Wearables for Commercial Fishing Getting Smaller, Lighter

A personal locator beacon. Image via ACR Electronics.

Watches tend to be useful to commercial fishing crews, with their GPS receivers and touch-screen interfaces. Some even believe they could earn a spot in the broader category of commercial fishing wearable technology regularly donned by crew.

Fishermen’s News spoke with experts regarding their thoughts about what should be considered top-of-the-line for both wearable watches and the broader wearable category for commercial fishing.


One noteworthy trend in wearables for commercial fishing is what Rich Galasso, North American sales manager for land and marine with Florida-based ACR Electronics and Ocean Signal, calls “unit consolidation.”

“We’ve been able to satisfy a long-standing request for combining the global coverage of a PLB (personal locator beacon) and the localized solution of an MOB (man overboard device) into a single, automatic deploy device called the AIS PLB 450,” Galasso said. “This unit goes even further to add white and infrared strobe lights and Return Link Services.”

Wearable technology must bring to the market new features that improve safety and efficiency to gain a foothold in the hearts of buyers. Just as important, Galasso said, new wearable technologies must be as small and light as possible to convince more crew to keep a device on their person.

“You have to make it easily mountable, easily accessible and it has to provide a benefit for them,” Galasso said. “In that vein, we’ve been shrinking down the physical size and weight for decades in regard to PLB technology. We’ve gotten to a point that today’s units are dramatically smaller and lighter and last longer than ever before.”

For Jerry Dzugan, a trainer for the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA), the smaller a wearable device can be made, the better. One of the wearables that he was most excited to talk about is roughly the size of a cigar.

The RESQLINK 400 fits inside of Mustang inflatable suspenders.

“They don’t attach to your rain bibs or anything; they’re just an inflatable yoke basically, and they’re clear in that they have no hang ups on them,” Dzugan explained.

Stormline’s heavy duty oilskin fishing flotation pants. Photo: Stormline.

The RESQLINK has three levels of integrated signal technology—GPS positioning, a 406 MHz signal and 121.5 MHz homing capability—to relay the wearer’s position to a worldwide network of search-and-rescue satellites.

“The cool thing about that is this RESQLINK fits inside (of the suspenders) on the left-hand side inside, and it’s connected to the inflation yoke so that it automatically also goes on,” Dzugan remarked.

“What this beacon does, is it not only sends a signal to a satellite where you are with the GPS location, but it sends out an AIS signal … with a bearing line to you if you’ve got an AIS receiver,” he added.

Dzugan also praised the suspenders, along with other wearables in the Mustang inflatables line.

“So, they’re easy to clean from fish guts and blood and stuff like that, and they inflate automatically when you hit the water, and they don’t inflate just by getting in the rain—it actually works with water pressure,” Dzugan said.

The Mustang Hit Inflatable Work Vest PFD V2 is another wearable that partners with the RESQLINK beacon that Dzugan recommends.

He also favors Stormline’s 662 Heavy Duty Oilskin Fishing Flotation Pants, which have several areas of flotation, and importantly for fishermen, triple layer PVC over the knees.

“They’re rain bibs and of course a lot of fishermen wear rain bibs, but these have flotation in them and it’s in the chest, it’s in the back and then it’s in the knees,” Dzugan said.

“It’s a soft foam, so that has an advantage besides just if you fall overboard, you’ll float, but they keep you warm and they have foam in the knees,” he said. “a lot of fishermen spend their time on their knees picking fish from a gillnet. And when we’re not taking fish, we’re (on our knees) praying for fish.”


Wearable devices are a growing space, so it makes sense they’re finding their way into more business sectors.

Grand View Research placed the global wearable technology market at $61.3 billion in 2022, with an anticipated compound annual growth rate of 14.6% to 2030. The wrist-wear segment accounted for 49.45% of overall revenue, with headwear and eyewear expected to be the second-largest and second-fastest growing product segment from 2022 to 2030.

