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Old 14-12-2016, 12:16   #1
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Using cameras for situational awareness

I have been experimenting with a couple of cameras on the boat, mostly for security but also to cover some blind spots while sailing. The natural evolution of this idea is to use cameras for situational awareness while sailing without actually being present at the helm.

My setup is simple, I have two cameras, one at the bow and another one midship connected to a 24" TV in the cabin. I can show radar image and the camera image side by side. It seems to give me a good idea about what is going on ahead of the boat, less so around the boat. At night, the cameras switch into black and white mode, with a limited range (100 ft) but it is still useable (light of other vessels can be seen from much further away).

I am still uncomfortable though and pop my head above deck often to get a real view of the surroundings. How do you feel about such an approach? Is it inherently unsafe or is it just a question of getting used to the field of view of the cameras? May be installing a pan/tilt/zoom camera and a separate infrared light for increased range could help. My thinking is that if pilots can fly on instruments alone (takes time to qualify), it should be much easier on a slow moving boat with the help of charts, radar, bigger display?

S/V Pizzazz
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Old 14-12-2016, 12:26   #2
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

Pilots are flying in generally controlled airspace, boats are not. Augmenting your view with additional video could be useful --- but you'd have the big risk of starting to rely on it instead of a proper visual and radar watch.
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Old 14-12-2016, 12:35   #3
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

I've been contemplating the same thing myself. I figure its another tool in the box.

What camera are you using? How does it integrate into a TV, HDMI?
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Old 14-12-2016, 13:06   #4
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

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What camera are you using? How does it integrate into a TV, HDMI?
I am using CCTV cameras, off Amazon. NTSC, 3.6mm, 75 degrees field of view, composite output that is fed into the TV and also into the chartplotter (low power draw).

The more sophisticated cameras are all IP which means you can only feed it to a computer tablet but then you have to make sure those are always charged and the displays are small. The added benefit is zoom/pan which could be cool.
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Old 14-12-2016, 13:21   #5
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

In my opinion, by leaving the outside helm and then depending on the electronic TV views, what you are moving towards is false security and a false sense of the total situation, so false situational awareness.

There are many things that go bump in the night (or day) on the water that will not show on radar or as lights, and for that reason a proper watch on deck on the helm is smarter than watching a TV view, that is removed from the environment.

And while the crew of a 100,000 ton tanker may be operating from the bridge using cameras and remote sensing and RADAR, you are on a small plastic boat which is more likely to be damaged from ANY collision. What they would not notice, such as a deadhead or log or container which would not damage them, could cause significant damage to your boat.

In addition the sounds one hears on a boat deck will be lost. Little things make a difference and a tiny rattle, flutters, or snap or flap, will be missed. Those could be very important as it may be the warning sound of something serious.

I have spent many nights alone on deck at night on the open ocean and your ears will pick up sound changes that could make the difference between safety and emergency. Similarly, when on deck, you get a better sense of the wind and changes in it. I assume we are talking about a sailing sailboat.

Also, At night on a sailboat, you should try to preserve your night vision, and watching a TV is not the way to do that.

And similarly I think watching TV and then "popping your head up now and then" is a poor substitute for someone on deck, on watch, alert, and with REAL situational awareness and good night vision (not staring at a bright screen).

Also, I think it is wrong to think of a small sailboat like an aircraft (or a large ship like a tanker). They are not the same.

And that's why I think competent, experienced and alert crew on watch while on voyages is the best safety feature you could have on a boat.

That's how I see it. Of course you may see it differently.
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Old 14-12-2016, 13:35   #6
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

I've always thought of situational awareness being akin to "keeping your eyes and head OUTSIDE the boat." I suppose that additional "viewpoints" would be helpful, but then there's the possibility of staring at the screens and missing what should be right in front of your eyes.

Folks who race, for example, with big deck-sweeping jibs, often have crew up forward for both tacking work as well as lookouts.

I've been sailing for 35+ years on my own boats and have found the old Mark I eyeballs and a jib tacked high off the foredeck to be more than adequate.

Disclaimers: --- last guy to run Windows 3.0 within 50 miles of Silicon Valley into the mid 90s!!! --- last guy on his block to get a smart phone (last July)!!! --- last guy on his block to get a big flat screen TV --- one of those who thinks a TV on a sailboat is a bad idea --- still have cassette tapes (I love my 80s mix tapes!) --- did buy a laptop in 2010 and have an Alfa wifi booster to boot! --- still reads books when on the boat

I'd worry about a false sense of complacency. But then, ya know what they do in Russia with those dashboard cams, right?

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In addition the sounds one hears on a boat deck will be lost. Little things make a difference and a tiny rattle, flutters, or snap or flap, will be missed. Those could be very important as it may be the warning sound of something serious.
Superb point. When we sailed up to BC from SF, I could not abide wearing headphones. I NEEDED to hear every single last creak, groan and sputter from my boat and what was around it. I tried explaining it to my son/crew, who listened to Podcasts all day long, but he didn't get it. Halfway up we bought a Bluetooth speaker, so when he was off watch down below, or even upstairs, and wearing his headphones, at least I could listen to my music. We have cockpit speakers, too. But it is essential for me to hear my boat and the sounds around it. We would have missed a very closeup whale sighting if I hadn't heard the breathing.
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Old 14-12-2016, 14:21   #7
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

I would feel comfortable with the use of the cameras as a back-up for a short time (15 minutes) , but not for long term use away from the helm.

