PC-Sick Page 3

Electronics July 2001
By Tim Clark

Part 3: PC-Based Navigational Systems
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: PC-Sick
• Part 2: PC-Sick
• Part 3: PC-Sick

 Related Resources
• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Argonaut Computer
• Autonav
• OceanPC
• Nauticomp
• Raymarine
• Xplore Technologies

Manufacturers also take pains to persuade boaters of the advantages of PC-based navigational systems. They tout a clean, consolidated helm with out-of-sight black box units for radar, depthsounder, and other components interfaced with a sleek saltwater and shock-resistant laptop that can also display instruments and gauges for engine, bilge, and tank monitoring. They describe a cornucopia of chartplotting software from Nobeltec, RayTech, Maptech, and others that includes easily updated electronic charts, daily weather overlays, aerial photography, and more. And they remind boaters of more established uses such as e-mail, fax, and general office applications that can add to onboard convenience. 

Yet even with all this dangling like a bunch of carrots, most boaters still don't get over their PC aversion, and marinized PC makers command only a tiny fraction of the boating electronics market. What to do?

That's the question that best guides our conjecture as to what the Raymarine Argonaut computer will be like, since at presstime the specifics of the project were still being kept under wraps.

First of all, it's almost certain to look more like a dedicated component than like a PC. Nothing brings out digital mal de mer faster than a keyboard/monitor/mouse combination. As Mobley says, "People who have it in their heads that they're not computer-literate or who steer clear of computers because they feel they are not fail-safe are a lot more likely to buy [one] if it doesn't appear to be a computer."

For the same reason, the Raymarine Argonaut is likely to jump straight to RayTech Navigator graphics at startup, keeping the Windows desktop at a discreet distance unless specifically sent for. No need for unpleasant reminders until they're absolutely necessary.

Since touchscreens and digitizer pens are among Xplore's specialties, the Argonaut will probably be operated by fingertip. (A keyboard that you can keep buried in a chart drawer until you decide to respond to your daughter's accumulated e-mails will almost certainly be a plug-in option.) User-friendliness being the other half of the battle, navigating the system will have to be as easy as pie. Kioutis hints that this computer's simplicity will be unprecedented.

We can also presume that the system will conform to RayTalk protocols, allowing interfacing with dedicated Raymarine components. This way users will enjoy centralized control over the helm without entirely giving up the reassuring presence of stand-alone components.

Of course, all of this is mere hypothesis until autumn, when the three partners are scheduled to unveil their new system. In the meantime, we can muse on how its development may affect the way boaters configure their helms in the future. Raymarine is an important and experienced marketer of marine technology. Many skippers equate the company with quality and reliability in the wheelhouse. Its open endorsement of a computer may be all that's necessary to convince squeamish helmsmen to finally get their PC-legs.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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