Using your phone/tablet on board
The most common ‘mobile hazard’ is running out of battery power. Luckily this can be solved simply and cheaply: a couple of dollars will buy you a mobile charger and cable that fits into standard 12VDC power sockets (the old cigarette lighter sockets).
For more reliability and additional ports you can install a dedicated USB power socket, available from most marine suppliers. Keep a couple of cheap charging cables for iphone and Android devices on board as well, and you will always have a charged-up device and happy guests on board.
It also makes sense to have somewhere to ‘park’ your smartphone/tablet where it will be held securely and be easily visible, especially in rough conditions. Having both hands free can be just as critical at sea as when driving a car.
A cradle with an integrated USB hub makes good sense, to keep the device fully charged while being held securely. There are two main vendors of marine smartphone holders, and both are great stories of innovation born in New Zealand and now exported around the world.
Railblaza started life in 2009 as a mounting system for holding things on the back of a quad-bike. Once it had developed the initial concept the designers realised the merit of the system in the marine environment, and have enhanced the range continuously.
The heart of the system is the proprietary Starport™ mounting system. These are surface-mounted onto a bulkhead, with little or no rear intrusion. They also have a range of options to attach to the tubes of inflatable boats, onto stainless guard rails, on to surfboards and even kayaks. You then lock your choice of holder into the Starport, with dozens of options including adjustable smartphone and tablet cradles.
The advantage of the Starport system is that it can be installed on surfaces and bulkheads where there is no rear access. This does however limit the strength of the socket to the holding power and strength of the two mounting screws and the nylon itself.
Tallon Systems was started in 2006 by Peter Marshall when he purchased a new boat and discovered there was nowhere to securely hold a glass of wine when underway. He developed a universal accessory socket, and then a range of accessories that clipped into the socket.
Unlike the Railblaza system, the Tallon sockets are mounted flush with the surface, so are unobtrusive. Because the Tallon socket is held in place by a locking ring behind the bulkhead, the system has enormous strength and is claimed to withstand a pull-out strength of 600kg. Tallon provides an unlimited lifetime warranty on its sockets, so clearly is confident of the durability.
The extensive Tallon range now has options for boats, cars, trucks and even aircraft. There is a variety of powered sockets, with the Elite socket having a standard Tallon mount as well as an integrated USB port and a conventional 12VDC powered socket. There are also more than 20 different cradles, phone and tablet mounting options to suit your device and preferences.
I’ve fitted both systems to my boat. The Railblaza was perfect for the main helm, where a horizontal surface meant it did not matter that the mount protruded about 25mm. The underside of the surface was in the shower, so something that did not stick through the other side was preferable.
Two mounting holes were all that was needed, plus a hole for the cable providing power to the USB. The installation took around 20 minutes, and we have both a smartphone and a tablet cradle than can be swapped out depending on which device is required.
But up in the flybridge, things were different. The bracket needed to fit against a vertical surface, and when not in use we wanted a flush look. The back of the mount point was under the helm and easily accessible, and with the additional forces that a vertically-mounted tablet would create, the Tallon system was the better option.
Again installation was relatively simple, and involved using a hole saw to cut one 50mm and two 30mm holes for the socket and power points. The Tallon Ball adaptor provides flexibility in positioning the tablet at the most convenient height and angle, and then locking it to prevent movement.
“A cradle with an integrated USB hub makes good sense.”