A Techno-Geek's Wonderland

Scanning the electronics for 2002, I was thrilled at the mix of gear that either stands out, has finally come of age, or meets a long-standing technological need.

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The Tracphone 252, the Raymarine Rl80C color radar with chart overlay, and the Simrad CA-42 monitorJessica Marcotte

For several years, electronic-equipment makers have been trying to integrate a quality radar signal with GPS-enabled electronic chart plotters so that a navigator can match sometimes cryptic radar signals to a detailed chart that’s overlaid on the radar image. This invaluable tool helps to decipher what the radar image is actually showing, particularly in unfamiliar territory. Several years ago, Nobeltec (800-598-4976, www.nobeltec.com) was first to introduce a chart-overlay system for radar, and this year it offers its own 4-kilowatt digital radar. The new unit, when paired with RADARpc and the extremely powerful charting software Visual Navigation Suite 6.5, combines 36-mile radar (when using a 25-inch enclosed radome) with exceptional, feature-loaded navigation software. The system works with a variety of separately available display monitors. (The SeaView MM-1500 would work great; for information, see page 63.) The 4-kilowatt RADARpc has a suggested list price of $4,200. For smaller boats, a 2-kilowatt RADARpc with a 16-mile range (using a 12.5-inch radome) goes for $3,000. Both versions include Nobeltec’s versatile Visual Navigation Suite software.

Raymarine’s High-Speed Bus (HSB) technology has been around for several years; this year, Raymarine (603-881-5200, www.raymarine. com) introduced its second generation. With the new HSB2 system, up to 10 display sets can supply radar, chart-plotting, and sonar information in a split screen, a full screen, or a new overlay mode. Using C-MAP NT cartography, the full-color displays now provide all the data the navigator could want on a single screen that’s viewable in bright sunlight. Chart-plotter-capable color radars from Raymarine are available in a range of sizes and in both 2- and 4-kilowatt power ranges. (The RL80C pictured above has a 10.4-inch screen.) I used one of the new units last fall and was very impressed. Prices range from $4,000 to $6,500.

Data Viewing
It seems like everyone is getting into the display-monitor business these days. But until recently, engineers haven't had much luck developing LCD displays that are both waterproof and visible in bright sunlight. Late last year, Digital View Inc. (408-782-7773, www.seaviewdisplays. com), based in California's Silicon Valley, met this challenge with the SeaView MM-1500, a technological marvel. The 15-inch color LCD display is a bit large for a binnacle mount on a typical sailboat, but on a deck-saloon or pilothouse cruiser, it would be right at home mounted on a bulkhead. The MM-1500 is more than waterproof; it's completely submersible. This high-quality display uses stainless steel, powder-coated aluminum, and gold-plated electrical contacts to meet the demands of the environment. Other high-end features of the MM-1500 include an ambient-light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness. You can vary resolution to suit what you're viewing--everything from charts to video. The screen has a picture-in-picture feature that allows you to see up to three data-source inputs simultaneously. Sensitive touch buttons and a cursor touch-pad ensure it's watertight, even at the controls. With a list price of $4,165, the SeaView MM-1500 will make a powerful focal point for your navigation system. Digital View also offers an 8-inch display that will fit nicely on your binnacle for $2,625.

For years, the 40 series from Simrad (425-778-8821, www. simrad.com) has been a major player in the one-box-does-all category. Its integrated systems offer radar, GPS chart-plotter, and echo-sounder functions all on one screen. Simrad’s CA-42 series raises the bar by using a 10-inch Transflective ATFT screen. Transflective technology actually reflects sunlight back through the screen film, making the screen brighter and clearer as sunlight increases. Early introductions--priced around $20,000--aimed at the grand prix raceboat circuit. Simrad is the first well-known company to incorporate this exciting technology into a proven product line. The Simrad screen, unlike earlier available screens, also provides backlighting for night viewing. Including an 18-inch radome and GPS, the new Simrad CA-42 has a retail price of $8,300.

