Best New Marine Electronics: The Techno Evolution

As the range of available marine electronics continues to exponentially grow, manufacturers are adding capabilities and value to their product offerings

February 7, 2014
navigation system, marine navigation systems, marine gps

Simrad NSO evo2

Buy It Now Simrad

Simrad NSO evo2 is a top-of-the-line set of touch-screen multifunction displays. The system incorporates dual processors that reside in a compact black box to harness a wide array of useful new features. The system can display both raster and vector charts, and the dual processor allows users to run two absolutely independent displays at once. Best of all, NSO evo2 shows no sign of bogging down when two operators are engaging in very different functions. For example, one screen might be set to real-time radar/plotter imaging with a full gamut of touch-screen options (or in heavy weather switched over to roto-dial commands), while another is using the second processor and display to research anchorage details or lay out a new route. NSO evo2 allows up to four displays to be networked; a Wi-Fi router will turn an iPad into a remote display and allow it to control most functions. NSO evo2 also makes radar, plotter, autopilot and sounder technology and onboard system management even more versatile. The only downside is the suggested retail price of $5,695 for the black box and $2,999 apiece for 16-inch MO-series monitors, which are also offered in 19- and 24-inch sizes.

navigation marine, gps device marine

B&G Zeus T7 Touch

Zeus will advise you on tacking angles, and will calculate the time to mark, or ETA, taking those tacks into account using what the company calls Sail Time calculations. B&G

B&G Zeus T7 Touch multifunction touch-screen display breaks both a price barrier and the constraints of software not specifically designed for sailors. While most GPS devices can give you an estimated time to a waypoint, sailboats often cannot sail directly to an upwind destination. Zeus will advise you on tacking angles, and will calculate the time to mark, or ETA, taking those tacks into account using what the company calls Sail Time calculations. With optional Navionics charts, showing dynamic tides and currents, better tactical decisions can be made. The unit also offers a safety uptick with improved handling of crew-overboard recoveries, AIS beacon tracking and an ability to input and locate multiple MOB victims.

Behind the optical glass bonded touch-screen display is an NMEA 2000-compatible, networkable processor housed in an iPx7 waterproof case. The unit sips current at .8 amp (12-volt systems) and delivers a crisp, variable-brightness VGA image. There’s a lot of backward compatibility with other B&G and NMEA 2000 networked gear, ranging from broadband radar to the Triton Pilot control. My two favorite features are B&G’s Touch Sensible interface and the just-under-$1,000 price tag that discount retailers have put on the Zeus T7.

marine navigation system, autopilot navigation, autopilot boating gps

Raymarine’s EvolutionAI Autopilot

Buy It Now Raymarine

Raymarine’s EvolutionAI autopilots take artificial intelligence to the next level. The units in the EV 100-400 system adapt to your sailboat’s steering characteristics and require no setup alignment. Linear, rotary or powerful hydraulic actuators are available to work with the specific steering mechanism of your boat. The well-sealed, compact, all solid-state head measures vessel heading as well as pitch, roll and yaw, coaxing smart software to continually dial in the right amount of rudder offset. The result is better course control with the least amount of rudder-induced drag. This constant reaction to conditions lessens current consumption and increases the range of conditions in which the pilot excels. The new autopilots range in price from approximately $2,000 to $5,000, depending on boat size, options and the type of steering system.

raymarine navigation systems

Raymarine’s LightHouse II

Buy a Raymarine product Raymarine

Raymarine’s LightHouse II is more than a user-interface upgrade. It offers owners of a-, c-, e- and g-series MFDs new software that makes their digital charting even more efficient. Pinch-to-zoom, better waypoint handling and the ability to easily hide data bars for full screen viewing are just a few of the welcome additions. The new user interface also delivers higher contrast graphics and a fast and efficient means of handling the free download of NOAA raster and vector charts. There are also provisions for the use of more features found in Navionics cartography, such as expedited shuttling of soundings info into user-modified “community” charts. Best of all, LightHouse II is a free download to all Raymarine product owners.

furuno radar, marine radars, boating radar

Best Marine Electronics: Furuno UHD DRS2D Radar

See the latest Furuno Radar Furuno

Furuno UHD DRS2D delivers lots of radar capability built into a small, streamlined dome. Radar remains a favorite tool for both coastal cruisers and long-distance passagemakers, and Furuno continues to innovate at both ends of the scale. Decades of evolution has led to features such as radar overlays, MARPA displays, split ranging and alarms that make a very good system even better. But one of the most important aspects found in all good radar systems is the unit’s ability to detect a weak return. Whether it’s an unlit plastic mark, a kayaker lost in the fog, or a low-lying jetty that’s nearly awash at high tide, seeing such targets sooner rather than later is important.


