We’re unlikely to see this much ice on Lake Travis.

It’s freezing in Austin and my good friend Dave is worried about his boat.  He bought a Cobalt powerboat this spring and I understand the new-owner-jitters.  (It’s ok, power boaters are people too).

Freezing weather can wreck the engine of almost any vehicle.  When the cooling water in the engine freezes it expands, cracking the engine block or other parts.  The repairs can run into thousands of dollars.

In really cold areas — say Chicago — owners lay their boats up for the entire winter.  They “winterize” by removing fluids that would freeze and harm the engine.  Some even shrink wrap their vessels to keep the elements out.  That means no boating until Spring!

Wrapped tight for the winter.

But in Austin we are spoiled.  We like our boats ready for the 70-degree day we know will come this winter.  And therein lies the problem — boats sitting unprotected when the temperature drops into the teens or twenties.

Companies like Siren Marine sell systems that monitor your boat and alert you by text or email when something goes wrong (like a leak or dangerously low onboard temperature).  But these are expensive to buy and the monthly service is costly too.  The service connects your boat to the internet so it can send text and email.  Siren’s basic package starts at $499 + $15/month.

Which got me thinking about Arduinos (and making a boat monitor myself).  Supposedly, Arduinos (arr-DWEEN-ohs) are like Legos for electronics.  Buy some parts and you can make gadgets to solve a variety of problems.

This Arduino "brain" (my term) runs about $70 and can be programmed to run simple tasks.
This Arduino “brain” (my term) runs about $70 and can be programmed to run simple tasks.

For instance, at home you could make an alarm that senses when someone steps on your front doormat and sends a you a text.  Start with a “brain” Arduino then add a pressure sensor part and some computer programming and you have a device that let’s you know when someone is at the door.

Inventors are using Arduinos to test new product ideas without the time and expense of manufacturing parts from scratch.  People are building thousands of things like robots and even Internet gumball machines (really).  The web is full of these stories and videos.  Check out these examples.

I’m new to this area of electronics so if you have advice on making things with Arduino, drop me a note.  I’ll let everyone know if I actually make something.

In the meantime, Dave is using a good old fashion heater to keep his boat toasty.