Get smart about digital switching. You'll be glad you did.
DIGITAL SWITCHING IS ONE GATEWAY TO TRULY SMART BOATS AND EQUIPMENT.
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.
“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.