The new 19-inch Furuno dome is compact and lightweight, making it an excellent choice for mast mounting near the lower spreaders aboard smaller to midsize sailboats. The low-power-consumption 2.2-kilowatt magnetron doesn’t deliver the range of Furuno’s larger-diameter, heavier, higher-power units, but with varied rpm and pulse-length switching circuitry it still earns UHD (ultra high definition) status and delivers crisp resolution by ferreting out weaker return signals. The DRS 2D lists for $2,400 but discount chandleries offer the unit at around $2,000.

satellite radar, marine satellites

Best Marine Electronics: Spot Gen3 Tracker

Buy It Now Spot

Spot Gen3 is the latest iteration of a tracker that’s gained advocates ashore and at sea. I like the stand-alone simplicity and reliability of this easy-to-tuck-away device. The third-generation Spot adds multiple power sourcing (either four AAA Energizer Lithium Ultimate 8X or four AAA Energizer NiMH Rechargeable batteries). It also comes with a USB cable that turns a laptop into a charging hub (the unit isn’t waterproof when charging in this manner). The Spot Gen3 includes a motion-activated turn-on feature that causes the device to stop sending position updates when you are stopped and automatically returns to the selected update mode once the unit is again moving. The device also has an SOS button that sends a distress signal to GEOS, an independent emergency coordination center. It’s important to recognize that this emergency relay service is not part of the COSPAS/SARSAT 406 MHz EPIRB and PLB system, so having both a Spot and a 406 device onboard during a passage makes great sense. The Spot Gen3 sells for about $150 and the basic annual plan is $150.

marine phone system, boating data system

Best Marine Electronics: KVH’s V3IP/Iridium Sat Phone

This compact system delivers up to 2 MBPS data downloads and voice coverage around the world. KVH

KVH’s V3IP/Iridium is a best-of-both-worlds sat phone system, pairing two of the most respected players in the field. For decades KVH has pioneered satellite communications hardware with its reliable satellite-tracking antennas and user-friendly fixed-station transceivers. In recent years Iridium has carved out its own niche in mobile sat phone technology. Now the two have joined forces to offer the TracPhone V3IP, a KVH transceiver operating on both mini VSAT Broadband and Iridium’s OpenPort Broadband networks. This compact system delivers up to 2 MBPS data downloads and voice coverage around the world. Those looking over the requirements of the 2014 Newport to Bermuda Race will note the need for “full time on” sat phones that are able to respond to incoming sat phone calls. With its built-in antenna and permanent connection to ship’s power, the TracPhone V3IP covers all of those bases.

navigation system for ipad, marine navigation systems

Best Marine Electronics: Nobeltec’s TimeZero Navigation App

The iPad-based navigation system is quite intuitive; drag your finger to move the chart seamlessly around the screen, or pinch and spread to zoom in and out. Nobeltec

Nobeltec’s TimeZero App is now available online on the App Store and offers coastal sailors user-friendly digital charting. Best displayed on a tablet, the abbreviated Nobeltec nav program displays high-res charts with the tablet’s built-in GPS to fix your boat’s location. When in cell range, local weather info can also be displayed on the tablet’s screen.

The iPad-based navigation system is quite intuitive; drag your finger to move the chart seamlessly around the screen, or pinch and spread to zoom in and out. A two-finger “touch and twist” will rotate the chart image on the screen. Tide and current data can be displayed graphically; if you drill down through the app’s menu commands, features such as heading lines and waypoint display configurations can be customized. The app is free, but large scale, detailed digital charts are sold on a regional basis. The embedded small-scale, zoomable world chart is fast, seamless and a great way to do some early stage cruise planning.

marine receiver, boating receiver

Best Marine Electronics: Icom’s AIS MXA-5000 AIS Receiver

Buy It Now Icom

Icom’s AIS MXA-5000 receiver holds lots of appeal for those who are not looking for an AIS transponder but wish to receive AIS information. The dual-channel AIS receiver has a very efficient splitter that allows the VHF and AIS to use the same, preferably masthead-mounted, antenna. The unit also features dual output capability, delivering digital information that can be overlaid on MFD plotters or on laptops with AIS display software. The compact AIS B unit is easy to wire into a network and reads both AIS A and B signals. Prices we saw started at $240.

cartography, marine charts, marine radars

Best Marine Electronics: Jeppesen’s C-MAP 4D cartography

Traditional-looking dynamic raster charts now pack even more detail, and include added information about obstructions and marks. Jeppesen

Jeppesen’s C-MAP 4D cartography provides the double value of upgrades in both vector- and raster-based charts. With the former there’s the ability to overlay satellite images, call up aerial photos and view bathymetric data in 3-D. Several new Bahamas charts have been added to the lineup, filling in chart info shortfalls in outlying regions such as Samana Cay near Acklins Island.

