Eyes Everywhere Page 2

Electronics — October 2005
By Ben Ellison

Eyes Everywhere
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.

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You could argue that this characteristic—Northstar calls it purpose built—is a limitation; you can’t, for instance, just plug one of XM’s or WSI’s cool satellite marine weather receivers (see “New Times Two,” August 2004) into a 962 and load the companion software. But it’s hard to argue with success. I regularly run into boaters, often seasoned types, who simply love their 962, even if it’s a bit slow compared to today’s PCs and embedded plotters. Kevin Rickets, Northstar’s director of engineering and an enthusiastic fisherman, has a relevant anecdote. Apparently there’s a hot spot north of Cape Cod Bay traditionally known as “between the Ls” because it happens to lie betwixt the two Ls in the label “Stellwagen Bank” on the paper chart of the area. The NOAA cartographer who placed those words there years ago never intended to mark a precise spot, but an oldtime fisherman who can bring up that exact image on his 962 and drop a waypoint “between the Ls”—with just a button push, Windows be damned—is apt to be a happy guy.

Boat cam catalog, you say? Not exactly. I kept asking marine electronics professionals where they get video gear, and finally one proficient installer—John Gass at Wayfarer Marine right here in Camden, Maine—handed me an MCM catalog (www.mcminone.com) full of security video equipment. Lo and behold, almost all of the cameras are 12-volt, and a lot claim to be waterproof (though none cite a specific standard as is done with good marine gear). Gass also showed me an Eastbay he’d rigged with engine-room and stern cams, both Defender Security units sourced from MCM. They’ve held up fine, even the mast-mounted bullet. He also demonstrated how, 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. It really did see in the dark—across an engine room anyway. The infrared, however, is invisible to human eyes, which is why these reasonably priced multimode cameras are so common in the vast security video industry. It’s also why some boaters use them to get an unobtrusive nighttime view of their dock.

So it turns out that there are numerous security camera styles—add various pan-and-tilt domes to the ones I’ve already mentioned—that can work on boats and many options. For example, I noted something called “variable focus,” which means that you can modify a camera’s field of view after installation. This seems especially valuable, as most specs are vague about such angles. The Northstar 6000i on the Eastbay only has one video input (the Standard has two, and the E120 sports four), but Gass easily sourced not only an outboard video switch but also a modulator able to send the cameras’ views to the yacht’s TV (top right). Many of the cameras in the MCM catalog seem to have better specs than the ones I’ve already seen to be quite functional. And there are many manufacturers. For instance, Palladium Technologies, developer of the elaborate video system on page 58, recommends Pelco (www.pelco.com) equipment. Like I said, it’s all good.

But let’s also consider the work of marine specialists like Latham Cams (www.lathamcams.com). Mike Latham is a Florida gamefishing captain and video nut who has spent years developing systems dedicated to capturing cockpit action. The cameras he’s using now—definitely not off-the-shelf security gear—can take a vigorous daily hose-down, no problem. In fact he recommends it. A single button push on a little wireless remote activates multiple cameras arrayed on the outriggers and cabin top, which record to a series of small digital decks so that later the captain, owner, or a pro can edit a really effective highlight tape. Walker Downriggers (www.walkerdownriggers.com) builds an underwater trolling camera called StrikeVision designed to deliver just what the name implies to a recorder or monitor or any of the plotters already mentioned. These are uses far beyond navigation or security, but don’t they sound priceless?

Next month, in part two of this column, I’ll report on my own experiments trying to see into the cold, dark waters of home. Plus we’ll take a closer look at camera developments in the megayacht world. If history is any precedent, some of that good technology will be available for T-tops by and by.

Next page > Electronics Q&A > 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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