The Next New Things
Nexus (www.nexusmarine.se) offers an interesting, if little known, wireless wind transducer as well as a full line of value-oriented instruments, which include performance-oriented PC-based calibration and data logging. You may start seeing the brand more here in the States as it now has a serious U.S. distributor, Ocean Equipment (www.oceanequipment.com).
Not surprisingly, there's new activity in the burgeoning area of NMEA 2000 sensor and display networking, which I discussed in CW's June and August issues. Garmin, for instance, has introduced a series of $200 analog-to-NMEA2000 converters designed to be used with existing sensors-while retaining their existing gauges, if so desired-to put such data as rudder angle, water speed, and tank levels onto an N2K backbone, where it can be displayed. Data can also be used in calculations by many devices, likely including at least one of Garmin's GMI 10 all-in-one graphic displays or MFDs. Another new display for the same sort of N2K data is the $1,000 Furuno FI507 Multi XL, which offers 60 percent more of the same super-legible and power-efficient OLED backlit numeric data presentation that's earned raves for the original FI504 Multi.
Airmar (www.airmar.com) is introducing two new "Smart" NMEA 2000 transducers in 2010: an ST800/850 speed and temperature combo, and the B122 depth and temp combo, designed especially for steep deadrise installs. Both of these can be retrofit into many existing housings. Also offered is the U200 N2K-to-USB PC gateway, which along with the new NGT-1 from Actisense (www.actisense.com) offers most standard NMEA 2000 messages to PC programs configured to understand them, such as Coastal Explorer and Airmar's own Weathercaster.
Lowrance, Simrad, and Maretron (www.maretron.com) have all introduced sensitive, high-spec NMEA 2000 GPS sensors that see lots of GPS channels at once and have true refresh rates of five position fixes per second. Maretron continues to build out a full line of N2K system-monitoring components, including ultrasonic tank-level sensors. The company also introduced a free and very useful system-design tool called N2KBuilder.
Worried about how to mount your new MFD or instrument systems so you can best see and/or reach them? Both Scanstrut (www.scanstrut.com) and PYI (www.pyiinc.com) have introduced tilt-and-swivel pod designs in a variety of sizes for helm, under dodger, or mast applications. And Navslide (www.navslide.no) has a nifty design for a tacking MFD, which I hope will find a manufacturer and U.S. distribution in the year ahead.
Communications and Safety
New small but powerful satellite voice and data systems-specifically OpenPort, from Iridium (www.iridium.com), and Tracphone FB150, from KVH (www.kvh.com)-were the big story of 2009, and I'm pleased to report that they're proving themselves worth the high cost to bluewater cruisers with sufficiently flush budgets. A thorough, transpacific comparative test will be coming to these pages soon. But this year, the innovations are in smaller, more limited, satellite devices and in VHF communications.
Take SPOT (www.findmespot.com), for instance. Version Two of the popular original offers the same one-way most-anywhere satellite check-in and distress messaging and tracking, only it's smaller, easier to use, and has a better internal GPS. The costs remain the same at $150 for hardware and $100 a year for unlimited messages, plus $50 for unlimited tracking, but one of the four message buttons can now be associated with an owner's BoatU.S. towing account. Perhaps better yet, SPOT has announced a new product, Hybrid Universal Guardian, that's designed specifically for boats. HUG, expected to retail for less than $500, is meant to tuck away belowdecks, where it will provide all the regular SPOT functions via a tiny remote control while also monitoring against "unauthorized movement" and an owner's other off-boat worries.
More tentative for 2010 is Iridium's new little short burst data modem, because rather than market it directly, the company wants it to "disappear into as many marine devices as possible." Picture SPOT-like features built into a handheld or an MFD, only with message acknowledgements and maybe even two-way short messaging, all without coverage limitations.
The manufacturers of more traditional distress beacons are also taking advantage of smaller, better, and cheaper component technologies. The new $500 AquaLink PLB, from ACR (www.acrelectronics.com), competes nicely with the breakthrough FastFind 210, from Revere (www.reveresupply.com), once you consider inherent flotation, self-testing functionality, and actual street price.
Turning our attention to the VHF and the why-didn't-I-think-of-that department, there's the new $190 Galaxy 5440 masthead whip antenna from Shakespeare (www.shakespeare-marine.com), which includes a bird-resistant Windex-style apparent-wind indicator as well as a connector that makes the whip simple to remove for winter storage. The new $200 MR HH475 handheld VHF from Cobra (www.cobra.com) can also serve as a noise-cancelling Bluetooth mike for a safely stowed-away cellphone, and it includes the company's Rewind-Say-Again feature, which means it can play back the last 20 seconds of whatever calls last broke squelch, a useful aid for those of us with deteriorating listening skills.
Garmin smartly borrowed the replay feature and upped the recording time to 90 seconds for its high-end ($700) and soon-to-ship VHF 300, a black-box unit that supports up to three of its GHS 10 handsets and about every VHF feature possible. I can verify that Garmin has done its VHF radio homework as the performance, ease of use, and NMEA 2000 integration-including the AIS features covered below-built into its existing $400 VHF 200 are impressive.