Traditional-looking dynamic raster charts now pack even more detail, and include added information about obstructions and marks. Those familiar with the symbols used in NOAA’s Chart 1 will find the continuity between C-Map raster charts and familiar paper-chart graphics quite reassuring. Jeppesen has also introduced Plan2Nav, a free mobile app that lets smart phone and tablet users turn their mobile devices into remote displays or stand-alone digital navigation aids that handle a wide range of C-Map cartography.

infrared cameras, night vision cameras

Best Marine Electronics: Flir’s MD-625 infrared camera

Browse Flir’s MD-625 cameras Flir

Flir’s MD-625 infrared camera has come down in price and is far more compact than its predecessors, making it a valuable navigation/safety tool aboard larger cruising sailboats. The unit’s value grows as a crew discovers how well even a minute temperature variation creates detailed images on the screen. Lobster-pot and crab-pot buoys jump out, an outboard motor on a rubber inflatable is easily seen, and a person who’s fallen overboard at night is more likely to be spotted.

The compact 6-inch-by-7-inch MD-625 can be networked via Ethernet cable or even run on an iPad using an iOS app available from FLIR. The 3-pound camera can be remote–mounted, and its 5- to 13-watt power consumption is quite user friendly. The retail prices we noted start at $12,350.

marine messaging services, marine communication systems

Best Marine Electronics: ACR AquaLink View PLB- 350C

Buy It Now ACR

ACR AquaLink View PLB- 350C is a buoyant 406 mHz personal locator beacon, and a great piece of safety gear for an offshore sailor to carry in a pocket or attached to a PFD. Because such beacon devices aren’t in regular day-to-day service, nor do they go through routine charging cycles, it makes sense to buy a unit like this that can be easily tested. To remain useful over time, PLBs need a battery that can be counted on to deliver a minimum 24-hour signal. The AquaLink View offers a readout display that lets you check battery condition, note usage in progress and even read GPS lat/lon coordinates from the display. Perhaps the most useful of all features are the visual display prompts that walk an owner through the test process. Prices start at just over $400.

hydraulic marine systems

Best Marine Electronics: Garmin GHP-20 autopilot

See the Hydraulic Corepack w/ SmartPump Garmin

Garmin GHP-20 autopilot uses a newly designed “smart pump” that delivers a high-capacity hydraulic flow when needed, but will dial back volume to maximize energy efficiency. A brushless DC motor drives the hydraulic pump, creating a reliable fluid stream supplying an appropriately sized ram with just enough pressure to accomplish the rudder angle change. Garmin’s patented Shadow Drive rate control constantly calculates rudder deflection commands that vary according to course. The system’s corrections are designed to be less reactive when conditions allow, for efficient course-keeping control with fewer rudder inputs. The hydraulic pump’s current demand is 5 to 10 amps when used with a 12-volt system. The pump is compatible with rams ranging from 4 to 24 cubic inches of volume; the well-sealed high-carbon steel pump and aluminum alloy bracketing weighs in at 16.5 pounds. Prices are set according to options requested, and online pricing ranges from $4,000 to $4,800.

gps radio, handheld radio, marine radios

Best Marine Electronics: Standard Horizon HX851 Handheld GPS

The latest iteration of the unit comes with a powerful rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Standard Horizon

Standard Horizon’s HX851 is a handheld VHF radio packing a GPS and a wide array of valuable features. With built-in GPS and DSC features, it offers value as a backup safety communications system; keep it with you in the cockpit to quickly connect with other vessels. The latest iteration of the unit comes with a powerful rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It’s waterproof (good down to 3.3 feet for 30 minutes) and equipped with a water-activated strobe that helps locate a victim overboard. The DSC emergency function will broadcast the unit’s GPS location so that DSC radio-equipped vessels in range will hear an alert and see the radio’s/crew member’s location. Online prices started around $200.

Ralph Naranjo writes about technical subjects and is a frequent CW contributor. This article first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Cruising World.


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