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Electronics 2013

Hardware and software makers expand their ‘box of tricks’ and take the magic to new frontiers

Trends drive trends. At the macro end, stand-alone displays are occupying increasing footage at the helm. At the micro, smart phones have gone nautical. In response, manufacturers of navigation and entertainment electronics are increasingly thinking of ways to work both ends with apps, black-box solutions and combinations thereof.

The helm of this Sabre 54 combines traditional craftsmanship with modern electronics.

Furuno’s box of tricks

Furuno TZTBB (black box)

One suggested origin for the term “black box” goes back to World War II, when the British referred to any secret electronics gizmo on their aircraft as a “box of tricks” or “black box,” the latter because the assemblies were painted non-reflective black. Furuno’s history with black-box electronics goes back to 1999, when the company introduced the marine industry’s first black-box device, a radar that worked with customer-supplied displays.

Now the Japanese manufacturer has applied the same concept to the TZtouch, its new line of dual-touch multifunction displays (minus the display part, of course). Furuno’s TZTBB features a new slim-line black box processor that supports two DVI video outputs and a built-in scaler to support both wide and non-wide screen resolutions on any customer-supplied dual-touch display.

The TZTBB can operate in clone mode using two displays with one processor, a good option for trawlers with a helm station on the flybridge. All of the TZtouch features you may have read about are available in the black-box version, except the “RotoKey,” which is a physical dial on the TZtouch MFD. Its functions are instead replicated on-screen in what Furuno describes as “smart-touch menus.” Pricing for the TXTBB had not been determined at press time.

Raymarine’s MFD software

Raymarine a-Series MFD with LightHouse v5 software

Marine electronics hardware gets most of the attention, but sometimes it’s software that makes the difference. Case in point: Raymarine’s fifth-generation LightHouse software for c-Series, e-Series and the new a-Series multifunction displays.

LightHouse v5 includes fuel management tools that let users calibrate their tank levels and enable fuel usage displays, low-fuel alerts and a dynamic fuel range ring overlaid on the plotter. The latter is a graphic representation of vessel range based on tank levels and live fuel consumption.

LightHouse “slew-to-cue” camera tracking takes advantage of parent company FLIR’s expertise in thermal imaging technology. Now FLIR thermal cameras can be integrated with radar and GPS navigation, with the ability to stay focused on any “cued” target. Cued targets can be AIS vessels, selected objects on radar (MARPA), even a person in the water.

The free LightHouse v5 software is available for Raymarine’s new generation of c-Series, e-Series and a-Series multifunction displays. The software and upgrade instructions can be downloaded at

Bluetooth tunesmanship

We often find ourselves using the “shuffle” option on our smart phones more than we listen to an FM radio station, especially out on the water. We trust our music libraries to keep us entertained without that radio commentary to detract from on-board conversation.

On the occasion when “shuffle” lands on a play list of comedy tracks or the brilliant words of an audio book, something has to be done to change the status quo. An easy solution is through Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth enables users to stay where they are — the helm, saloon, the head — and change songs or volume with the swipe of a finger. And now that the technology is readily available it is entering the consumer market in full stride.

With a 4-by-50-watt internal amp, auxiliary inputs, three pairs of preouts, a subwoofer output and USB inputs, the ProSpec JBL MBB 2020 black box functions as the “brains” to your greater good. Its sleek black face, which gives it a high-end look, offers users simple push-button controls and a digital display for when you are next to the unit itself. It retails for $300.

AIS for smart devices

Vesper XB-8000 AIS

The Vesper Marine AIS XB-8000 black box device offers boaters a Class B AIS transponder with complete wireless interaction. At the heart of the system is the same vessel detection and collision avoidance system for which Vesper is known but without the display. Instead it allows boaters to monitor and control Vesper AIS using smart phones, tablets and laptops or through integration with other marine electronics.

Compatible with apps such as iNavX for the Apple iPad, the XB-8000 allows users to remotely access AIS information. The system also features a free downloadable app for the iPhone and iPad, which then can be used to configure, monitor and interact with the XB-8000. The app works as a remote control, allowing the user to enable or disable features. Suggested retail price for the XB-8000 is $799.

