WIRED FOR EASE

New elec­tron­ics sys­tems make boat­ing sim­pler

Soundings - - Walking The Plank - By Lenny Ru­dow

Mod­ern marine elec­tron­ics ad­vance at such a rapid pace that if you don’t pay con­stant at­ten­tion, it’s easy to lose track. Count­less new gad­gets pre­miered at the fall and win­ter boat shows alone. If you’re think­ing about up­grad­ing your sys­tem—or re­plac­ing it en­tirely—then there are three prod­uct cat­e­gories to watch closely as tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances trans­late to real ben­e­fits for boat own­ers.

In­te­gra­tion with Power Sys­tems

The in­te­gra­tion of elec­tron­ics and power sys­tems is noth­ing new, but the mar­riage has ma­tured and now rises to a new level. The vir­tual an­chor­ing tech­nol­ogy that has al­lowed boat own­ers to press a but­ton and hover the ves­sel in place is now avail­able with more so­phis­ti­cated con­trol op­tions.

Sys­tems such as the Yamaha Helm Mas­ter, Mer­cury Marine Sky­hook and SeaS­tar Op­ti­mus 360 (which can range in price from $10,000 to sev­eral times that amount) all let boaters hold po­si­tion—and main­tain ori­en­ta­tion to the cur­rent and wind. Or, they can al­low the boat to drift off-sta­tion, yet main­tain the same ori­en­ta­tion to the sea state, such as bow-to or beam-to.

These func­tions are now avail­able as part of new sys­tems and, in most cases, can be added to ex­ist­ing sys­tems.

While these new fea­tures are use­ful to an­glers for pin­point po­si­tion­ing over wrecks and reefs, or for keep­ing the bow into the wind while drift­ing and kite fish­ing, they also come in handy for cruis­ers. They’ll be con­ve­nient if you have to wait for a bridge open­ing or an open slip at the fuel dock, for in­stance. They also of­fer the cap­tain the op­por­tu­nity to make mi­cro-ad­just­ments in po­si­tion­ing, such as jog­ging a few feet this way or that.

Other sys­tems mir­ror this type of in­te­gra­tion at the bow in­stead of the tran­som. Minn Kota and Mo­torGuide elec­tric trolling mo­tors can in­ter­face with a mul­ti­func­tion dis­play to al­low vir­tual an­chor­ing and po­si­tional mi­croad­just­ments— plus a few other func­tions, such as fol­low­ing depth con­tours or op­er­at­ing the sys­tem with a key fob. These sys­tems are pro­pri­etary and re­quire you to have an all-Hum­min­bird/Minn Kota or Mo­torGuide/ Lowrance sys­tem, but that also means they’re in­stalled in pack­ages of com­po­nents that play to­gether nicely.

There are de­vel­op­ments in hand­held con­trols that in­te­grate with power sys­tems, too. One of the new­est to hit the wa­ter is the Dock­mate Twist ($ 6,800), a wire­less hand­held re­mote that’s about the size of an iPhone; a joy­stick is po­si­tioned in the cen­ter of the unit. The re­mote gives a skip­per the abil­ity to dock and ma­neu­ver with a joy­stick that he holds in the palm of his hand. Dock­mate can be op­er­ated from any­where on board, and al­lows for thruster and wind­lass op­er­a­tion. Imag­ine be­ing able to stand any­where on the boat while dock­ing, in­stead of be­ing glued to the helm. That’s the kind of con­ve­nience these sys­tems now of­fer.

Re­mote Mon­i­tor­ing and Con­trol

Sev­eral re­mote-mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol sys­tems went live a decade or so ago, based on 2G cel­lu­lar tech­nol­ogy. But the phase­out of 2G (which be­gan in 2016 and con­tin­ues

through 2020) is forc­ing a shift to 3G cel­lu­lar, which gives mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol sys­tems more room for ex­panded ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Now, own­ers can in­ter­act with a boat from vir­tu­ally any­where via a smart­phone app. Sys­tems such as Siren Marine’s MTC pro­vide real-time up­dates on bilge pump cy­cles, geo lo­ca­tion, bat­tery charge lev­els and more, all with a swipe or two on the smart­phone’s screen. And if a high-wa­ter alarm goes off or the boat breaks through ge­ofence co­or­di­nates, the Siren sys­tem sends an alert via text, email or both.

While Siren’s MTC ($599) is rel­a­tively easy to in­stall, far more com­plex and com­pre­hen­sive sys­tems are avail­able as well. The lat­est from GOST Global is the Ap­pari­tion, which won a 2018 Prod­uct of Ex­cel­lence Award from the Na­tional Marine Elec­tron­ics As­so­ci­a­tion. The Ap­pari­tion can han­dle as many as 32 sen­sors (or more with ad­di­tional mod­ules) to mon­i­tor ev­ery­thing from mo­tion sen­sors to door con­tacts. The sys­tem also has a 4G/3G GSM com­mu­ni­ca­tor that al­lows tex­ting and SMS mes­sag­ing for re­mote arm­ing, dis­arm­ing and notifications. Cost starts at sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars, with monthly data plans re­quired.

