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  1. #1
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    Smartphone as SOS tracker plus speed and distance analysis as a bonus

    I know many of you will think this is paranoid, but I sail (or hike, or bike) midweek wherever the conditions are working between Whitstable and Poole all year around. Its often pretty lonely out there and it would be easy for my family to have no idea where in a 150 mile radius I was if things went awry. I also think we all get an exaggerated sense of security from having other people on the water with us especially when they are well spread out and you dont know them. Having recently broken my arm skateboarding, I realized that it would have been incredibly hard to get back to shore if that happened to me when windsurfing (but I would have made it).

    So I got to wondering what I could do to make sure my wife at home could call out the cavalry if things go badly wrong (not that I have needed a rescue in 24 years).

    I have a work provided phone, but its huge, so its nice to have a personal one too even though I dont use it for calls and email.

    My hope was therefore to be able to get a small cheapish smartphone in a waterproof pouch that would allow a GPS tracking app to allow my wife to see where I was, and for me to be able to send an SOS signal if I have to without needing to use the touch screen. A bonus would be if I could get it to give me a rough max speed and distance report plus some of those cool tracks overlayed on google satellite maps like Phil_in_poole often posts. There is then the issue of trying to maximize the chance of getting a mobile signal

    After only one test session it all seems to work so in case some of you have a similar interest, here is how I did it:

    Phone: I got a fairly cheap (140) relatively small sim free Android for Christmas that is also slightly water resistant (Moto G3). I made sure it had the up to date suite of GPS sensors (A-GPS+ GLONASS), and ran a fairly recent version of Android to make sure all apps are compatible. A battered second hand one would probably do too. I intend to always use it in a waterproof pouch inside my wetsuit but the phones water resistance will help if the case ever leaks a little.

    Robust case: cheap unbranded one from Amazon, to make phone a bit more robust, but not too bulky.

    Waterproof pouch: a generic from Amazon, comes with neck strap and see through panels on both sides (for SOS torch function see below).

    Mobile network: Anywhere SIM lite. This SIM is designed for hillwalkers basically it can use any mobile network that it can get a signal on. So your chances of being able to get a signal when out and about will be higher (but not 100%) Cost: c.60 per year (+ more if you use it all up)

    Automatic tracking app: Life360 there are several out there. It regularly and automatically reports your position to whoever else you want who has also got the app (e.g. wife). How regularly it reports is a function of if you are moving or not - but at least every 5 to 15 mins. I also use it to make sure my elderly father has made it back home at night. The point of this is that if I go down and have no signal, or Im unable to operate the phone, then when Im overdue my wife will have my exact last known position and time on a map on her phone.

    SOS app: SOS Stay Safe! this app turns the power on/off button into a panic button. Basically if you press the on/off button 3 times in quick succession then it sends a text and email to whoever you previously specified (eg wife), including your exact GPS coordinates placed on a map. It then continues to send update texts and emails every 5 15 minutes (prespecified) until you cancel it. The touchscreen doesnt work with wet hands or gloves so its necessary to be able to trigger the SOS with a physical button.

    SOS torch app: SOS flashlight. A gimic, but its free. It lets your camera flash send out SOS flashes. Hence why having clear panels on waterproof pouch. Not sure if I could trigger it with wet hands but no downside to having it

    GPS optimizer app: GPS Status and Toolbox. Not sure how important this is, but many phones only use the GPS intermittently to save battery. This app overrides that and also optimises the AGPS somehow using some sort of AGPS log file that it downloads regularly. GPS detail seems very good so maybe it works.

    Strava app: this is nothing to do with safety it is a running and cycling app that tracks your path, distance, max speed and average speed and allows you to have those cool little tracks overlayed onto google satellite maps. Works fine for me for windsurfing, but Im sure its not as accurate as a dedicated Garmin. You can even analyse your gybe radius.. Only downside so far is that I cant figure out how to copy or download the tracks you can only share it with others who have the app
    All the apps are free.

    I tuck the phone pouch under my wetsuit and just above my shoulder blades. It doesnt seem to cause any problems there and I guess has a better chance of getting a signal if Im in the water, or hanging onto the top of my board. You could also try the top of chest.

    There are also dedicated chunky outdoor work and SOS phones you can get with built in SOS buttons that are robust and waterproof. I took the view that I wanted something small and slim to fit in my wetsuit, and that the built in waterproofness would never be enough for windsurfing so an extra pouch would always be needed. Plus I didnt want to compromise on the smartphone functionality when Im using it for day to day things.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Radialhead's Avatar
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    Thanks for bothering to post that. I've been considering getting a cheap Android for the same reason so that's all very useful info.
    Loose - the opposite of tight. Lose - the one that's pronounced 'looze'.

  3. #3
    Senior Member max111's Avatar
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    good post
    good info
    made me think about this !

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by max111 View Post
    good post
    good info
    made me think about this !
    Me.also.
    Well done!

  5. #5
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    I use a garmin watch for GPS tracking, the watch works on its own but can link to a phone by Bluetooth and is programmable. There should be a way of controlling the phone and activating the SOS via a watch. Otherwise i guess you have to get it out of your wetsuit to to work it.

  6. #6
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    Great post! I'll still need help from a friendly geek to assemble this thing but it's very good start.
    The infamous wavewriter

  7. #7
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    I just use a new but old style Nokia ( 10)...you know it just makes and receives calls.....and the battery lasts for ever! It has a PAYG sim and I have 2 numbers I can call with one button press. I use an Aquapac...personally I would not trust any of the cheaper ones. I used to carry my main smartphone with me but I cracked the screen on 2 occasions so reverted to this much cheaper and simpler Nokia. I have never had a problem getting a signal on 02. I have only ever used it once when I got stuck some way from my launch spot. I was not in any trouble ...just wanted to let my sailing partner know I would be a long time getting back so he did not call out the troops to look for me.

    What you have put together is impressive and pretty comprehensive. I would recommend you get an Aquapac though. I have 4 of them...the oldest must be at least 10 years old and it is still totally waterproof and I have never had one leak. If they are not stored properly it can look like they leak simply because the phone develops heat and if the plastic film material has been in a damp atmosphere it will shed a lot of that moisture as condensation. They just need to be looked after properly when not in use.......put away somewhere secure/ preferably somewhere warm and not damp and certainly away from direct UV. It would be a shame to ruin all your work for the sake of a quality and well looked after waterproof pouch!

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