VHF-AIS combo from Lowrance

Lowrance Link-8 VHF-AIS

Lowrance joins Standard Horizon in offering a combination VHF radio and AIS receiver to bring collision avoidance data to the helms of even the most frugal boaters. The Link-8 receives all of the information we have come to expect from a recreational AIS receiver, including vessel name, type, call sign, MMSI number, IMO number and draft and size, as well as vessel position, speed over ground, course over ground, rate of turn, heading, status, destination and ETA. Basic AIS information showing the relative position of other vessels is displayed on the unit’s 1.3-by-2.6-inch screen.

Connected to a Lowrance multifunction display, the Link-8 enables a “track your buddy” feature using a digital polling capability that shows the position of as many as three boats. The same network that connects radio and display over an NMEA 2000 network also carries AIS info to the big screen.

The VHF is equipped with an extra-large channel 16 key, dedicated volume and squelch knobs, weather keys, selectable “dual” and “TriWatch” modes and three user-selectable channels. Advanced features include the ability to log as many as 10 distress calls and 20 individual DSC calls, a loud-hailer output, all-channel priority and memory channel scans, 20 programmable names (boats with MMSI numbers), a second receiver for channel 70 (SOS button non-voice distress calls) and other digital transmissions. Retail price is $299.

AIS to the rescue

McMurdo SmartFind S5

McMurdo has a variation on the increasingly accepted notion of using AIS technology to rescue survivors separated from their boats. The McMurdo SmartFind S5, which recently won international regulatory approval, is a manually activated device for use on life rafts or survival craft (as opposed to being carried by people in the water). Using GPS, the S5 transmits the beacon’s geographic position and unique serial number continuously, indicating range and course on all standard ships’ AIS receiver equipment.

McMurdo says the S5 has 96-hour operational battery life, and a specially integrated extending pole allows the beacon to be elevated to maximize signal transmission. This feature is key because AIS radio transmissions depend on a line of sight to a would-be rescuer’s AIS receiving antenna. The S5 lists for $965.

Simrad’s wireless VHF mic

Remote mics have long been popular for flybridge communication. The downside was running the cable from the base unit. Simrad eliminates that chore with its new RS35 fixed-mount VHF, which pairs with an optional HS35 wireless handset — the operative word being wireless. The RS35 actually supports as many as two of these handsets, which will work as far as 100 meters from the fixed-mount radio.

Like another new VHF from sister company Lowrance, the Simrad radio also incorporates a dual-channel AIS receiver that allows AIS reception and VHF use via a single antenna, displaying critical collision avoidance data from AIS-equipped vessels in range.

Simrad RS35 radio and HS36 wireless handset

The HS35 has a high-resolution, 180-by-128-pixel LCD and its own dedicated AIS function. The device uses an induction plate for charging and, according to Simrad, will hold that charge for as long as eight hours. An intercom feature allows those “calls for sandwiches” to be made between HS35 handhelds or to the RS35 base station. For hands-free use, each HS35 comes with a headphone jack and a belt clip.

The RS35 is enabled for digital selective calling and one-button distress messages to the Coast Guard, and it incorporates a host of advanced features that we have come to expect in VHF radios. Retail pricing for the RS35 and HS35 is $399 and $169, respectively.

Networking away from home

Digital Yacht iNAVHub

Digital Yacht, the British marine connectivity experts, have released a black box product called iNAVHub, which creates a password-protected Wi-Fi network on boats as large as 100 feet LOA. iNavHub features an NMEA input to link with a boat’s GPS, instruments and AIS, rendering all of this data available over Wi-Fi for popular electronic charting apps, such as iNAVx, or data viewing programs, such as iOnBoard or NMEA remote. The system can handle multiple devices at a time.

iNAVHub also supports a a wide area network connection for Wi-Fi, 3G or satellite devices with a standard ethernet interface. Another port connects to a local wired network for use with devices such as PCs. iNAVHub has been designed to fully integrate with Digital Yacht’s latest WL510 long-range Wi-Fi adapter with a range of as much as 4 nautical miles. Retail pricing for iNavHub is $500.

