Get smart about dig­i­tal switch­ing. You'll be glad you did.


Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - BY JA­SON Y. WOOD

If you haven’t bought a new boat in say, five years, chances are your ves­sel doesn’t use dig­i­tal switch­ing in any mean­ing­ful way. But you use it all the time. You know how your car lets you con­trol the heat­ing sys­tem from the dash­board or from the in­fo­tain­ment con­trol screen in the cen­ter of the dash? That’s dig­i­tal switch­ing. You know how you can tune the ra­dio or ad­just the vol­ume on the steer­ing wheel as well as the in-dash unit? Same deal. The wiring to mul­ti­ply that con­trol point is elec­tronic—not elec­tric. Think skinny wires and tiny volt­ages—sig­nals in­stead of cur­rent. The marine elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies that are work­ing with it seem to have fi­nally loaded their mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays with enough band­width—think quad-core pro­ces­sors, such as on Ray­ma­rine’s Ax­iom mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays and the Sim­rad NSO evo3 units.

When you un­der­stand the power and po­ten­tial of the sys­tem you may find you like what you hear. Here are three as­pects of dig­i­tal switch­ing to con­sider.

“You al­ready know how to use it,” re­calls Ron Ber­man, vice pres­i­dent of prod­uct port­fo­lio for Sea Ray SY and L Class. “Re­mem­ber? That was the tagline when Ap­ple in­tro­duced the iPhone 10 years ago, and that’s the story I like to tell cus­tomers when I’m in­tro­duc­ing them to our dig­i­tal switch­ing sys­tem.” Just as helm elec­tron­ics have come so far in terms of user in­ter­face, those same elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers are help­ing boat­builders to cre­ate their dig­i­tal-switch­ing sys­tems, and to source the hardware as well.

“There are re­ally two things you’ve got to con­sider,” Ber­man says. “The first is the back­bone—the hardware that is kind of be­hind the scenes. We con­sid­ered how flex­i­ble the mod­ules are that we de­cided to use, and we chose them based on how re­li­able and how durable they are. We also looked at how they in­te­grate into the over­all boat.” The switch­ing mod­ules can in­ter­face with any num­ber of com­po­nents, and do so in a much more com­plex way than just “on” and “off,” though of course they do that, too. It’s like the dif­fer­ence be­tween a bow thruster that just turns on, and a pro­por­tional thruster that al­lows the user to con­trol the power in a much more re­fined way. In fact, co­in­ci­den­tally, some dig­i­tal switch­ing sys­tems will al­low the user to con­trol thrusters from a touch­screen.

“The other half of dig­i­tal switch­ing is the cus­tomer in­ter­face that al­lows them to con­trol the sys­tem,” he says. “As we look at switch­ing sys­tems for our Sea Rays, up to the larger boats like the L550, we wanted sys­tems that can help us pro­vide the best user ex­pe­ri­ence. That re­ally comes down to how good of an in­ter­face we could cre­ate for our cus­tomers.”

Sea Ray part­nered with Ray­ma­rine to de­velop the sys­tem, and John Hart­nett, se­nior ac­count man­ager for OEM for Ray­ma­rine, helped the two com­pa­nies work to­gether to solve the prob­lems. “When we do our jobs cor­rectly, we han­dle the com­plex­ity of the sys­tem with­out any­body see­ing it,” he says. “It’s a whole dif­fer­ent world to do this on a boat but, with the level of con­trol we have, we can see so much more of what’s go­ing on.”

Get used to smart tech­nol­ogy. It’s here to stay. I’m talk­ing about search­ing the In­ter­net to buy a new set of fend­ers once, and then, for the next three months, all you see are fen­der ads on your email, on so­cial me­dia, on news sites. That’s meant to be con­ve­nient, but I think it mostly is for the ad ser­vice. Dig­i­tal switch­ing opens up a whole world of the boat be­ing, if not self-aware in­tel­li­gent like the Ter­mi­na­tor, then able to keep you ap­prised of sta­tus.

“It’s all screens,” says Ryan Rezac, direc­tor of global in­te­gra­tion for Nav­ico, par­ent com­pany to the marine elec­tron­ics

brands Sim­rad, Lowrance, B&G, and GoFree. “Ev­ery­thing feeds into it, and it’s all in the same lo­ca­tion. You don’t need to go to dif­fer­ent de­vices to be able to ac­cess your bow thrusters or your wind­lass or your en­gine di­ag­nos­tics. Some of our key part­ner­ships are with en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers, but not far be­hind are all the other equip­ment sup­pli­ers. There are all kinds of com­po­nents that are elec­tronic that need to be in­te­grated, and it helps us pro­vide a bet­ter look­ing dash for the boat­builders.” That clean in­stal­la­tion sure looks nice and with in­tu­itive touch­screen con­trols and a lit­tle prac­tice, there’s a lot of in­for­ma­tion to be had, with­out crouch­ing down with a flash­light to look at the la­bels on a breaker board.

