Marine Applications for Thermal Imaging
Though it is fun to think that if you were being chased by a thermal-seeing alien, you could use mud to camouflage yourself, thermal imaging is way more advanced than that.
Without the need for visible light, thermal imaging technology detects the heat signatures of the light spectrum not visible to the human eye. This spectrum is called ‘infrared.’ Everything with a temperature above zero emits thermal radiation. Through the variations in temperature, thermal imagers instantly display images we can interpret.
Despite thermal imaging’s advantages, it can’t:
- See through walls
- See underwater
- See through glass
- See under clothing
But it can:
- Notify a law enforcement officer if a someone has a concealed firearm
- Find a suspect attempting to hide
- Locate dropped or hidden contraband
- Help firefighters locate victims trapped in a fire and hot spots
- Vastly improve search and rescue efforts to find missing persons
Even though thermal cameras or imagers cannot see through water, it is still the best tool for professional and recreational marine use when you need to see in total darkness.
Even though thermal isn’t “x-ray vision,” everything radiates heat—even ice. These different heat signatures allow us to detect variations and distinguish between objects. For example, a wild hog rooting through overgrown bush, people trapped inside a burning building full of smoke and even schools of fish are apparent due to the fluctuations of the water.
As thermal relates to uses on waterways, for military, law enforcement and first responders, commercial fishermen, boat captains and recreational boaters, thermal imagers like binoculars, cameras and monoculars offer:
- A quick solution to trouble-shooting engine problems
- Long-range navigation
- Safety from collision and debris
- Life-saving search and rescue of a man overboard
- Threat identification
In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard reported the number 1 and 2 cause of recreational boating accidents are collisions. These accidents are either with another recreational vessel or a stationary object, which caused 101 fatalities and an additional 1,140 injuries.
The top ten causes of recreational boating accidents are:
- Operator inattention
- Operator inexperience
- Improper lookout
- Excessive speed
- Machinery failure
- Alcohol use
- Navigation rules violation
- Hazardous waters
- Force of wave/wake
Many of these problems can be solved by using thermal imaging. Thermal detects floating debris, boat wake and of course, other boats. With digital zoom features, you can enhance small or distant objects—alerting you of incoming vessels, coastlines and identify threats like pirates.
Thermal imagers act as a docking aid, tool in sport fishing, have helped boat captains identify engine problems, and even located oil spills from Deepwater Horizon. Thermal imagers have become an invaluable tool for saving lives, as they quickly find people who have fallen overboard (if they have not fully submerged.)
Seeing in the Dark
Since thermal doesn’t need any type of artificial or ambient light to operate in the dark, you can use it safely to avoid accidents with other vessels, docks and other stationary items.
It is a legal requirement for boats to have working navigation lights turned on from sunset to sunrise. For those trying to use the cover of night to smuggle drugs, poach or partake in other illegal activity, thermal gives law enforcement and coast guard the eyes needed to catch criminals.
Though radar sends returns of detection over miles away, it does not display a clear outline of what the object is. Thermal imaging will aid the radar return by showing you a clear image of what it is detected.
The Potential to Save Lives
A report conducted by G.P. Wild found that about 19 people a year fall overboard a cruise ship. In 2010, a new law, the Cruise vessel Security and Safety Act, required cruise lines to incorporate radar technology that would detect people who had fallen overboard if such technology was “available.” Due to incredibly high costs, cruise ships have been reluctant in implementing vast radar systems.
Marketwatch.com reports, “A spokesman for Carnival Corporation said that the company was testing man-overboard technology, but argued current systems create too many false positives for it to be practical or effective.” However, for a few thousand dollars for the highest quality thermal imager from Pulsar, there are no false positives.
Thermal imagers like the Accolade 2 LRF XP50 binoculars elevate emergency search efforts with a detection range of up to 2,000 yards from land, air and sea. In fact, Pulsar represents industry leading thermal sensor technology on many fronts. Pulsar thermal resolution and thermal imaging cameras are stronger than most night vision camera systems, and dollar-for-dollar, outperform FLIR cameras.