The Benefits of GPS Integration

Will new GPS integrations from boat and engine builders offer boaters options that may improve safety and convenience?
PWC running away from rider
New GPS integrations could improve boating safety. Tim Bower

My first PWC was a 1976 Kawasaki Jet Ski 400, a stand-up with a questionable title and a hole in the bow. It was resting on a loading dock behind a sketchy-looking warehouse. The man who took my $600 cash said he was “selling it for a friend.” That thing was loud and two-stroke stinky, and I was young enough to think that those were features.

You might recall that these early Jet Ski models did not have an engine-cutoff lanyard. If you fell, which happened frequently, the Jet Ski was designed to turn full lock and idle in a circle, waiting for you to swim over and get back on board. And this worked fine until the breezy day I fell off and the Jet Ski was drifting downwind. I swam and swam before I realized that the PWC was spiraling away on the breeze faster than I could swim. This was discouraging. Luckily for me, an older gentleman fishing nearby came to my rescue. He idled up in a small aluminum boat and said, “You seem to be in a pickle.”

I grasped the gunwale, and he putt-putted me over to the Jet Ski.

When I was perched on a stool at the Lake View Inn last week, I related this story to my good friend Chuck Larson. I was trying to explain the details of some interesting patent filings that Kawasaki has made, which were recently revealed by our protégé Kevin Shaw on his website, The Watercraft Journal. A number of these patents involve a Jet Ski equipped with GPS, an electric auxiliary motor, and servos to control the steering. One idea is a man-overboard function. Before you hit the water, the engine-cutoff lanyard triggers the system to pinpoint the location. The main internal combustion engine shuts down, the small electric motor is engaged and, in conjunction with the servo steering and guided by the GPS, navigates the craft back to that digital breadcrumb where the rider should be waiting. I told Chuck that I hope the Kawasaki engineers give the motor enough power to handle a really stiff headwind.

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“Of course, just because they apply for a patent doesn’t mean an idea like this will ever make it to production,” I said, “but it’s still fun to observe all the ways that boat and engine builders are -leveraging GPS.”

“I’ve been doing some imagining too,” Chuck said. “I’ve got this idea I’m calling Chuck’s Fish Drone. I equip a drone with an infrared camera or some kind of sonar. You fly the drone over likely hotspots on the lake, and if there are fish lurking, you’d see them through an app on your boat’s multifunction display. Then mark the spot through the drone GPS. Push a button and the boat navigates itself to that spot, and you are on the fish!”

“Maybe the drone lowers a line with a night crawler on a hook, catches the fish, and brings it back to you,” I said.

“Oh! That could be Chuck’s Fishing Drone 2.0,” Chuck said. “Brilliant!”

I hope someone at Garmin doesn’t read this and steal Chuck’s idea before he gets his patent.