According to data-gathering platform Statista, there are roughly 593 million connected wearables worldwide this year, and the maritime industry seems to lend itself to wearable use. The cruise sector was an early adopter of smartwatches when vessel operators began offering wearables to passengers a decade ago.

More recently, the watches have been making their way into other seafaring industries, including augmented reality (AR) glasses for ship technicians and safety bracelets for seafarers.

Norwegian company ScanReach sells a wearable to alert crews of on-board emergency situations. It also can quickly locate crew members through a wireless IoT (Internet of Things) platform designed for the maritime industry.

The platform harvests data from the surrounding environment and connects people on board wirelessly. It also yields a personnel onboard count.

One of the brands that has become synonymous with watches is Garmin, which produced a wearable decades ago with features that should surely appeal to the maritime industry.

In 2013, Garmin International launched its first-generation GPS-enabled smartwatch, which included an altimeter, barometer and compass—along with sailing-specific features, such as a man-overboard button and tide information, according to the website Cruising World.

Garmin spokesperson Carly Hysell told Fishermen’s News that the Kansas-based company doesn’t currently make smartwatches specifically for commercial fishermen, but that its line does consist of “really robust, durable and purpose-built smartwatches.”

“Our quatix smartwatch series is designed for boaters and recreational anglers that can be integrated with onboard Garmin electronics for autopilot control, audio control, boat data streaming etc., and you can also add some coastal charts to the watch and more,” Hysell said.

“It also has up to 16 days of battery life, an LED flashlight, comprehensive health and wellness monitoring and many other features that could be useful to someone on a boat or spending time on the water,” she added.

Other smartwatches that would lend themselves to the commercial fishing industry include a product from P&O Maritime Logistics, which has been testing a wearable that actively monitors real-time fatigue levels and alerts the wearer when it’s time to rest.

A Mustang Survival inflatable work vest. Photo: Mustang Survival.

Arrow Labs recently created wearable software as a service solution (SaaS) for the maritime industry with the goal of improving safety.

The company’s smartwatch is connected to its MIMS Cloud, enabling the crew to communicate with the pilot and other crew via text or voice-messages. It also collects and disseminates location details and other “task-critical information,” according to the publication Ship Technology.

Other functions of the MIMS watch are managing shift attendance and check-in and check-out on the go. Lastly, it enables users to electronically update and complete duties.

“The huge advantage of smart wearables is the massively decreased response time for any organizational tasks—reporting incidents, creating and submitting reports and disseminating information,” Rami Darwish, CEO and founder of Arrow Labs, told Ship Technology in a 2022 interview. “Being able to complete these tasks and communicate results in real-time is the root of crucial efficiency gains, as it enables mission control to act swiftly, comprehensively and accurately.”

Wearables in Fishing Lagging?

Despite the aforementioned innovations, Galasso, the ACR Electronics and Ocean Signal sales manager, feels wearable technology for commercial fishermen still lags behind not only the wearables market for the rest of the working world, but also the rest of the maritime world.

“It’s way behind,” Galasso said. “The sailboat community has been fully vested in products like MOB’s for more than a decade. The commercial market is still struggling to incorporate the PLB, which has been around for 20-plus years.”

If there’s a shortfall in wearables for commercial fishing, Galasso believes it is due to the lack of understanding of their value aboard ship to improve safety and provide greater efficiency.

In other words, more demand may create more innovation and production from manufacturers.

“Education, mandates, stronger commitments to safety (especially in the application of technology), liability mitigation, etc.,” were on Galasso’s list of what is needed to bring wearable offerings in the commercial fishing industry in-step with the rest of the world.  

Don Jergler has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years, covering insurance, real estate and more. He spent two decades as a reporter at several daily newspapers, then entered business-to-business reporting. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Post, Orange County Register and numerous B2B publications. He’s currently the Western Region editor of Insurance Journal.