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SafeSEA : the affordable emergency GPS

SafeSEA is a low-cost GPS and light beacon for maritime emergencies, designed for seafaring populations of developing countries.

  • 1 . First working prototype of the SafeSEA GPS

  • A short video presenting the main features of the SafeSEA GPS.

    A short video presenting the main features of the SafeSEA GPS.

  • 2. Circuit diagram of the SafeSEA GPS.

  • 3. Bill of Materials (BOM) for the SafeSEA GPS. Total cost of parts was less than 40 US dollars.

  • 4. Render of a production version of the SafeSEA GPS.

  • 5. SafeSEA GPS in comparison to typical EPIRB

What it does

SafeSEA is a GPS-based vessel and/or personnel locator, designed as a cost-efficient alternative to current emergency locator beacons. Through simplicity and affordability, it aims to increase the survival rates of maritime accidents in developing countries.

Your inspiration

Emergency Position-Indicating Radiobeacons, or EPIRBs for short, are mandatory for vessels over a certain size in many countries. They are quite expensive, however, averaging around 600 USD. This is a significant cost for most people in developed countries; for most seafarers in developing countries, EPIRBs are unaffordable. What if, then, we could replicate the functions of an EPIRB - global positioning and data transmission to a dedicated search and rescue network - but at a much lower cost? Such a device would be much more accessible and help save many more lives atop of those already saved by EPIRBs. The result is the SafeSEA GPS.

How it works

SafeSEA consists of a GPS module, a LoRa (Long Range) transceiver, and an array of hi-flux red LEDs, all powered by a single standard 9v battery. The primary on/off switch (in red) activates the device, which is by default set to GPS mode. Upon activation, data from the GPS is sent to the transceiver module, which then relays the data to a dedicated search and rescue LoRa network. Therefore, as soon as a SafeSEA device is activated, a new set of GPS coordinates will be detected, signaling the location of a maritime emergency. Accounting for poor visibility during nighttime or storm conditions when maritime accidents are more likely to occur, SafeSEA comes equipped with hi-flux LEDs that allow it to function as a beacon or signal flare. The light is activated by toggling the black switch and can be used when the user is aware of a rescue vessel nearby and wants to visually indicate their location.

Design process

The initial idea was a maritime GPS device powered by Copper-Zinc galvanic cells, which would not require polluting chemical batteries and only be activated once in contact with seawater. However, during our experiments, we discovered that to produce enough power for this purpose, the galvanic battery would be unfeasibly large. Therefore, we adapted the design to function on a single, easily available battery. A standard 9v battery was chosen for this purpose, and the increased power budget allowed the incorporation of an array of high-intensity red LEDs. SafeSEA became more than a GPS; it could now also be used as a signal light, helping rescuers locate the user once they were in the vicinity. The prototype was constructed using completely off-the-shelf components, and much care was put into assembling all the functions in as small and cost-effective package as possible. Although the total current draw of 25-50mAh means SafeSEA can last 24 hours on GPS mode on a 9v battery, further iterations of the design will focus on further simplification - less soldering, less wiring - and making the battery last even longer by modifying the GPS module's navigation update rate and LoRa module's configuration.

How it is different

Current maritime emergency beacons are relatively large and prohibitively expensive for a majority of the world's seafaring population. SafeSEA costs less than a tenth of these devices, and is also much smaller and lighter, allowing it to be affixed to individual life vests in addition to vessels. SafeSEA exemplifies the less is more approach - it only has features that help increase its user's survivability, and even these are pared down to the minimum possible solution. For instance, a conventional plastic or metal casing was eschewed in favor of a much cheaper, simpler and pragmatic method : packaging within a transparent, waterproof phone pack. SafeSEA is also the first of its kind to make use of a LoRa-based maritime IoT network, which can be incorporated into the existing Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Lastly, although designed for maritime use, SafeSEA may also be used inland, as long as a supporting LoRA network exists in that region.

Future plans

The first iteration of the SafeSEA cost just under USD 40; further iterations will attempt to reduce this price even more. To ensure SafeSEA functions as intended, the establishment of the aforementioned LoRa-based maritime IoT network is required. As such, the next priority of the SafeSEA project is to create a small-scale prototype maritime network, to ensure the device's viability and effectiveness in real-world conditions. The end goal is to partner with governments and the IMO(International Maritime Organization) to have both littoral and ship-mounted open ocean SafeSEA networks established in major shipping and fishing zones.


This is the first time this project is presented to the public.

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