TracPhone V7 adds IP

Internet protocol devices are increasingly common in on-board electronics integration. The most important point to know about IP solutions is that they are usually simpler to install and more reliable than the alternatives. KVH has now incorporated an IP-enabled controller in its TracPhone V7 satellite communication systems, called CommBox-ACU.

Owing to the 24-inch diameter of the dome antenna, TracPhone V7 IP is designed for vessels greater than 40 feet LOA. And given the suggested retail pricing for the hardware — $35,995 — this system is for cruisers who frequently need to conduct business while under way or work full time from their boats.

KVH TracPhone V7

KVH says pricing for the mini-VSAT broadband service is so competitive, compared with other satellite Internet services, that for many businesses those savings offset the initial cost of the hardware. KVH says the V7 downloads at up to 2Mbps, with upload speeds of as much as 512Kbps, more than adequate for most businesses. Monthly service packages start at $49 a month for 50 MB of service or $600 a year for 600 MB.

More than 2,500 KVH maritime mini-VSAT terminals have been sold, although that figure likely includes more commercial vessels than yachts. For small boats, KVH also offers its TracPhone V3 with a 15-inch dome.

Digital Yacht doubles down

Digital Yacht says its next generation of PC systems is for “thrifty boat owners who don’t want to compromise on quality.” The new Aqua 200 Series costs $1,150 and, according to Digital Yacht, typically draws less than a single amp at 12-volt DC. There are no moving parts, which helps prevent damp salt air from being pulled into the housing, and the power source is the boat’s 12-volt system, eliminating the need for an inverter or AC power.

The Aqua 200 is driven by an Intel N2800 dual-core processor and an Intel HD graphics chip that supports resolutions of as much as 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. Improving on its earlier PCs, the Aqua 200 comes with 4GB of RAM and a 64-GB solid-state drive. It incorporates four USB ports and VGA and HDMI video outputs for two monitors.

Digital Yacht Aqua 200 PC

Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit is the standard operating system, and there are dual NMEA 0183 inputs to connect your boat’s GPS, instrument and AIS systems. Options include NMEA 2000 interfaces, Bluetooth and high-power Wi-Fi. www.digitalyacht

Naughty and nautical GPS

Bad Elf GPS Pro

When it comes to GPS connectivity for iThings, sometimes bad is good. Bad Elf has brought to market a pair of GPS receivers designed for the iPod, iPad and iPhone. Bad Elf GPS and Bad Elf GPS Pro are approved by Apple to deliver direct positioning data from GPS satellites without cell-tower assistance to achieve a lock or initial location, which means an iOS device can continue to receive real-time GPS outside the cellular footprint.

Locking on to as many as 15 satellites, a Bad Elf unit supplies GPS data as much as 10 times a second that can be accurate to within 9 feet. The Bad Elf GPS plugs into the iPod touch, iPhone or iPad 30-pin connector to enable satellite GPS; the small and compact handheld Bad Elf GPS Pro operates independently to wirelessly connect via Bluetooth to as many as five users with marine apps. Pricing is $129.99 for the Bad Elf GPS and $179.99 for the Bad Elf GPS Pro.

First Mate II: smarter

FLIR First Mate thermal imager

Handheld thermal imagers from FLIR Systems just got smarter because of a feature called InstAlert, added to the second-generation First Mate cameras. InstAlert is an automated image processor that highlights in red the strongest heat signatures in the viewfinder, instantly alerting boaters to people who have fallen overboard or hazards in the water. These compact, lightweight handhelds are available in 240-by-180 or 320-by-240 resolutions with a variety of lens options. Retail price is $1,999.

Fantum Feedback

Furuno Fantum Feedback NavPilot

Outboards have been a challenge in autopilot installations because of the requirement to fit a rudder feedback device that, once installed, was exposed to the elements. Furuno’s new Fantum Feedback NavPilot software eliminates the rudder feedback assembly. Instead the Fantum Feedback achieves the same results as physical feedback using “time-based rudder gain process,” according to Furuno. Fantum Feedback is designed for planing and semidisplacement outboard boats. The new NavPilot systems with Fantum feedback start at $3,695.

See related articles:

- A resolution to require emergency locator beacons

- The push to mandate locator beacons offshore

- Rescues aren't cheap

February 2013 issue