If It Were <i>My</i> Boat

Raymarine's Lifetag MOB technology, FLIR night-vision cameras, Si-Tex DSC-900 fixed-mount radio, and Shakespeare CruiseNet cellular internet router. From our July 2007 issue.

Raymarine's Lifetag MOB technology (top two), FLIR night-vision cameras (bottom two)

Raymarine's Lifetag MOB technology (top two), FLIR night-vision cameras (bottom two)Tony Bessinger

For those of us interested in marine electronics, the Miami International Boat Show is the place to be. Manufacturers choose to make a lot of new-product announcements at this show, so it's a good opportunity to talk with product engineers and handle gadgets we've only read about in press releases. It's a sacrifice to leave New England and head to southern Florida each February, but my responsibility to CW readers overrides all else.

So what's new?

One of the coolest products I tested in Miami was from a company named FLIR Systems. FLIR, which stands for "forward-looking infrared," has been making military and industrial night-vision equipment for three decades. Now it's decided that its products will work well in the recreational-boating market. I agree. During a demonstration cruise on a moonless night, we were able to safely navigate the crowded waters off Miami with the help of a few FLIR cameras displaying crisp black-and-white images of objects our eyes, and even our radar, couldn't make out. Two fishermen in an unlit skiff, navigation aids, even birds on the water all showed up in incredible detail on LCD screens and multifunction displays (chart plotters).

Unlike other night-vision products, which use light gathering and amplification to give you a generally fuzzy representation of what you're looking at, FLIR measures differences in temperature. FLIR products allow you to see clearly in total darkness, light fog, and smoke. Of course, hot objects such as running engines and live humans stand out very well, but since the FLIR sensors are able to detect even the slightest changes in temperature (to within .1 degree C), we were able to see individual frames in a ship's hull, make out the difference between water and a water-logged piling, and detect small, unlit buoys.

Two units that FLIR is marketing to the recreational-boating community, the Voyager and Navigator, will both work well on larger cruising boats. The Navigator is an entry-level camera that's fixed (pan as well as pan and tilt are available as options) but provides a 36-degree field of vision and has a wide-angle image that's perfect for navigation. The Voyager, which comes standard with pan and tilt, uses two separate camera sensors-a wide-angle view and a long-range imager (which is also useful during daylight hours). All of FLIR's maritime units are enclosed in waterproof housings and can be remotely controlled. Images from either FLIR unit can be displayed on any common LCD or CRT monitor or multifunction display (chart plotter) through standard composite video output in both NTSC and Pal protocols.

FLIR also sells a handheld monocular version of its sensor, the ThermoVision FlashSight, which is used now by fire and police departments. It was suggested to the FLIR engineers that a waterproof version would probably be well received by cruisers. Of course, you don't have to wait; you can buy the FlashSight for $10,000. Expensive, yes, but imagine being able to see obstacles, flotsam, unlit marks, and overboard crew as clear as day in the middle of the darkest night. The retail price for the basic Navigator is $5,000 ($7,500 with the pan option and $9,000 for the full pan-and-tilt option).

Fast Surfing

I don't know about you, but going without my high-speed Internet connection, either at the dock or on a long voyage, is enough to give me withdrawal symptoms. If this also troubles you-as long as you're not cruising too far from shore-you'll be glad to hear that Shakespeare has introduced CruiseNet, on-the-water Internet access that the company says works like home or office broadband connections, allowing you to send and receive e-mail, check online weather, and even surf the web.

The Shakespeare CruiseNet includes a cellular router, which is engineered to commercial specs, faster than dial-up, and more dependable than PC card-based systems. The high-speed cellular network is automatically accessed when a computer is connected (a subscription to a cellular network is, of course, required). Shakespeare employs a full-power system, which it claims results in fewer dropped calls, faster connections, and a range of up to 50 miles when used with an upgraded external antenna.

Shakespeare's techies say that the CruiseNet system's equipment is easily user-installed and includes a built-in firewall for protection from hackers. It operates on 12-volt DC and 120-volt AC power and includes a 12-volt DC wiring harness, adapters, and a one-year subscription to CruiseNet's exclusive "Full-Throttle" web acceleration software. Prices range from $1,750 to $2,000.

Radio for All Seasons

Radios, especially ones that live on deck, probably shouldn't be high-end, but that's exactly where you need top-notch capabilities. Si-Tex's newest fixed-mount radio, the DSC-900, easily meets both challenges. It's digital select calling-ready, which means all you have to do is connect it to a GPS to be able to send distress calls with your position embedded in the signal. The DSC-900 can transmit at 25 watts and receives all VHF channels, including eight U.S. and two Canadian weather channels. Scanning modes include priority scan, memory scan, and all-channel scan. The waterproof design meets the JIS-7 standard, which means it can survive immersion for 30 minutes in water a meter deep. The DSC-900 has a backlit LCD display and keypad as well as one-button instant access to channels 16 and 9. A neat feature is the call key, which allows you to return the last incoming call. The list price on the radio is $150.

Crew-Overboard Gear

Raymarine has stepped into the market for crew-overboard technology with its LifeTag system. Whether or not you have RayMarine electronics on board, LifeTag is a great way to keep track of crew. A LifeTag starter system includes two LifeTag wireless pendants (each weighing in at 1.5 ounces, with a lithium battery said to last for 2,000 hours), the LifeTag base station, batteries, straps, a really loud alarm module, and a power cable. Each LifeTag pendant broadcasts a unique identification code to the base station, telling the station that the tag's wearer is aboard. If the wearer goes overboard, the wireless link between the sailor's pendant and the base station is broken and the alarm module sounds.

When a LifeTag system is networked with Raymarine chart plotters via the company's proprietary SeaTalk system, the alarm is only the beginning of the crew-recovery process. As soon as a LifeTag disconnects from the system, the latitude and longitude are recorded, range and bearing to the COB position are displayed, as are elapsed time and water temperature. The system retails for just under $700, which is a deal considering the safety margin it delivers.

Tony Bessinger is CW's electronics editor.

Company Contacts
FLIR: (800) 727-3547, www.flir.com
Raymarine: (603) 881-5200, www.raymarine.com
Shakespeare: (803) 227-1590, www.shakespeare-marine.com
Si-Tex: (727)-576-5734, www.si-tex.com