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Electronics - July 2002 - Q&A
Electronics July 2002
By Ben Ellison


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Is it still possible to get weather faxes without a computer onboard? J.M., via e-mail
I understand your curiosity; the "fax" graphics produced by many national meteorlogical offices still arguably provide the most thorough and worldwide weather source for mariners. While many boats are now getting them as Web downloads or e-mails via satellite phone, or by hooking their computer to an SSB radio through a special modem, some skippers simply don't want to mess with a computer at sea.

However, to the best of my knowledge, you only have one choice for a stand-alone weather fax these days, and that's Furuno's FAX207. Like most classic marine fax machines, the 207 combines an SSB receiver and a thermal printer in one box about 14"x11"x4". It comes pretuned to all 376 known fax channels (and there's room to add 200 new ones) and can be programmed for up to 30 automatic on/off fax receptions. It prints in four levels of gray on eight-inch-wide white "dustless" paper. Furuno technicians say you can substitute standard thermal paper from an office supply story for Furuno's proprietary brand, but you'll have to strip off part of the roll to make it fit.

The 207 also has some quite advanced features. For instance, it can automatically scan available frequencies for the clearest channel. It can also be augmented with an optional Navtex receiver module and will save and print out desired Navtex weather statements and warnings between fax transmissions. In fact, Furuno advertises the 207 as using "advanced microprocessor-controlled technology." That sort of means that there is a dedicated computer in there, J.M.; you can't get away from the darn things these days!

The fact that only one manufacturer is still making stand-alone faxes indicates to me that a large portion of the market has chosen to receive weather faxes via other means. Furuno says it has no intention of dropping the 207, but one big marine electronics distributor I called doesn't stock it.

The 207 usually sells for about $1,650, with an optional but recommended "active antenna coupler" (signal amplifier) going for an added $360. For that sort of money, you could buy a lot of satcom time (and many Web "fax" products are now in easier-to-read color) or even a complete system like a Si-Tex Nav-Fax 200 receiver along with a decent laptop. No doubt you'd have to work harder to get your desired faxes with the Si-Tex's included software; but, when holed up in snotty conditions, you could listen to shortwave broadcasts and perhaps work on your novel! --B.E.

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. E-mail: PMYElectronics@primediamags.com. No phone calls please.

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

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