Eye Catchers from the Miami Boat Show

New electronics are always a sure bet if you’re looking for new kit to make time on the water more interesting.

Delorme InReach

DeLorme’s David Viens demonstrates the text features of the InReach satellite communications device.Mark Pillsbury

On a visit to something as far-flung as the Miami International Boat Show — sailboats berthed in downtown Miami, mid-sized powerboats at another nearby marina, a brokerage show in yet another venue and the main event at the Convention Center on Miami Beach — there’s bound to be a few items that stand out among the literally thousands of products and boats on display.

Three pieces of kit that I found intriguing at this year’s show were the Delorme InReach, the Raymarine Hydro-Balance technology for its Evolution autopilots and the NavPlay app for the iPad that incorporates both C-Map by Jeppesen cartography and AIS and other data feeds via the Vesper Marine transponder and WatchMate Vision.

The DeLorme InReach has been around for a while, what's new this month is how you can choose to use it, or not. InReach is an electronic tracking and 160-character text-capable satellite transponder that will keep you in touch no matter where in the world you sail or trek off to. The unit itself retails for around $300. Formerly, the InReach required an annual service plan, which makes sense if you're out and about year round, but wasn't ideal for say those in more northern latitudes, where activities like sailing, camping, hunting and hiking tend to be seasonal.

Now, DeLorme is offering its Freedom Plan, which starts at just under $15 a month. Use it when you want, turn it off when the boat gets hauled, and you still get access to all the data the device has collected. The annual plan (starting at about $12 a month) is available too.

Though marketed more to the powerboat crowd, the new autopilot Hydro-Balance technology from Raymarine also should be of interest to anyone who has a sailboat with hydraulic steering. As we cruised aboard a sporty center console go-fast boat, Raymarine's autopilot global product manager Ian Matt walked me through why.

Raymarine’s Evolution autopilot system include a control display, a motion sensor, control unit and drive, which connects to your steering quadrant. Photo courtesy of the manufacturer.

No matter how well designed or carefully bled a hydraulic steering system is, there will always be some amount of air trapped in the line. As the autopilot works, the air can be compressed to the point where the air bubble bursts, causing the autopilot to compensate for the change in pressure. Though the corrections are small, they can compound over time, causing the autopilot to work overtime and the course to zig-zag slightly. Though the Evolution line of autopilots is designed to adapt to a boat’s steering characteristics, until the development of Hydro-Balance, they couldn’t account for the air. Engineers, though, developed software that can. The result: a wakeline that’s true as an arrow and probably more important to sailors, less power consumption by the autopilot.

| |The NavPlay iPad app lets you plan a route with your fingertip. Photo courtesy of the manufacturer.|

I'll admit that I've been a fan of Vesper Marineand its WatchMate line of AIS transponders for a while now. Its sophisticated filters let you zero in on just the boats you need to worry about in a busy seaway, and it's easy to use. Better yet, Vesper's "black box" transponder and the WatchMate Vision create a Wifi network on your boat that lets you share data from onboard sensors (engine, navigation, autopilot) where its needed. Now they've gone a step further and partnered with a company called NavPlay which offers an intriguing app that lets you do a whole lot of cool things on your iPad, from navigation and route planning to systems monitoring, and chronicling your adventures on the fly.

With your fingertip, you can draw your route on a C-Map chart, adjust waypoints, and access weather information. Via the Vesper Wifi network, you can monitor the engine, sailing instruments, AIS signals, and even control your autopilot. And you can make entries in your logbook, save photos and video files and then share them all with friends. It’s really a pretty cool package.

Overall, I’ve got to say, I love boat shows and all the gadgets you find at them. Don’t get me started on the Shamwows.