#Apps - A new smartphone app developed by the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) that aims to make it easy for boaters to allow contacts on shore to monitor their voyages has been launched today (Thursday 22 August).
The SafeTrx app is available free for iOS and Android powered smartphones and tablets, and lets boat owners log their voyages directly into their device - allowing them to be tracked by their chosen contacts, including the Irish Coast Guard.
It's also expected that the app will also help the coastguard to identify the location of a stricken vessel, and assess details such as craft description, contact details ashore, previous activity, where the boat was last visible to the network and where headed, persons on board and other information - all targeted at reducing the time that seafarers spend in the water waiting for a lifeboat or helicopter.
“SafeTrx helps take the search out of search and rescue," said Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds. "It encourages all sea users to plan and execute their trips better, safer and gives assurance to friends and partners ashore.”
His comments were echoed by ISA chief executive Harry Hermon, who said: "I believe that ISA SafeTrx, which has been designed by coastguard professionals and built right here in Cork, will help to reduce the number of fatalities on the water even further. I have no doubt that this will save many lives."
Also speaking at the launch today, Minister Coveney said: “The concept of safety at sea and on our network of rivers and lakes must become as commonplace as that of safety on our roads. We need to create a culture of safety first for those travelling on our waters for either commercial or recreational reasons.
"With loss of life continuing across the maritime spectrum, those who make their living from the sea and those who utilise the sea primarily for leisure purposes must ensure that safety becomes a top priority.”
ISA SafeTrx logs position reports every kilometre (or every 5 minutes if stationary). Should the user fail to return on time, their emergency contacts will be automatically alerted via SMS and advised to initiate the appropriate action.
Voyage position reports are displayed on the SafeTrx Monitoring Console so when an emergency contact calls the Irish Coast Guard concerning an overdue trip, coastguard staff will have access to the user’s location and SafeTrx trip data through a secure SafeTrx server. And as the ISA SafeTrx app periodically sends location data back to the servers, the coastguard's response team can get help directly and quickly.
However, an expert in GPS technology has warned boat users against relying solely on such apps when heading out on the water.
Writing for Afloat.ie's Have Your Say blog, Gary Delaney of Global Position Intelligence (GPI) says the GSM and GPRS location technology on which the SafeTrx app is based is "less than reliable" in Irish coastal and nearshore waters, and "can deteriorate with the weather".
"It is well recognised that in the event of a maritime emergency, lifesaving agencies need to know the current position of the casualty as quickly as possible," he writes. "An assessment of available technologies reveals that only normally approved safety communications devices, such as marine VHF, AIS, EPIRBs, PLBs, ELT, etc can come near guaranteeing that requirement."
The app developers have acknowledged such concerns, saying that ISA SafeTrx is "not intended to be used as a replacement for statutorily recognised safety devices" but is "a resource that in some instances may help to raise an alarm earlier and assist emergency services to locate casualties more accurately".
As always, Afloat.ie advises boaters and sailors to stick to a standard safety checklist, which includes informing a contact on shore of your plans and expected return time, and confirming that you have adequate means for calling for help - from a suitable VHF radio to flares for signalling distress.