|Flat Out Control|
Part 2: Enhanced Monitoring and Control
By Brad Dunn — December 2000
"Sea Ray's goal was to provide boat owners with an integrated helm system of enhanced monitoring and control," says Brian Criner, Sea Ray's project manager for the 680SS prototype. "And we added a customized, intuitive navigation software package."
Before the project began, Sea Ray eyed the industry to find partners. It teamed up with DMP America in the spring of 1999, and by August of that year, the boatbuilder had completed detailed engineering plans of the integrated helm and begun construction. In March 2000, the prototype system was tested and approved in Holland by Dutch electronics manufacturer Radio Zeeland. Sea Ray began installing the system's components in the 680SS immediately after they were approved. The boat officially splashed in June.
"The installation took a very significant and concentrated effort on the part of each company involved," Criner says. "To everyone's credit, the complete system test in the water went extremely well. We were very pleased."
Just what advantage does a fully integrated helm offer? What difference do touch screens make when you drive your boat? Why all the hype behind the trend toward the complete computerization of boats?
For starters, Sea Ray's system lets you achieve a new level of precision control over your vessel. The prototype 680SS employs two marinized PCs networked through an Ethernet hub, in the same way many office computer networks are connected. Every piece of data from every part of your boat runs through this system, which then displays it via Microsoft Windows.
Because every system is controlled through two touch screens, the integrated helm can access and execute your commands instantly and accurately. You can choose your engine rpm almost exactly. You can navigate a preset course as precisely as an autopilot. You can point your engine-room camera to the exact place you wish and inspect any component without having to open the hatch.
Another major advantage is the ability to monitor any facet of your boat by simply touching your screen. (And if touching screens isn't your preference, each of the two 12-inch daylight-readable LCDs can be controlled by its own mouse.) Criner says that typically one screen will be dedicated to engine and shipboard monitoring and the other assigned to customized chartplotting and other navigational functions.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.