LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A lot more people will get out on the water as school gets out and summer arrives. That means more chances to run into trouble if you go for a spin in a boat. But, an app made by a local developer could help first responders save your day.
“I’ve been stranded a couple times,” explained Corey Boelkens. “I knew exactly where I was, but when I would call for help, in explaining to people that don’t really know where I’m at, it’s a challenge.”
That is why Boelkens developed RaftUp. It is a map-based app that helps boaters connect with friends and find restaurants on the water. It launched last year and found an immediate following among boaters and the businesses set up near Arkansas’ lakes and rivers. It also included an SOS button to allow boaters to tell others they needed help.
Gregg Orr Marine was one of the first companies to adopt RaftUp, for people who rent boats from it on Lake Hamilton. Renters can press the SOS button and a staff member will drive out to help them.
“I mean, stuff like messing up a prop, or a storm,” said Lisa Sexton, the company’s general manager. “People get caught in a storm. I mean, we had a pretty bad one last year on Lake Hamilton on a busy Saturday. So I would say, we get people breaking down, or running out of fuel, even. I mean, not a big deal, but you run out of fuel, you’re out there, you’re stuck, and you have to be towed in.”
A new addition for this summer is that the SOS button can now link to emergency dispatch centers. The app can send the boater’s GPS coordinates so first responders know exactly where to find them if they need help.
Currently, Boelkens stated, “they do not know your exact location when you call 911. Our capability of pressing the button and sharing that location is what’s new and different about our solution.”
A spokesman for the Garland County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Lake Hamilton, said dispatchers can ascertain a caller’s location to within 1,000 feet if the call comes from a cell phone on the lake. Dispatchers will also ask for nearby, identifiable landmarks to help deputies find the caller.
Boelkens mentioned that some people may be unfamiliar with their location or unable to explain what is nearby, especially if they have been drinking, so the app simplifies the rescue process. “We’re going to improve response times (for dispatchers),” he claimed. “You’ll also get to orchestrate your resources much quicker and easier, and again, this could be set up in real-time. So, you’re removing a large portion of trying to triage a situation, which is, ‘where are you?’”
Dispatch centers would use a program called EyeRescue, which collects the data boaters submit on RaftUp. Boelkens said EyeRescue is web-based, and does not require any new software or equipment. Baxter County is the only county in Arkansas that has signed up, along with five agencies surrounding Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. To encourage more emergency agencies to use it, and knowing that many do not have spare money in their budgets, Boelkens will offer it to each county in Arkansas for free for the next two years.
“All we need to do is do a 30-minute training session with the dispatchers or the first responders,” he said.
Sexton said, even when Lake Hamilton becomes busy during the summer, there are not many issues that require emergency help. But there are several shallow points in the lake, and there could be more debris than usual because of recent storms.
“Boating is really fun, but it can be dangerous, too,” she said, “and so, fortunately there’s not a lot (of emergencies). But it happens, and when it does, you need emergency personnel really quickly.”