The danger — or rather — one of the dangers of fishing or boating off the coast of Norway is death by freezing. Tumble into the water near the Sørlandet archipelago, and that water is literally in the North Sea. More than a thousand miles farther north than New York, this water gets cold. Very cold.
The impressive and tumbling seascapes off the coast of Scandinavia might be a distraction to the suddenly disembarked boatswain. The views are considered some of the most beautiful and dramatic in the world of seafaring. But let the casual boatsman note: If you fall out of your boat, you want it to stop.
Fredrick Eriksen, a Norwegian native, has been boating in this hardcore sea lanes from the time he was a child.
“We have been active boaters all our lives, growing up spending most of the summers in the Norwegian archipelago, boating and fishing,” Eriksen reminisces. “This gave us excessive experience with the old cord based solution for the kill switch, which is often — unfortunately — neglected in use.”
For decades recreational boats, including here in the States, have been equipped with kill switches that connect to cords, which connect to the human piloting the vessel. Obviously, neglecting the kill switch can get a boater killed in water as cold as the North Sea, but it is equally dangerous in other situations. If a driver falls from a boat while pulling a skier in a densely populated lake, for instance, the results can be catastrophic if the boat does not stop.
“Many boaters often neglect the old cord-based solution, which makes for an unsafe boating experience. And while you know in the back of your head you’re not secured, it is too much of a hassle with the cord so you end up not using it anyway,” Eriksen explains.
Eriksen and his lifelong friend and business partner, Christian Frost, devised a plan to create a cordless kill switch that would be easy to use, hoping that more boaters would use them due to the added flexibility they provide. This added safety feature gives boaters “50 feet of freedom” the company’s founders claim.
”We knew from the start that a major part of this product was in the design. It needed to look great and be super easy to use,” Erikson said.
The adventurers turned entrepreneurs got a boost when they won a Norwegian competition for student enterprises, and then they got funded to start up a company by an organization called Innovation Norway. From there it was “full throttle ahead” as they dove into development and market planning, Erikson said.
Full-throttle being one of the actions that can heave a boater from his boat, Erikson got to work immediately on the digital component of his invention, and eventually founded the company, Fell Marine, in 2013, to mass produce and market the devices.
Big surprise: Creating a wireless device that works in extreme marine conditions is not as easy as it sounds.
“To create a robust Wireless Kill Switch we needed a wireless solution unlike anything on the market,” Erikson said.
The MOB+ consists of a wearable device, the xFOB, communicating with a base station in the boat, the xHUB. If the xFOB get submersed in water or gets more than 50 feet away from the xHUB, the boat’s engine stops automatically.
Fortunately, Erikson had great access to the kind of technology that makes that wireless link work. He teamed up with a software developer from Texas Instruments Norway, where they were able to access a workbench of low-power radio frequency machinery. Together they fashioned a brand new data protocol that would work in harsh marine applications and conditions.
They called it the WiMEA Protocol, and it ensures a full coverage of the boat so that the engine stops immediately when the boater falls from the deck.
What does all this add up to? Safety, of course, but also freedom on deck.
“With the MOB+ you get all the freedom without the hassle. You can drive, moor the boat, put away the fenders – all knowing that if you fall over board the engine will stop automatically,” Erikson said. “Many boaters often neglect the old cord based solution, which makes for an unsafe boating experience. And while you know in the back of your head you’re not secured, it is too much of a hassle with the cord so you end up not using it anyway.”
The product is marketed through Amazon and on the company’s Web site for $199.99 The product launched in Europe in Spring 2016 and in the United States it became available in July 2016. Currently, Fell Marine is building out a dealer network to push the product harder into the consumer market, on a wide variety of boats.
In the end, Erikson sees himself as an adventurer and he makes use of the system he developed. He has been around the world and boated in some of the most dramatic sea lanes on the planet, but he considers this business to be his biggest adventure yet.
“While I believe a good education is very important, I don`t think one should rush into a preset way of life and instead explore the possibilities you have. Why not try to start a business?” Erikson continues. “Because in reality you got so little to lose, especially early on in life. Starting this company has been and still is the adventure of a lifetime, and I haven`t regretted it one second.”
One more thing he won’t have to regret: Watching his boat speed into the distance as he bobs in the open sea. He has that covered.