“For the boat­builders, it also sim­pli­fies the in­stal­la­tion. And it also al­lows us to have a more in­te­grated so­lu­tion. Say right now I have to use three de­vices to an­chor: I use my GPS to know my speed and po­si­tion, and I use the sonar to find a good spot, and then I have the wind­lass con­trol to drop the an­chor. With the in­te­grated sys­tem, you could fea­si­bly have the boat find a lo­ca­tion and tell you this is a good lo­ca­tion based on your cri­te­ria for an an­chor­ing, and then say ‘This is a good lo­ca­tion, shall I de­ploy the an­chor?’” That’s just one ex­am­ple of some­thing the fu­ture may hold. So some­day soon we may have me­chan­i­cal and elec­tronic func­tion all work­ing to­gether in deeper ways than ever be­fore, and work­ing for us.

Use it the way it works for you. Dig­i­tal switch­ing is com­ing to a new boat near you, if it isn’t there al­ready. Some boats have that clean helm de­sign, such as the Glass Cock­pit, a sys­tem that came out a few years ago that’s a joint ven­ture be­tween Garmin and Volvo Penta that uses com­po­nents from both com­pa­nies to in­te­grate com­po­nents and sys­tems to cre­ate a clean “glass-bridge” helm with min­i­mal switches. In that in­stal­la­tion, the Volvo Penta joy­stick can be used to drive the boat at speed, and also con­trol the au­topi­lot. “The Volvo Glass Cock­pit has fea­tures that are not found in our stan­dard Garmin prod­ucts,” says David Dunn, direc­tor of marine sales at Garmin. “When you have a green­field, it’s easy to come up with ex­cit­ing new fea­tures; the chal­lenge is find­ing the time to get them all into the project. Volvo Penta has been a great part­ner in help­ing us de­ter­mine which of those fea­tures are most im­por­tant to our cus­tomers.” So the builders that use Glass Cock­pit, Ab­so­lute Yachts and Tiara Yachts among them, work to in­cor­po­rate their

com­po­nent con­trols to touch­screen menus, to keep the helm in­stal­la­tion clean.

But some builders use the power of dig­i­tal switch­ing to do quite the op­po­site. Well, that’s not en­tirely fair. Take For­mula for ex­am­ple, and its two hot new quad-out­board-pow­ered models, the 430 ASC and 430 SSC. These boats have ev­ery com­po­nent con­trolled through digi- tal switch­ing on the MFD, and For­mula even pro­vides an iPad from which the owner can run the sys­tem from any­where on the boat. “The only thing we don’t al­low them to op­er­ate are lift­ing and low­er­ing the ta­bles and the hatch lid to the me­chan­i­cal space,” says Steve Boyce, prod­uct sys­tems man­ager at For­mula boats. “And that’s for safety: We de­cided that if some­one was on the iPad some­where else on the boat, and some­one was sit­ting at the ta­ble with their legs un­der it, there was po­ten­tial for in­jury. But with the sys­tem, it’s easy to just put a con­trol but­ton right by the ta­ble.”

That’s a case where the but­ton makes sense, and at For­mula, the team de­cided that a lot of times a but­ton makes sense, even with the touch­screen and iPad sys­tem. But be­cause of the flex­i­bil­ity of the dig­i­tal switch­ing sys­tem, it’s no prob­lem. “For cus­tomers that may not be com­fort­able us­ing some of the tech­nol­ogy, that’s OK,” Boyce says. “Pre­tend it doesn’t even ex­ist. If you want to use this boat for years just us­ing the helm-dash switches, they’re still avail­able to help. We didn’t delete one switch from the dash that wasn’t there on pre­vi­ous models. They’re mo­men­tary switches that tie into the dig­i­tal switch­ing sys­tem but the end user would have no idea. He won’t be able to tell, if he turns on the nav­i­ga­tion light or the bilge pump di­rectly. He just knows he flips the switch and it works.” As the user gets com­fort­able with the menus and screens and the ca­pa­bil­ity for pre­sets, maybe he’ll in­cor­po­rate them into the boat­ing rou­tine. And while it’s nice to have right now, even­tu­ally it may be even bet­ter to rely on it.

The light­ing con­trols for the Sea Ray L550 are in­tu­itive.

The Glass Cock­pit from Garmin and Volvo Penta sim­pli­fies ves­sel con­trol.

For­mula’s dig­i­tal switch­ing groups con­trol sys­tems by their lo­ca­tion.

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