Lights, Camera, Action!
by Steve Katz
While we are not in the movie making business, cameras of all types have become required equipment for most sportfish boats. A typical tournament sportfish boat usually houses cameras, and lots of them. The camera systems for sportfish boats commonly include those for monitoring of machinery spaces, interior spaces, low light or thermal cameras for navigation, cameras for vessel safety and security, cameras for recording the fishing action, underwater cameras for fishing and boat maintenance as well as remote access cameras systems. The following provides a breakdown of the camera systems available for the common sportfishing applications.
Machine Spaces – A look from the inside
One of the first uses for cameras was to permit remote monitoring of the machinery spaces from the helm. Often consisting of cameras in the engine room, lazarette and pump room, the video signal from these cameras is sent to a dedicated monitor on the helm. As equipment evolved, a multifunction chart plotter eliminated the need for a dedicated video monitor. Today these below deck cameras are small and compact and can include infrared lighting to allow the camera to see in the dark, though usually black and white.
The ability to remotely monitor the engine room is a great way for the captain to quickly review the boat’s major systems. Engine room monitoring also provides an early alert if something is out of the ordinary. For a quick solution or temporary use, a Garmin VIRB wireless camera can be used in the machinery space to send a live video feed directly to a Garmin MFD on the helm. Though a camera system is not a substitute for the traditional engine room inspection, most of these cameras provide reasonable detail and can reveal major issues in a machinery space. Machinery space cameras can also benefit you while performing an inspection—permitting the captain on the bridge to monitor the crew member while in the machinery space and know that they safely completed the task.
A camera in the interior of the boat in a public space, such as the salon is popular for boats that travel often. With limited crew and safety in mind while traveling to distant fishing grounds and ports, knowing where your crew is any given time is important. Often a camera in the salon can allow the captain at the helm a quick way to find the location and status of the crew. The captain may need to know if the crew is ready for a vessel speed change or if the crew has safely made it to a given location aboard the boat.
Thermal and Low Light Camera Applications
Cameras are a great way to add to your situational awareness when used for navigation. The most popular camera for navigation is the thermal (or infrared) camera manufactured by FLIR. Using thermal imaging, the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum we perceive with our eyes is dramatically expanded, helping us “see” the thermal energy emitted from an object.
Unlike visible light, in the infrared world everything with a temperature emits heat. Visible light doesn’t affect the thermal world, so you can see equally well in highly lit and totally dark environments – the thermal camera does not know the difference. The thermal camera picture is a representation of the radiated heat (and not visible properties) of objects in its field. This allows the thermal camera to identify objects that may not be seen by the naked eye, such as a person in the water, buoy or the hull of a boat.
“Low light” cameras use an imaging device that is extra sensitive, requiring a small amount of visible light to produce a video image. A low light camera does not use thermal heat to form a picture; it uses the visible light spectrum like a traditional camera. These devices work well in dark environments. Taking in whatever small amounts of visible light exist, low light cameras magnify and project the image on a display. Some of these devices are easily recognizable by their greenish image and are often called night vision. Some are packaged as hand held goggles.
The use of thermal cameras has also moved into the engine room. FLIR has designed an easily mounted, compact camera, the AX8, that is ideal for monitoring engine and machinery performance. Such cameras not only permit checking temperatures but it can be used to quickly identify a leak of fluids or other unusual events. These thermal cameras are often attached to a monitor or multifunction display on the main helm.
Using a thermal camera for navigation or vessel monitoring may seem intuitive but it is wise to practice using the thermal camera in multiple situations, allowing you to learn the heat pattern of the typical objects in your environment. This way you will be more likely to notice and analyze any unfamiliar image in the cameras field of view.
