Raymarine’s Night Might
Raymarine’s new T-Series thermal-imaging cameras offer easy-to-use protection for nighttime navigation.
To make sure that marine-electronics writers took note of the direction in which its new corporate parent intends to steer it, Raymarine lit up the night sky—literally. During an evening cruise as an opener to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Raymarine ran a crew-overboard drill to demonstrate the capabilities of its new T-Series thermal night-vision cameras, technology that was originally developed for the military and commercial-thermography industry by FLIR Systems, a company that until recently wasn’t considered a household name by most sailors.
But before we get into the particulars of the product and how it integrates with Raymarine’s E-Series and G-Series navigation displays, let’s take a step back and look at how this partnership came to be in the first place, since you may not have heard the news. Back in May 2010, FLIR announced that it had acquired all of the assets of Raymarine Holdings Limited, a major player in the marine-electronics industry that was based in the United Kingdom. At first, this acquisition took some of us in the marine press by surprise; it seemed a sort of a David-and-Goliath story. Many in the industry have been covering and using Raymarine (www.raymarine.com) products during demonstrations and even on our personal boats for many years, but most regarded FLIR as a relative newcomer with a narrow-niche footprint in the marine-electronics industry. “How can this little company take over Raymarine?” I asked myself. “And why would they do it in the first place?” I got the answers to both of these questions during the demo cruise.
As it turns out, FLIR isn’t a small company. In fact, the company’s website reports that “the company has been supplying thermography and night-vision equipment to science, industry, law enforcement, and the military for over 30 years.” And as for the logic behind the acquisition, the website reports that FLIR plans to expand Raymarine’s product-line breadth by integrating thermal-imaging cameras with Raymarine’s other electronics, which include display, radar, autopilots, and instrumentation. So our cruise, then, was intended to give us an inkling of what the P.R. guys were getting at. And when they said, “The acquisition furthers FLIR’s strategy . . . by dramatically increasing its maritime-distribution network with the addition of Raymarine’s 1,000 dealer outlets and 400-plus marine original-equipment manufacturers,” the acquisition suddenly started to make a lot of sense.
Turning our attention now to the demonstration at hand, FLIR had set up several tabletop displays of Raymarine’s E-Series widescreen displays, each taking video feeds from T400-Series cameras, which look like small R2D2 robots with two eyes, one mounted above the other. While the T300-Series cameras offer thermal (heat-sensing) night vision only from a single imaging sensor, the T400s combine thermal imaging with a high-performance low-light video camera, providing the best of both worlds for superior nighttime navigation. Thermal sees in total darkness but not through rain, while a low-light camera can see through rain when there’s some ambient light available.
This was a perfect night for such a demonstration, since it was moonless and nearly pitch black in the Intracoastal Waterway cove in which Raymarine staged this event. My first look at the E-Series widescreen clearly showed a combi-style sportfishing boat with a swimmer in the water about 30 feet abaft the swim platform. The swimmer was waving to us, and the resolution was so good that I could even see that he was wearing a life jacket—and we were a good 200 feet away from the boat and the swimmer. Without the assistance from the camera, I found it nearly impossible even to see the boat, and I couldn’t see the swimmer at all. Imagine the time- and life-saving advantages that this setup would provide in a rescue situation if a crewmember really did fall into the drink!