By Ben Ellison
Lifeguards in the Sky
In October I walked and talked my way through four boatshows and can tell you that marine electronics is “smokin’!” So instead of Q&A this month, I’m going to share some highlights.
The major manufacturers are filling out their lines in all directions. Furuno introduced new VHF radios (built by Icom), an autopilot, a hailer, and a black-box version of NavNet. Navman, too, has added VHF and autopilots, and Simrad showed a stabilized TV antenna, big PC monitors, and a new series of seven-inch-screen combo units. JRC extended its black-box line to a sounder, and even its big-ship gear is going modular, with huge LCDs instead of CRTs.
In the marine PC world, Maptech demonstrated a Skymate e-mail and monitoring module for the Sea Ray Navigator and “i3,” an SRN cousin soon to be available to all boaters. Nobeltec’s new Admiral 7.0 aspires to be a “glass bridge in a box,” easily running on multiple monitors and/or on multiple networked computers. Transas Nautic showed NaviGator charting teamed with WxWorx’s live weather display, which—like WSI’s Weather Channel Marine—is now a shipping product. MaxSea, Fugawi, and Nautical Technologies have all adapted their charting programs for NOAA’s free S57 charts, which will eventually cover the whole country.
NMEA 2000 is making real headway. Xantrex has a 2000 charging and power-inversion system, Faria showed instruments that can talk to 2000 engines, and brand-new Maretron previewed a whole family of 2000 sensors and conversion boxes to ship this spring. Simrad’s SimNet, just announced, runs 2000 protocols with some proprietary messages added, a strategy that all the majors seem to be adopting. Meanwhile Mercury demoed a complete SmartCraft plug-and-play, fly-by-wire, dual-inboard installation.
Innovation was everywhere. C-Map is adding 1,000 ultra-high-detail—down to slip numbers and restrooms—marina maps to its chart cards. Material Sciences introduced bulletproof, solid-state bilge switches and tank sensors. Digital Antenna now has a repeater intended to improve cellular reception on your boat without making you plug in. Look Sea came out of nowhere with an “augmented reality” navigation system worthy of a future column.
Overall I sensed creative intensity as the big companies work to offer boaters (and builders) bow-to-stern electronics solutions while adopting better common protocols for those who like to mix and match, and while making way for increasing PC technology. Yet there’s still room for new companies with good ideas. All of which is good for us boaters. —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@primedia.com. No phone calls, please.
This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.