Security Footage and Capturing the Fishing Action – Above and Below the Waterline
Cameras can easily be used for safety and security. Cameras mounted on the exterior of the vessel, particularly on the upper decks, are ideally suited to monitor the entire perimeter of the vessel and its exterior spaces. Some of these cameras offer the ability to pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) on specific areas or threats. Depending on the type of system, some of these cameras can provide and alert or alarm if something enters a pre-defined area in the field of view. Using a thermal camera for security has become one of the best ways to detect threats. Objects such as people and small boats show up easily in a thermal cameras video screen in almost any situation.
Recording a video of your fishing trip has always been a good way to capture memories and in some tournaments, document your catch. There are a lot of ways to record the fishing action, it seems that many people use the video camera in their Smartphone to skillfully record the fishing action. While most of us have a smart phone handy, it may not be the best device to use in a wet harsh environment.
The advent of action cameras, such as the GoPro and Garmin VIRB, have made it easy and affordable to record fishing action. These cameras are hand held and self-contained. They are battery powered, enclosed in a rugged waterproof case and can be easily operated quickly. The resulting video provides exceptional results for a small simple camera. The Garmin VIRB is one of the few cameras that can be connected to a power supply while in its waterproof case. This allows you to have the camera on and ready throughout the day without needing to change batteries. Additionally, the VIRB can be remotely controlled from a Garmin MFD, allowing one button recording on multiple cameras simultaneously.
Another great way to record the fishing action is with permanently installed cameras that feed video to a centrally located video recorder. For the permanently installed cameras that record the action in the cockpit, there are a number of mounting options – on the outriggers, the cockpit and bridge overhang. Many of these systems feed video into a constantly running video recorder.
The Latham camera system is one of the most popular options. Latham Cams include special mounts on the outriggers, giving you a great view of the spread. Since this system is always on, you do not need to remember to turn on the cameras to record the action. At the end of the day, you can download the digital video from the fishing trip to a USB drive or other media for preservation or give to the anglers.
A wireless camera that works on land will not work underwater. The traditional wireless signal, such as that incorporated into a GoPro does not travel underwater. While using an action camera to record the fishing in the dredge or near the boat is a great idea, streaming live video from an underwater camera will not work. There are, however, recreational cameras that are designed with a heavy tether and cable that can be towed behind the boat and can send a video image to the boat. There are also thru-hull cameras, similar in size and shape to underwater lights that can provide an underwater video image.
Video File Organization
Maybe you already have all the cameras you need on the boat but capturing and recording the video can be a problem. Though they may be unknown to the sportfishing market, there are many products that record and allow remote video viewing. These programs are commonly marketed as home surveillance systems. While these are great at home, they may not be the best choice onboard a boat. The devices made for marine use often include low voltage power so it can run off a 12-volt battery source, (no shore power required). Most importantly, a good marine device will not require a broadband internet connection for remote viewing or image transfer.
One of the newest products available in the marine market is the GOST Watch HD XVR. This product is a small white box that can accept video from up to eight traditional analog or digital IP cameras and record up to three months of video footage. This device uses a GSM SIM data card to access mobile data networks, allowing you to use a Smartphone app to connect to your boat. You can then see the real-time video footage or review historical video stored in the machine hard drive. You can even transfer video clips to your phone or to a connected USB drive. GOST, which specializes in security, developed this product with vessel security in mind. The features of the XVR, however, also make it great way to record and share fishing action from the cockpit.
The ever-presence of cameras in fishing has had the effect of making the once unbelievable fishing story into an epic video. Whether recording video of your fishing trip, monitoring the engine room or securing your vessel using a high-quality video camera system, the options for camera systems on sportfish boats are as diverse as their applications. From recording your fishing to ensuring safety while navigating and keeping an eye on the engine room, camera systems are a must-have on the modern sportfishing operation.
Captain Steve Katz is the owner of Steve’s Marine Service Inc in Ocean City, Maryland. Katz holds ABYC Master Technician certification, NMEA AMEI, NMEA2000 certificates along with factory training from many manufacturers. To contact Steve, email firstname.lastname@example.org.