Check Out the New Electronics
Industry awards can provide waypoints to guide you to interesting advances in technology that are on display at this season’s boat shows. "Gear Review" from our February 2012 issue.
Back when many of us started cruising, marine electronics were two things: expensive and hard to master. Thanks to the ongoing refinement of what computer developers call the graphical user interface and to huge strides in computer technology, these navigation devices have become accessible to all users. Touchscreens, digital charting, and the ability to access the Internet from just about anywhere on the planet are just a few of the technologies that have made it easier for us to navigate and to monitor the systems on our boats.
The problem we face today is the sheer number of products that are available. How does a boat owner choose what’s best? One good place to start is to take note of the Technology Awards presented annually by the National Marine Electronics Association, which has a panel of Boating Writers International marine-electronics writers examine the latest offerings and acknowledge what they consider to be the best products. Other helpful guides include the Design Award presented at Amsterdam’s Marine Equipment Trade Show and the IBEX Innovation Award, judged by the B.W.I. and given out at the 2011 International Boatbuilders Exhibition and Conference.
So let’s first take a look at the products that were selected as award winners by the experts. Then we’ll further winnow this year’s new entries in the crowded electronics marketplace and talk about which gear is likely to appeal to cruising sailors as they head out to see what’s new at the 2012 boat shows.
Winning the National Marine Electronics Association Technology Award for 2011 was Boatranet, a wireless server for onboard navigation networks that’s manufactured by Digital Yacht. Boatranet typifies the revolution that’s taking place all over the world today: the seamless integration of information with smartphones, iPads and other tablets, and laptop computers. Boatranet creates a wireless hotspot that allows anyone on board who’s password-enabled and equipped with a phone, tablet, laptop, or computer (running Apple, Windows, or Linux operating systems) to access the boat’s network. The technology also automatically creates animated instrument and navigational displays (web pages) of your data—and the data format is available to apps developers, so expect more bells and whistles to come.
Simply put, Boatranet creates an intranet for your boat so that anyone who’s logged in can see charts, instrument displays, Automatic Identification System targets, radar, engine gauges, or anything else on your boat’s network. When you’re in a marina or anchorage that has a network connected to the Internet, Boatranet, via an optional WiFi adapter, can connect to wireless hotspots and share that Internet connection to every device aboard. For those crewmembers who could care less about hard data, Boatranet can also stream music to your boat’s music system and share photos and documents.
Boatranet accepts data from Raymarine, Garmin, Furuno, Navico, and other electronics via NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000, the communication protocols that allow different devices in a boat’s navigation system to talk to one another; the NMEA 2000 gateway is an optional extra. The Boatranet black box is compact, easy to install, and runs on 12 volts DC or 24 volts DC. To conserve power, it uses heatsinks rather than fans to stay cool, which means it only draws 1.5 amps.
Another iDevice-friendly Digital Yacht product took home the Design Award presented at Amsterdam’s Marine Equipment Trade Show: iAIS (above), a wireless Automatic Identification System receiver that links with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. It’s a black-box A.I.S. receiver that, when used with a free app available at Apple’s App Store, shows A.I.S. data as well as other NMEA data, including GPS, depth, speed, and wind information. The iAIS can also send data to a computer via a USB connection and to plotters via a hardwired NMEA connection. An iAIS can also accept and broadcast added NMEA 0183 data, in ways similar to its cousin, Boatranet.