Radar, as good as it is, can’t see everything that’s out there. Small fiberglass boats and dinghies don’t make good radar targets, and this often makes them invisible on a pitch-black night. Enter the HotEye Infrared Camera from D&B; Technology Group (866-468-3931, www.hoteye now. com). This camera is different from night-vision products that amplify and gather light. Light-amplifying night-vision equipment can only enhance objects at night if there’s some source of light. The HotEye doesn’t require any light source. Detecting infrared radiation invisible to the naked eye, it senses the heat differences of objects within the camera’s view. Given a range of about 0.4 miles using its standard 75-millimeter lens, the HotEye camera can see where nothing else can on that moonless night. The HotEye camera, which retails for $14,000, moves one step closer to turning the night into day.

Planning Ahead
The new PC-Planner NT from C-MAP/USA (508-477-8010, www.c-map.com) makes it easier than ever for you to plan your next voyage on your personal computer or laptop. As long as your onboard navigation system uses C-MAP NT vector charting, this program lets you connect a C-MAP card reader (part of the kit) directly to your PC via a USB port to quickly and easily display color chart data, create and edit routes, measure distances to points on the chart, and create waypoints for your journey. To ease planning chores for coastal passages, C-MAP NT includes port and tide data as well as marina and fuel-dock information. The PC-Planner kit includes one USB reader that can accommodate two C-cards, application software on CD, and a full set of instructions. Since C-MAP cartography is used by 17 North American-based chart-plotter manufacturers and over 50 plotter makers worldwide, finding a system match here should be no problem. With a retail price of just $150, or $180 with one C-card supplied, this product is within everyone's reach.

Electrical Safety
Can your circuits handle all of your new toys? T-1 circuit breakers from Blue Sea Systems (360-738-8230, www. bluesea.com) fill the need for a master circuit breaker at the main battery switch. These breakers trip in the event of a catastrophic electrical short circuit, providing important fire protection that few boats have. The combined master-switch/ breaker device meets tough American Boat & Yacht Council and U.S. Coast Guard requirements for main-circuit protection and meets the Society of Automotive Engineers ignition-protection standards, making the switch safe on gasoline-fueled boats or in situations where bottled gas--either LPG or CNG--is used for cooking or heating. The switches will work on systems of up to 48-volts DC and are available in 14 models, both surface and panel mounts, and with continuous ratings of up to 150 amps. The delayed trip time makes them useful for motor circuits with high start-up current draw that immediately tapers off once the motor's running. The Blue Sea T-1 series switch/breaker, with a retail price of $45, is a welcome addition to the field.

Handheld and Helpful
Speedtech Instruments (800-760-0004, www.speedtech. com) came through with some new, really cool handheld devices for both the cruising sailor on a tight budget and the insufferable gadget freak--like me. This year, two of its products really caught my eye. The Speedtech SW-4 Geos Weather Pro is a miniature weather station that provides windspeed, temperature, and windchill data, a compass, a hygrometer, barometric pressure with 3- , 6- , 9- , and 12-hour history, and a clock. The ergonomic handheld device retails for $330.

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| Palm-sized products that get the job done: Blue Sea Systems' new 100-amp circuit breaker (left), Speedtech's SW-4 Geos Weather Pro, and Speedtech's WMR 112 Wireless Weather Station* * *|

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The portable Speedtech WMR 112 Wireless Weather Station features windspeed and wind direction, ambient temperature, relative humidity, 24-hour barometric-pressure tracking with on-screen forecast, windchill, dew point, rainfall, clock, and date. At $500, the WMR 112 Weather Station would be a nice addition to any cruising boat.

How about a handheld navigator that can be used in conjunction with your business pocket PC? Maptech (888-839-5551, www.maptech.com) has introduced the NAVMAN GPS sleeve that slides right onto Compaq’s iPAQ Pocket PC. The 12-channel GPS receiver works with Maptech’s Pocket Navigator software. When combined with Maptech’s Digital ChartKit, the system can display official NOAA charts of U.S. waters and pinpoint your position on the screen. The software allows you to create routes and keeps you on track on the iPAQ’s full-color screen. The Pocket Navigator/Navman GPS solution sells for $350. Maptech charts are sold separately.

