Eyes Everywhere

Electronics — October 2005
By Ben Ellison

Eyes Everywhere
Adding boat cameras is easy, and we’ve just begun to discover all the ways they can be useful.

 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Eyes Everywhere
• Part 2: Eyes Everywhere
• Electronics Q&A
• Simon C
• SeaMoon
• Scubar
• Garmin 192C

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• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

Closed-circuit video cameras certainly aren’t just for megayachts anymore. You can plug them into quite a few chartplotters these days, which means that even a lot of T-tops are “video ready.” But where do you go for a camera, how hard is it to hook one up, and why bother anyway? I researched these questions last summer, and what I found was pretty much all good. While it’s true that the major marine-electronics manufacturers and suppliers offer hardly any cameras (yet), it’s not hard to find all sorts of useful video gear both outside the boat world and from a few nautical specialists. And while camera types and specs can get a bit confusing, basic compatibility is quite good, and most installations are straightforward. Adding cameras to your helm can mean a lot of bang for relatively little cost or a chance to seriously indulge your techno lust. Above all, I learned that we’re just beginning to grasp all the ways video can be used on the water for navigation, security, fishing, and fun.

Let’s start with two fairly standard color cameras I tested, pictured on the first page of this story. The black bullet-style one is from Big Bay Technologies (www.bigbaytech.com). The white one is C-Map’s C-Cam (www.c-map.com). Each is waterproof, fairly wide angle, and costs about $200. The noteworthy feature of this particular Big Bay model is that it delivers a reversed, or mirror, image. It’s specifically meant to face aft with the user facing forward toward the display, and using it feels quite natural because the most familiar parallel, a car’s rear-view mirror, is, of course, also a reversed image. I learned that you can, in fact, get used to a regular camera pointed aft, but in traffic I prefer to have, say, a boat coming up fast on my port quarter actually be on the starboard side of the video view (as seen in the Standard Horizon screen on page 58). This rear-view mirror cam, by the way, could be darn helpful when backing into a slip from a helm with poor aft visibility and might even improve the situational awareness aboard those T-tops I mentioned.

The C-Cam delivers a normal image, useful for keeping an eye on kids in the cabin, minding your trolling lines, or myriad other possibilities. Have you heard of a “poor man’s network radar”? That would be me up on the flying bridge with the Standard Horizon CP1000 while the C-Cam is aimed toward the boat’s only radar head at the helm below! A more tightly focused camera might work better (and rumor has it that Standard will soon be offering a radar option anyway), but the point is that boaters are using video eyes in creative ways. How about a forward-looking camera on a megayacht’s big towed tender using WiFi to deliver a reassuring bow-cleat view to the mothership’s bridge? It’s being done right now—in fact, the technology is almost trivial—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What’s actually unique about the C-Cam is a proprietary plug that neatly mates with certain ten-inch plotters from the C-Map family—specifically from Interphase, Si-Tex, and Standard Horizon—for both power and video. It makes for an especially easy install, plus the camera’s power is automatically switched on and off with the plotter. By contrast, wiring the Big Bay to the Raymarine E120 necessitated finding a male-to-male BNC connector and rigging a separate 12-volt feed. But that was not a major chore. In fact, aside from the mirroring, these cameras are essentially similar. If they were my cables to chop up, I could have made each work with the other display fairly easily because all these cams put out standard two-wire NTSC/PAL video, which is understood by all the displays already mentioned plus certain models from Furuno, Northstar, and Garmin. Actually there are connector options that let any camera work with the C-Map family plotters or the C-Cam work with any other plotter—no cable chopping required.

Another simplicity is that neither of these cameras has any controls or adjustments. But that doesn’t mean they’re simple on the inside. The specifications sheet for the Big Bay cam cites features like automatic backlight compensation and gain control, a light sensitivity of 1 lux, and a resolution of 330 lines. I’m just learning what these and other tech specs actually mean, but I do know that the camera produced decent video in a wide variety of lighting conditions (as did the C-Cam, whose specs aren’t published). And the technical details give me a useful point of reference as I peruse the 50 or so different boat cameras offered in a catalog I have on my desk.

Next page > Part 2: When he turned off the engine-room lights, the camera automatically turned on its built-in infrared LEDs and switched from color to infrared-sensitive black and white. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This article originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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