Few will argue that the iPhone doesn’t represent a giant leap in digital technology. Its LCD touchscreen with myriad applications allows owners to download an entire album, listen to it while checking the tide tables, and even have songs automatically pause when a phone call comes through. And while this wonder may be the current highpoint of integrated mobile technology, marine technology is not far behind. Integrating all of your vessel’s systems into one unit—or one style of unit—has been done on megayachts for years. But now some of these all-in-one solutions are finding their way onto smaller vessels.
In fact my most recent encounter with an integrated system was on the Grand Banks 41EU (“International Coalition,” January 2009). Up on the helm was a seven-inch E-Plex touchscreen display (860-727-0983) with a customized picture of the boat in its center surrounded by virtual buttons sorted by systems. Thumbing through the “pages” (different screen displays) I found that from this single unit, I could control the boat’s interior lights, radar, and even her blowers.
“The homepage layout was created to maximize the screen’s realty—the amount of space used,” explains Wes-Garde general manager Brett Macdonald, whose company is the authorized distributor of E-Plex. “You don’t have to go through 25 screens to get to what you’re looking for.” The system also does away with breaker panels since A.C. and D.C. circuits can be controlled from that little screen. And eliminating conventional wiring reduces weight by hundreds of pounds. (For A.C. circuits, manual breakers also exist in case anything goes wrong.) E-Plex represents one way to monitor most of your systems, but it faces some tough competition.
The Octoplex System by Moritz Aerospace (860-793-7786) offers similar capabilities. Like E-Plex, it integrates all of your A.C. and D.C. components, but unlike it, Octoplex is NMEA-2000 compatible and certified. We’ve all heard a lot about NMEA 2000, but to reiterate, it’s a common data network and equipment standard that allows components to more easily exchange information. Although the standard’s virtual plug-and-play capabilities are great with a stand-alone Octoplex System, you still don’t have access to some critical features that you do with E-Plex, such as engine readouts (if the engines aren’t NMEA 2000 compatible).
That is unless you add Maretron’s N2KView software package (602-861-1707). It lets you monitor and coordinate all of your vessel’s critical gear (engine data, tank levels, radar) while maintaining the interactive controls of the Octoplex System (locking and unlocking doors, adjusting air conditioning temperatures, etc.). The system is relatively new (first appearing around 2008), but the company has been making sensors and software for years. Yet basing a system on NMEA 2000 can be confining since not all components use this standard. Fortunately, there’s another time-tested option.
“SiMON actually started out in a Viking 65 around 2000,” explains Palladium Technologies (954-653-0630) founder and owner Mike Blake, whose company makes the system. “But the market wasn’t around at the time. [So] we started pushing up to 40-meter vessels and above, and that’s where we primarily work.” This system can truly integrate all onboard systems whether they are NMEA 2000-compliant or not, but its complexity can be daunting to comprehend: Blake says it has more than 32 millions lines of code, which is more than the Windows operating system has. And on one vessel, the company had to install more than 10,000 sensors. It’s safe to say that with all of those components, ensuring quality becomes paramount. (The company hand-picks manufacturers for each type of sensor.)
SiMON works by turning the sensors’ analog data into Ethernet packets within microprocessing boxes called data acquisition units (DAUs). Palladium Technologies builds 75 percent of the electronics within its DAUs, but when it comes to making the screens that display the data, the company again turns to subcontractors.
Yet for all of the complexity on the back end, SiMON’s operational interface is simple and user-friendly. Better yet, it’s been sea-trialed and proven on some of the biggest megayachts out there. “It’s like having a second engineer,” Blake boasts, noting that the system allows rating organizations to change from requiring human-monitored engine spaces to allowing unmanned machinery areas, so an engineer needn’t be confined to the engine room for an entire voyage. The system also has iPhone capabilities, so engineers and captains can receive data and shut-off devices such as alarms remotely, as long as they’re picking up the vessel’s WiFi signal. The company hints that these capabilites may expand in time.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.