Sim­i­lar but slightly pricier satel­lite-based sys­tems from GOST and Mazu Marine can do all of the above while adding se­cu­rity and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The ad­di­tional fea­tures range from re­mote video mon­i­tor­ing to SMS and email mes­sag­ing while at sea. By com­bin­ing, say, Mazu’s mSeries ($1,095) satel­lite­based mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and SkyMate’s satel­lite con­nec­tiv­ity ($9 to $99 per month), skip­pers have not only global cov­er­age for re­mote mon­i­tor­ing, but also a true satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem. Con­trolled via an iPad app, the sys­tem’s emer­gency fea­tures let users send an SOS to search-and-res­cue per­son­nel, ac­cess GRIB weather fore­casts and Nexrad weather im­agery, and see real-time NMEA nav­i­ga­tion data. This sys­tem stands alone and need not be com­pat­i­ble with any other sys­tem aboard.

Per­haps the big­gest leap for­ward with these types of re­mote sys­tems, how­ever, is the abil­ity to flip a boat’s switches from afar. Thanks to dig­i­tal switch­ing ( or, in some cases, the ad­di­tion of a re­lay to ana­log switch­ing sys­tems), some apps can put un­lim­ited-dis­tance re­mote con­trol into the palm of a boater’s hand. You can flip on the boat’s air con­di­tion­ing, turn on the lights or trig­ger an alarm, even when the boat’s in Wash­ing­ton state and you’re in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Par­al­lel to these add-on sys­tems, some boat man­u­fac­tur­ers are in­cor­po­rat­ing con­trol of dig­i­tal switch­ing sys­tems via mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays. Sim­rad’s In­for­ma­tion Dis­play sys­tem is sched­uled to be­gin ap­pear­ing on new boats within the next year. It has an au­to­mo­tive-like dis­play for run­ning ev­ery­thing on the boat from a touch screen. Mod­els from Sea Ray, Scout and Hinck­ley are in­cor­po­rat­ing this type of con­trol at the helm. As a re­sult, in the com­ing years, those big switch pan­els with tog­gles and rock­ers will be­come less com­mon.

For­ward-Look­ing Sonar

Dur­ing the past decade, few elec­tron­ics items have ad­vanced as dra­mat­i­cally as fishfind­ers. CHIRP sonar from mul­ti­ple man­u­fac­tur­ers has im­proved per­for­mance and tar­get sep­a­ra­tion in wa­ters where depth can be mea­sured by the mile. New scan­ners uti­liz­ing high fre­quen­cies can dis­play every sprig of weed on the bot­tom. There are sides­can­ning units that can ex­pose struc­ture and fish that are hun­dreds of feet off to the sides of the boat, and 3-D imag­ing of­fers a fish­eye view of what lies be­neath.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ment, how­ever, has to do with look­ing for­ward. Garmin’s Panop­tix LiveS­cope, which has won mul­ti­ple awards, can pro­vide such de­tailed views that it’s pos­si­ble to make out the in­di­vid­ual fins on a fish. An­glers can now dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween some species merely by watch­ing a fishfinder screen.

How is such a dra­matic in­crease in de­tail pos­si­ble? The LiveS­cope trans­ducer emits a mul­ti­fre­quency burst, as op­posed to a se­ries of pings at mul­ti­ple fre­quen­cies (as CHIRP does), or an in­di­vid­ual fre­quency pulse like tra­di­tional fishfind­ers do. The sys­tem does so with three el­e­ments ar­ranged in a fan­like shape.

Mean­while, an at­ti­tude head­ing ref­er­ence sys­tem con­stantly ad­justs the sonar beams to ac­count for the boat’s rock­ing and rolling, and to elim­i­nate the ef­fect of wave mo­tion. Then, the LiveS­cope’s unit’s elec­tronic brain stitches all of the re­turns to­gether and projects them onto the LCD screen.

Panop­tix LiveS­cope can of­fer views as deep as 200 feet, as well as all around, be­cause the trans­ducer has a down-look­ing el­e­ment.

One fishfinder sys­tem does not, of course, make for a trend. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing how com­pet­i­tive elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies are and how quickly the dam breaks af­ter a new tech­nol­ogy is in­tro­duced, it’s a fair bet that LiveS­cope will start yet an­other arms race among sonar man­u­fac­tur­ers. The win­ners, of course, are recre­ational boaters.

Sea Ray is one builder of­fer­ing to­tal con­trol at the helm with mul­ti­func­tion dis­plays.

Yamaha’s Helm Mas­ter (top and above left) lets you hold po­si­tion and main­tain ori­en­ta­tion to the cur­rent and wind; Dock­mate Twist is a wire­less re­mote joy­stick de­vice (above, right)

Com­bine Skymate with Mazu’s mSeries and you can mon­i­tor your boat re­motely from any­where.

Sim­rad’s In­for­ma­tion Dis­play

Siren’s MTC en­ables an owner to check on the sta­tus of his boat’s sys­tems via a smart­phone app.

Garmin’s Panop­tix LiveS­cope pro­vides de­tailed views of fish.

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