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Bene505 01-16-2011 09:49 PM

Webcam to watch your boat -- Done! And how-to.
It's been a long road on this one. As most of you know, we kept our boat in the water this winter. It's been a blast, sailing with other SN members in both beautiful days and freezing-spray nights.

But I've worried about the boat each cold night, and several times I've driven the 30 minutes to see her in the evening mid-week. On the way there, I've wondered if the engine will be frozen, cracked and broken. IT's been a real worry.

The marina moved the boat once. (They warned me a week ahead of time.) They plugged her in, but did not not turn the dock-side circuit breaker on. She went for a few days that way. I found a cold boat, but it was late fall and not freezing out yet. She was ok.


So I've struggled to find a way to monitor the boat. I finally bought a webcam off eBay and set it up in our TV room at home, testing it out. Today I installed it on the boat. It took a couple calls to try and get the marina's Internet company to set up port-forwarding, so we could call-up the webcam from anywhere on the Internet. It turns out that they couldn't do that. So I went with Plan B.

Plan B was to have the webcam send a snapshot to my ftp server evey 5 minutes. I tested it out with it set to send a picture every 10 seconds at first, to make sure it was working.

So without futher ado, here is the snapshot from inside the boat, taken moments ago.

Note the space heater's light is on. Time to rest easy. Yeah!

You can also see the freezer-type thermometer in the foreground, on the post. The red needle on the thermometer is not visible in the camera's infrared mode, so I taped a small bit of electrical tape to the needle. The left side of the tape is accurate. There is also a piece of black tape on the dial at 32 degrees. The right side of that peice of tape is the accurate side. So when the two pieces of tape meet, it's 32 degrees.

Besides the space heater, there's a 75 watt bilge-type heater in the engine compartment and a light bulb securely mounted in the forward head. And as of today, there's a small fan moving air around.

Here's the latest snap shot, since it's taken me a few minutes to write this.

Not a lot going on, right? It's perfect. In reality, I see the date and time that the picture was put on the ftp site, so I can tell if the transmissions stop (and drive to the boat as soon as possible).

Setting this up was not easy. I'll have to make that a separate post. This one is getting long enough. Here's a sneak peak at the setup.


RocketScience 01-16-2011 10:13 PM

Great idea. I'll be looking forward to your 'nuts and bolts' follow-up on this.

Bene505 01-16-2011 10:42 PM

Here's the setup. I used the Bullet2HP to connect to the marina's wifi. The Bullet is setup with the laptop. You could also skip the Bullet and connect a wireless router to the marina's wifi. You might actually be able to skip the router instead and connect the Bullet directly to the webcam after the webcam is setup.

The laptop is then disconnected from the Bullet and the Bullet is connected immediately to the Internet port on the router.

With the laptop also connected to the router, the laptop is used to setup the webcam.

As long as the marina receives a packet from the router (the webcam) every x minutes, the marina will keep the logged-in session active. (I don't know what x is. I have the webcam sending an image every 5 minutes, that's frequent enough.) When I go sailing, it will disconnect. So when I get back, I'll connect the laptop to the Bullet, re-login and then move the wire back to the router.

The Bullet is powered from the house bank, so if the boat's power cable gets disconnected and then reconnected, the (logged-in) wifi connection is preserved. If it's kept disconnected, there won't be any updated snapshots, so I'll know there is a problem and go.

If the power goes out (and is then restored), the camera goes to center (up-down and left-right both). So you have to make sure your camera is centered on the thing you want to see. Or get a webcam that doesn't pan and tilt.

I could go into more details on the setup if anyone wants.


RocketScience 01-16-2011 11:44 PM

Great illustration. I think I got it, but I'll PM with any questions if I have any.

Patient 01-17-2011 02:35 AM

Really neat idea!

If you want to take it up a notch you might consider using a arduino or similar Open Source processing unit.

The arduino uses 5v at 5mA. (Nothing)
You can also use a temperature sensor with it if you wish and of course interface it with the the net quite easily.

Twittering Laser Tripwire with Webcam Capture

Your approach seems much easier on the DIY side though!
Kudos on a great write up!

night0wl 01-17-2011 08:49 AM

How do you deal with unreliable wi-fi connections? If my laptop doesn't see its primary network for a period of time, it simply goes offline and doesn't attept to reconnect when the network comes up? Its a mac, so pc behavior may be different.

sailingdog 01-17-2011 10:00 AM

One of the issues with doing this, especially if you're traveling or cruising, is that the firewall or router that you connect the boat to the internet with has to have ports opened to allow the video feed to pass through. Without this, it is basically a paperweight that uses electricity.

I'd point out that many smartphones can install an application that allows you to monitor such a web-based camera from the phone. I use such an app to check server room security cameras and such.

scottyt 01-17-2011 11:55 AM

SD his system is basicly pushing an email out every five mins. it is no different than him send and email, no port issues, as long as he has a connected wifi.

sailingdog 01-17-2011 11:59 AM


Originally Posted by scottyt (Post 687729)
SD his system is basicly pushing an email out every five mins. it is no different than him send and email, no port issues, as long as he has a connected wifi.

Yes, but not all web cams are capable of doing that. Some need to have ports forwarded through the router or firewall.

Bene505 01-17-2011 03:17 PM

I woke up this morning and checked on the boat. It took 10 seconds.

I checked again this evening and I really felt that it save me an hour. I didn't have to drive to the marina to check on the boat.


This particular webcam can do both ftp transfers and emails. I know it can send out a snapshot every x seconds, not sure about doing that with email, but it can send emails when motion is sensed. (I got a fan and a hanging piece of plastic ready but then discovered that I didn't need motion to send to an ftp site.) I ought to check on that, since getting an email every hour from the boat is easier then everyone setting up an ftp site.

Here's what I bought: Lonestar Wireless IP Camera PAN/TILT Cell Phone View - eBay (item 280488024079 end time Jan-27-11 14:38:51 PST)

By the way, the marina's Internet people are going to consider providing inbound network connections, so you could have a fully functioning webcam.


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