— September 2002
By Ben Ellison
|Part 2: Information Overload!|
Perhaps more important was how well the whole package presented itself to Jambo's owner, Jerry Bogert. On the plus side, watching (and helping) him get familiar with the 951, I could literally see how Northstar has earned its reputation for intuitive interfaces. He seemed to rapidly make sense of the basic key layout and boldly labeled soft key menus. By the trip's end, he was creating named waypoints and putting together routes, and we had to consult the manual only once. The Simrad was another story. Soft keys work well to walk a user through a menu system, but the RA41 started off with 15 of them. When I got about halfway through explaining each of their functions, Bogert rolled his eyes and asked me to stop--information overload!
After the trip I learned that the RA41 has extensive interface customization capability and could have been--make that should have been--set up to be less intimidating to an inexperienced user. For instance, those 15 soft keys could be reduced to a more reasonable five. I snooped out a number of other tweaks that could make the whole system more owner-friendly. Last year Northstar issued a firmware update that enables chart rotation on the 951; course-up mode will make the limited chart screen easier to read and to orient with the radar image. More precious plotter real estate could be acquired by moving data, like waypoint bearing and distance, from the plotter via NMEA to the radar's ample and beautiful, ten-inch screen.
So the situation aboard Jambo was one I'd seen too often: great electronics and an intelligent user who could all use a little help to establish the safest and most comfortable relationship possible. I don't want to exaggerate this issue--in fact, I know that Bogert has done some successful, even enjoyable, deep-fog route running since our delivery--but I do think that the so-called MMI (man-machine interface) is a tough nut and a pretty big deal. Manufacturers are at work on the problem, but they also keep coming up with irresistible new technologies that further complicate things. Check this month's "Electronics Q&A" to see how much DSC--potentially convenient and even life-saving though it may be--has added to the intricacy of VHF radio setup and usage.
A number of production boat dealers these days go to some pains setting up, then helping orient, a new owner to his electronics package. Bogert should have gotten the same service, but it's understandably rare in the world of small yards. I think he understands and is happy with his head-turning vessel and a building process that included farewells from builder and designer on a Rockland dock at 6 a.m. But I do hope that he gets an electronics expert in his home waters to do the sort of fine-tuning described above, perhaps even to go out on trials and stay on top of upgrades yet to come. Until we get the MMI nut truly cracked, a lot of boaters could make good use of a personal electronics trainer.
Ben Ellison has been a delivery captain and navigation instructor for nearly 30 years and was recently editor of Reed's Nautical Almanacs.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.