If you happen to have an iPad in your cockpit, the TZtouch lets you take things a stage further, by allowing the mobile device to control the MFD, to change range settings or whatever, right there from the iPad touchscreen, exactly as though you were using the touchscreen of the TZtouch itself.
Ramyarine’s new e- and c-series MFDs (note the cool, lower-case series designation, as opposed to the older, upper-case E- and C-series!) also boast Wi-Fi connectivity to let you see your fishfinder display in the cockpit or check on your night-vision camera image without leaving your stateroom. Or you can use the Navionics Mobile app (available from the iTunes app store) to plan your next trip on your iPad, and then wirelessly sync your plans to the MFD when you arrive onboard.
Raymarine, however, has added Bluetooth, so you can choose to leave your iPod, iPhone, or iPad safely in the cabin, plugged into the boat’s audio system, and use the MFD’s Bluetooth function to control its music functions from the helm.
All well and good. But if true data exchange and control has a champion, it’s a company called Digital Yacht, which has probably taken wireless networking further than anyone else so far. The company’s BOATraNET picked up prestigious awards at both the National Marine Electronics Association Convention and the Marine Equipment Trade Show last year. As the name suggests, it’s an Intranet package for boats—a private Web site and hot spot, only available to those within range of the BOATraNET box, and only to those who have been granted access to it.
Physically, BOATraNET is an 11.8-inch by 8.6-inch by 2.4-inch black box, with a stubby Wi-Fi antenna at the back. Inside the box, there’s a marine computer equipped with a fanless processor and solid-state hard drive. The unit also has a preloaded web server operating system that takes all the data available from the boat’s existing conventional marine electronics—chartplotters, instruments, GPS, and so on—and uses that information to automatically build constantly updated web pages, giving anyone onboard the lowdown on where they are and where they’re heading, navigation information such as boat speed, depth, and wind direction, and AIS information about who is around them. The unit will also accept data from any brand of marine electronics, and its output can be viewed on any device that includes a web browser—iPhone, iPad, Android, or Blackberry.
Another page on your private BOATraNET site is called “Documents.” Nick Heyes, the CEO of Digital Yacht, tells me that he envisions the feature being used to store PDF copies of all the manuals and paperwork that go with a well-found modern boat, but of course it could store any book that is available in PDF format so you could offer your guests and crew access to guidebooks about your destinations, or a library of your favorite novels. Similar BOATraNET pages store photos and music, all transferred to the system’s solid-state hard drive from a USB stick.
And when you get into port, BOATraNET has one more trick up its sleeve—it can connect, through a long-range wireless adapter, to the marina’s hotspot, and the Internet. So you can watch as your guests all turn their eyes to personal devices, to see what e-mails they’ve missed while they were cruising.
Devices onboard follow suit, updating software and charts, weather, and other data when they find a live Internet connection of sufficient bandwidth. This maintenance will only increase as protocols improve, and similar functionality may fan out through the boat’s network as things like tank sensors and transducers become “smarter” and linked to the helm wirelessly. Those wire runs may go away sooner than we think, saving rigging and weight as systems rely on the airwaves more and more. And perhaps the Copper Age we have known for so long will finally draw to a close.