The Next New Things
The recession seems to have put less hurt on marine-electronics manufacturers than on their boatbuilding brethren, and the obvious reason is that their products have improved so much in recent times that sailors still feel a need to upgrade what they already own with the latest technology. Picture anxious R&D departments burning the midnight oil to incorporate the latest features-plus the better processors, sensors, and display technologies becoming available from the wider world of electronics-lest their brand gets left behind. Thus it is that sailors will find many interesting new products to contemplate.
If you're considering the big enchilada-a new multifunction display system-don't skip over the all-new NSE 8- and 12-inch MFDs from Simrad (www.simradyachtingusa.com), which retail for $3,300 and $4,600 respectively. They're related, in fact, to the HDS series that Lowrance (www.lowrance.com) introduced last year, which is a good thing in terms of excellent support for NMEA 2000 (a.k.a. SimNet) data networking and Navico Ethernet products like Broadband Radar and Sonar. But the NSE series is built to a sturdier standard and features a smart interface that includes both dedicated mode keys and a versatile rotary knob. These MFDs also have extraordinarily bright, legible, and power-efficient LED backlit screens, and a 1.6-gigahertz processor that speedily handles either the built-in Insight charts or any of the card formats from Navionics (www.navionics.com)-including the new, and useful, TurboView 3D mode. I've been testing a prototype NSE12 in Maine, and I'm quite impressed.
I've also had some on-water time with a prototype E-140 Widescreen from Raymarine (www.raymarine.com), which notably combines Raymarine's long-evolving soft-key and keypad controls with a touch screen. That means you can perform many tasks, like selecting MARPA targets or laying out routes, more easily than ever, but with hard keys to fall back on if conditions make the touching tough. The new E Series will also offer a unique cartography choice, though it'll come as a yet-unscheduled software update. The E Wides currently shipping include Navionics U.S. coastal charts and support for all Navionics cards, including the much-improved 3D mode; the update will allow the same Es to also support the new 4D chart format from Jeppesen C-Map (www.c-map.com), which includes a paper-chart-like raster layer, an advanced auto-routing feature, continuous updating (time is the fourth dimension), and yet another new 3D viewing mode. The Widescreen E Series come in 9-, 12-, and 14-inch display sizes, just like the C Series introduced last year, and they range from about $4,000 to $6,500.
Garmin (www.garmin.com) has two new MFD series for 2010, but they're easier to understand as they're essentially higher-end versions of the continuing 4000 and 5000 series. The main new feature is graphics processing so enhanced that Garmin's dubbing the result G Motion. Need I mention that among the dramatic improvements is 3D viewing? The new GPSMap 6000 series comes in 8- and 12-inch sizes, costing $3,000 and $4,000 respectively, while the touch-screen 7000 series comes in 12- and 15-inch models, priced at $5,000 and $7,000. Incidentally, if you haven't seen any of Garmin's networked MFDs since last summer's major 5.0 software update, then you're not really familiar with their current features and performance. Garmin also refreshed all of its 4- and 5-inch plotters last summer, adding NMEA 2000 interfaces that can make for more reliable installations. Finally, all owners of recent Garmin plotters should check out HomePort, a $30 program that makes it possible to use a Garmin Vision chart card, or even a plotter's built-in charts, for route planning, track saving, and more on your PC.
Meanwhile, partners Furuno (www.furuno.com) and MaxSea (www.maxsea.com)-which arguably jump-started the ultra-fast 3D-charting craze with the NavNet 3D hardware/software systems-have finally introduced the related MaxSea TimeZero PC charting software. MSTZ doesn't feel like any previous MaxSea program, except for the same cruiser-friendly support for free GRIB weather data and the availability of a high-performance weather-routing module. Instead, MSTZ takes a fresh, and elegant, new approach, both in terms of interface and 2D/3D chart viewing. The Navigator version is a $450 stand-alone plotting/planning program that comes with special Time Zero versions of all U.S. NOAA raster and vector charts, along with free access to high-resolution photomaps that can "fuse" beautifully with the charts. The $1,250 Explorer version adds integration via Ethernet with a NavNet 3D system, including radar overlay and control.
MaxSea, by the way, recently assumed control of the Nobeltec charting-software line from Jeppesen, which is more interested in developing data products like C-Map 4D. Possible future fruits of this hand-off include new relationships between Nobeltec software and Furuno hardware and new access to C-Map cartography via Furuno and/or MaxSea. Meanwhile, one of the few developers that's ignored the 3D charting phenomenon, Rosepoint Navigation (www.rosepointnav.com), is breaking new ground in another important aspect of the evolving navigation experience: the sharing of point-of-interest information among cruisers and with local-knowledge experts. Coastal Explorer 2009 came with point-of-interest sharing abilities, which have been improved, and recently introduced is a terrific relationship with Atlantic Cruising Club publications, in which some of that company's obsessively complete marina-guide data is freely downloadable to Coastal Explorer users, while owners of the printed ACC guides get all the printed info and more geo-positioned within CE2009.
Instruments and Sensors
Tacktick (www.tacktickusa.com) has expanded its economical "Entry Level" instrument series. Like the T033 Wind system introduced last year, the T034 Depth and T035 Speed systems-each costs $516 complete-employ the wireless technology where it's most valuable (carrying data from sensor to display), and installation requires only a 12-volt power connection. It's also possible to use the displays and hull transmitters with some existing through-hull transducers, and all Entry Level series data can flow to Tacktick's NMEA 0183 wireless interface box for added display on PCs or MFDs, as well as to the company's wireless handheld remote.