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SafeTrx –

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We installed SafeTrx on our mobile phones a while back, as we were quite enthusiastic about its prospects. However, with one thing and another we never got around to using it at the time. Then we received the notification that there was an upgrade. Only we had to first uninstall the previous version and then install the new one. The programmers seem to have missed the bit about doing the uninstallation while the installer was running – oh well.

We fired up the new version only to be told that we needed to go online to update our profile – fine. We both were unable to log in with our user name and password; there are apparently known issues with the server that are being worked on by the developer. In one case we were even informed that the particular user name was already in use! I was eventually able to reset my password and then update my respective profile. My wife got as far as updating her entire profile but was unable to save it, being told that her login was not being recognized even after she had logged in successfully. It took several weeks and a phone call to get this bug in the programming resolved.

A few days after finishing the installation of the new version of the app, we took off on a multi-day cruise, where we would stop in to several islands along the west coast of Ireland. This was a great opportunity to give SafeTrx a whirl. While swinging at anchor off the Inishkeas one evening, I launched the app and clicked on sail plan mode. This “records a passage plan and sends SMS messages to ‘my’ emergency contact should ‘I’ go overdue”. Excellent, I had entered my wife, who sails with me, and my mother, who is at home and could contact the emergency services should the need arise.

Even though we were to make several stops over the ensuing days, I was only able to add one intermediate waypoint. Going by the comments on Google Play, I happened to already know that this was one thing in the previous version that caused much consternation, so it was surprising that this had not been fixed in the major upgrade. Each screen was preceded by an annoying series of what to put in the box. Yes this was a once off, but even so, it made a simple process unnecessarily lengthy.

Once all this was done, I unplugged my phone from the charger, as the battery was full. It was late, so we turned in for the night.

The next morning I went to check my phone and found it was dead. The battery was empty. Both my mother, who is in her 80s and my wife received a text message that might be quite alarming: “This is a notification to inform you that Alex Blackwell's phone battery is running low and ISA SafeTrx has suspended location reporting. Please make contact with Alex Blackwell to verify their trip status. ISA SafeTrx will resume location reporting once the battery level goes above 10%”

In fact, my mother was indeed quite alarmed. She tried to call me and failed (my battery was dead). Then she called my wife, who fortunately was able to allay her fears before she called the Coast Guard.

So why was my battery dead? I can only assume that the App made so many calls on the GPS for a position update and checked in to the server so often that it used up all the power available in a relatively short space of time. At some point it downloaded a Google Earth Satellite view image of the area (we were anchored in). Needless to say, I cancelled the trip (on SafeTrx) as soon as I was able to.

According to a DeCare Systems representative, the developers of SafeTrx, the app “uses a number of methods to determine position and these do consume battery power”. Normally the app apparently transmits a position back to the server every 1km of distance travelled, which implies that it is constantly keeping the phone’s GPS active – a power hungry app in itself. If stationary, SateTrx will send an update every 5 minutes. Then again, it needs to ‘know’ that it is stationary, so the GPS position is still constantly being checked.

Knowing that battery life is an issue, the developers added another process running in the background (and using power) enabling the app to monitor the phone’s battery in real time. It can thus adapt to a declining battery level. If this falls below 30%, the location transmission interval is adjusted to 2km while presumably still constantly monitoring the vessel position on GPS.

At 10% battery power, SafeTrx suspends recording in order “to preserve what is left in the way of power for emergency calls”. However, the app is still running, and still monitoring the battery. When the remaining power falls below the 10% threshold the app sends out the above mentioned SMS message to the emergency contacts.

The other thing that struck me while cruising over the next several days was whether the app would work while we were out of mobile phone coverage, which is quite common in these waters. Would it continue recording our position and then upload this information when next in range? The answer to this is yes, as the developer kindly pointed out to me.

The Verdict

SafeTrx is an excellent tool for the day sailor or day tripper. Sports fishermen might be advised to download a copy – and use it. For the cruising sailor, who already has multiple redundant systems on board (GPS, Epirb, PLBs, AIS, VHF & SSB radios), it may yet be a while before it is worth the effort to use – perhaps after the next upgrade: once it has been thoroughly beta tested, when things like multiple waypoints and excessive power consumption are fixed, and when custom messaging options are added. I am sure there are a number of other useful features that could also be added. SafeTrx is certainly a good idea and I do look forward to trying it again when it is fully developed.

For more information on SafeTrx, go to: http://www.safetrxapp.com/

 

 


 


     
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