Keeping in Touch
With so much of our communication now e-mail and Internet based, I'm constantly asked by cruisers how they can stay connected. With service providers coming and going, making the right choice of equipment is a confusing task. One company, KVH Industries (401-847-3327, www.kvh.com), in Middletown, Rhode Island, continues to lead the way with award-winning products. This year, several important innovations continue that trend. The introduction of the KVH Tracphone 252 brings offshore telephone service to a new level. By combining the ultra-sensitive magnetic sensor with the antenna--it was previously mounted separately--installation problems have been virtually eliminated. The system, one of the most compact available, offers full-service access to the Inmarsat Mini-M network, which you can use almost anywhere in the world. With over 85,000 users worldwide, the Mini-M is the most popular satellite service for voice, data, fax, and e-mail. For the last four years running, KVH's Tracphone 25 has won the National Marine Electronics Association's prestigious "Best Satellite Telephone" category. With a retail price of $6,000, the new 252 promises to follow in the Tracphone 25's footsteps.

As the exclusive reseller for Bell ExpressVu’s DirecPC service, KVH offers a promising way to rev up offshore communication. The system uses Bell ExpressVu’s high-powered digital-video-broadcast (DVB) satellite to provide high-speed data transfer. With any of KVH’s DVB-compatible TracVision satellite antennae, you can use the service anywhere within the continental United States and up to 100 miles offshore. Owned by BCE Inc., Canada’s largest telecommunications company, ExpressVu’s DirecPC appears to have the financial base to last. With a transfer rate reaching 400 kilobits per second, e-mail, websites, and weather maps transfer at lightning-fast speed--more than seven times faster than the 56-kilobits per second dial-up connections found in most homes. The cost saving is also impressive. A 1-megabyte file, for example, would typically cost $0.26 to receive--versus $3.70 using a cellular modem, $17.92 using the Globalstar system, $42.00 using the Iridium system, or an astounding $125 using Inmarsat Mini-M. As for the hardware, the KVH DVB-compatible TracVision antennae are available in five configurations in prices ranging from $3,500 to $9,000.

Laser Plot Inc. (508-757-2831, www.laserplot.com), in Auburn, Massachusetts, has introduced an intriguing product for letting your family and friends know where in the world you are. Its Marine Track system uses a tiny antenna (4.75 by 4.75 by 1.5 inches) to transmit your location, course, speed, and the time of your position fix via the Inmarsat-D+ satellite network. The transceiver sends a signal to the Marine Track central server, where the information is converted to a simplified visual format on an electronic C-MAP chart. Your loved ones can then retrieve the data from a password-protected section of the Marine Track website. Offering limited two-way communication, the system also allows you to control certain functions on board when you’re away from your boat. You can turn on a bilge pump, an air-conditioner, or a refrigeration system right from your office. The system retails for $2,000, and service packages begin at $50 per month.

Microbe Management
Last but not least, Spectra Watermakers has come through with a long-awaited technology that I like to call "microbe management." This unglamorous function represents a true breakthrough for the marine industry. In the past, sailors have had to flush their watermakers with a variety of expensive chemicals to maximize the life span of the reverse osmosis membrane and to keep the seawater intake lines clean. Enter the Zeta Rod from Spectra (415-526-2780, www.spectrawatermakers.com). The Zeta Rod technology isn't new; it's long been used, with great results, by soft-drink bottlers and automotive manufacturers. The Zeta Rod introduces an electrostatic field to water as it enters the chamber in which the rod is located. The charge prevents unwanted particles in the water from approaching close enough to bind to each other or nearby surfaces. This prevents scale, sludge, and biological fouling. This capability provides several side benefits. It uses less power to produce the same amount of water, cuts down on expensive and complicated servicing, and doesn't require that you keep on board the potentially hazardous acids and alkalis used for servicing. The Zeta Rod can be retrofitted to any existing system and comes in a variety of sizes. The basic unit shown here goes for $1,600.

Ed Sherman is CW’s electronics editor.