the software to a new application-based platform. I am confident it will return to its initial glory in due time.
Why I chose IRIS: Web-based; agile monitoring abilities; direct notification to you (phone, email, text) means no requirement to pay a monitoring company; accessories are ubiquitous and it accepts many different automation sensor/control unit brands and it performs functions that are boat-specific (with some minor modifications that a novice user can do).
- Secure the boat (security alarm functions that will alert/notify me if anyone steps aboard, opens a hatch, port, lazarette. The system has a local audible alarm (if desired) and remote notification to your phone/computer/email.
- Monitor conditions aboard including temperature, motion, video (cameras), bilge water level (leaks), pressurized water leaks.
- Control devices including heat/air systems, lights, appliances, ice-eaters, plant waterers, dehumidifiers, space heaters (anything that plugs into a receptacle).
- Set controls by conditional rules/responses such that if one condition exists (temp/humidity rises above x degrees in a specific space)...turn on a fan/vent/pump/appliance.
- Receive notifications of who is aboard and when - where they go in the boat...etc...
- See what's happening aboard - cameras are motion activated and can record such activity (with infra-red at night).
- Manually activate any device ie...turn off shore water (if I forgot when I left), heaters, fans, lights.
- Schedule lights and appliances to turn on/off when I need it - to make the boat look occupied, set a specific temperature for my arrival (winter), watch to see if the pump-out guy did his job or decided to explore our boat when no one is looking...etc...
- See a history (log) of what has happened aboard ... like who entered/left, what was turned on/off/activated (conditions based).
I can access it and control it remotely from a smart-phone. Yes - you must provide a constant internet connection but it does have a cellular back-up feature (one of the "problems" with the new upgrade - cellular not available yet).
My biggest fears - and the reason I chose this setup:
A. I forget to shut the shore-water off all consistently. I wanted to be able to turn it off remotely or have the system do it if a leak is detected (it does).
B. I want to know who is sniffing around our boat (I have a deck camera that serves this purpose) while we are away.
C. I want to be able to keep all (or most) systems off (while away) and turn them on a few hours before we arrive (like heat in the winter)...and I want the system to automatically turn on/off a heater, ice eater, dehumidifier based upon environmental conditions (cold snap, humidity).
D. I want to deter or scare-off anyone boarding (when we are not there) with audible siren (still working on how birds may affect/react to this action).
Musings on our choice of the IRIS system: We have a large boat with a high-end power management system that auto-starts the genny when shore power is off and the banks get low...this solution works for us...
1. An internet connection is required. It does work using the marina "free" wireless service but you must employ a router (additional cost).
2. Cellular back up is a nice feature (currently not available) but they say its coming (it will cost extra - we previously paid $9 per month)?
3. IRIS is application based (you need a smartphone that will handle the app).
4. It requires power (AC) but the hub power supply is a 12V transformer device which I assume you could wire direct...but would need to do the same with the router that supports bringing the internet connection to the Hub.
5. It's much cheaper than "Marine" boat monitoring systems but some of the remote control modules must be used in creative ways to achieve your goals.
6. Remote control devices that turn things on/off are exclusively AC units (they plug into an outlet and need AC power to operate). The sensors (contact and motion) are battery operated using the small 6V batteries (expensive...but they last a year).
7. Cameras require AC power but are wireless and don't need a LAN cable after they are initialized.
In summary - I like this setup. It works for us and we spent less than $300 on the entire (complex) array. I look forward to Lowes IRIS folks getting their head out of their !@#$ and bring the software functionality back to its original splendor!
The image is of our IRIS Water Control Valve that shuts off dock water when I want (remotely) or in case of a leak detected by the bilge sensor (IRIS Water Leak Detector).