I am actually responding to this post to share what I've seen as the best use of such a camera. A friend of mine that frequents the shoals and coral heads in the Bahamas, as I do, has a forward facing masthead mounted camera pointed to the area about 30 to 40 yards off his bow. It's often difficult to spot water depths and reefs by form and color when the sun is not high. Traditionally a crew member is sent to the spreaders to allow for a good view. The camera for this function is excellent!
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:16   #8
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

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Originally Posted by a64pilot View Post
I've been contemplating the same thing myself. I figure its another tool in the box.

What camera are you using? How does it integrate into a TV, HDMI?
A64pilot,

I saw in another thread you had professional experience with real equipment as a pilot. Do you have some thoughts on reasonable priced consumer level stuff?

I like using analog cameras for the ease of integration with the chartplotter and the TV. You can also easily spot lights on other boats and buoys from far away. What do you think about adding a long-range IR illuminator to extend the camera range for unlighted objects ahead? I see a trade-off between a more sensitive and expensive camera vs. a more powerful IR illuminator.

Also, there appears to be a focus issue between daylight and night time. As the frequencies are different you can either focus for daylight or for IR. Automatic focus increases the cost of the camera though. Any ideas would be welcome.

I agree that it is just another tool. Even if someone else is at the helm, it is comforting to be able to glance at the screen and see what is happening ahead from below.

Lastly, I came across this video. I know such a zoom range is not practical on a boat but the video is cool.

Have a look:
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:31   #9
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

Well, I've been thinking of putting a cam on board, mostly for security, but also for seeing up front where maybe I can't see things due to that big beautiful genny. My thought was to put one looking straight forward, maybe mounted on the pulpit. But I'd get a wide angle lens, at least 120 degree...

For security, it would be nice to have one on the mast, looking down onto the deck, especially the cockpit area. Some of these have alarms that will notify you on your phone if there is movement... need WiFi, and of course, the boom swinging in the wind would probably set it off.

I have a couple of them in a vacation home and we love them. They are cheap, easy to configure, but they do require WiFi... or cell phone internet access, things that are always problematical on a sailboat.

As to staying below at night and watching what's happening as you sail along, that gives me the willies. I've had too many surprises sailing at night to rely upon such limited sensory input. Somebody really needs to be on deck... watching and especially listening... watching TV, with it's high concentration of blue tone light just messes up your night vision terribly. That's why we all have red/orange lighting when sailing at night. It can take up to half an hour to re-adjust and the blue-white light of a screen will make it even worse!

So, great idea, but not for night sailing.
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:32   #10
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

Good cameras with gimballed mounts are very expensive. Add in low light capability and you're talking defence grade optics.

For good situational awareness you also need to be able to run some complex algorithms in real time. There is way too much noise for visual recognition alone to be reliable.

We do use several cameras mounted in the engine room, bilge and for auto pilot engagement. They have controlled lighting and cheap surveillance cameras work well here.

As for instrument flying on aircraft that is a very different use case. Physical seperation in controlled airspace / seaspace is not something we have on the water.

We have radar overlay on charts, ais, forwardscan sonar and the mark one eyeball. I can't see good optics being cost viable for another 5 - 10 years.
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:46   #11
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

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A64pilot,

I saw in another thread you had professional experience with real equipment as a pilot. Do you have some thoughts on reasonable priced consumer level stuff?
No, only thing I did was with a Sony "lipstick" cam several years ago. I have two tiny little cameras that I can view with my Zeus plotter, one in the engine room and the other looking at the packing gland, but that is all so far.
This is the Sony lipstick cam, spin is about 1 min into the video

https://vimeo.com/9791700#t=60s
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:50   #12
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

I wonder if there is a Wifi or Bluetooth camera sort of like a GopPro, one that all you had to do was power it?

The guy the ferry hit that was on the toilet, I bet he wishes he had a camera

Oh and I had thought to use one on the spreader to look for shallows too, nice to know that will work. I hadn't relished the idea of climbing up there myself and hollering at my wife, No, not that way, your other left
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:52   #13
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

Staring at a screen at night will ruin your night vision for quite a while.
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Old 15-12-2016, 09:57   #14
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

Fine.

As long as you don't use the image to see anything. But its OK to draw a drawing of the image on paper and then look at it on paper. That's safe.



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Old 15-12-2016, 10:01   #15
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Re: Using cameras for situational awareness

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Staring at a screen at night will ruin your night vision for quite a while.
My intent is it not to replace a standing watch, but you know every now and again I do go below to make a sandwich etc., not a bad idea to have something looking forward at that time, and a good night vision camera may well see better than my Mark 1 eyeball.
I looked, and there are apparently scads of Wifi camera, most seemingly security cameras.
We had a security system at the test activity where I worked, it was software based and looked for movement, we found we could trick it if we were laying on creepers and moved slowly
Bored test pilots have to have something to do

I have a "smart TV" wonder if it would work?
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