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Chuck Husick: Techno-Talk, March 2003 BoatUS Magazine -

updated March 2009

Garmin Rino GPS/FRS/GMRS
One plus one = three! No, it’s not new math, its simply a way of describing the capability of the hand-held radio communication and GPS navigation devices, in the Garmin Rino (an awkward acronym – Radios Integrated with Navigation for the Outdoors Series). Each of the four Rino models (120, 130, 520HCx and 530HCx) combines a Family Radio Service (FRS) / General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) transceiver, a WAAS capable GPS navigator and a unique means for transmitting position information — creating a remarkably useful communication / navigation device. Although not primarily marine radios, recreational boaters will find them to be very useful, particularly since it is illegal to use your handheld marine band VHF radio on shore.

The radio transceiver functions of the Rinos will be familiar to most readers of this column. Operating on the no-license-required FRS frequencies they provide access to 14 simplex channels, each of which can be tagged with any one of 38 different audio frequency squelch codes. The combination of channel selection and squelch coding makes it possible to use the radio with minimal bother from other users of the system. In the event the normal 1- to 2-mile range of the FRS channels (where RF power is limited to 0.5 watts) is not sufficient, the user can obtain an FCC license and use the radio’s eight GMRS channels that operate with one watt of RF power, providing up to 5-mile range under favorable conditions. All the expected scanning modes are available on all channels. The Rino’s 12-channel WAAS-capable GPS receiver works very well, acquiring satellites rapidly and providing the types of position information, waypoint and route storage and navigation guidance we have come to expect from a full capability GPS navigator. The GPS receivers in the 520HCx and 530HCx models provide superior sensitivity.

The important and impressive Rino difference is its ability to automatically exchange GPS derived position information with other Rino radios. Users never need ask for a verbal description of another station’s position or the location of a proposed meeting place. As many as 50 users can participate in the position information sharing mode Garmin calls Peer-to-Peer Positioning (given the Rino acronym we wonder how they withstood the temptation to assign an acronym such as P2PP or worse?). Position data can be exchanged as a part of a normal voice communication (press the TALK key) or can be accomplished with no voice communication by pressing and releasing the CALL key.

A position information transmission includes information stored in the radio during the initial set-up process; user’s name (up to 10 characters) and a “face” icon chosen from an extensive list. Additional communication set-up options include choice of any one of 10 Call Tones, sent when the call button is pressed to alert others in the peer group to your transmission of new position information, a “Roger” tone (one of four), sent when the talk key is released to signify the end of a transmission, the “Ring” tone (one of 10) and a vibrate mode to silently announce an incoming call.

The Rino 120 is managed via its 1.4-inch square, 160-by-160 pixel monochrome LCD screen. What you see on the screen depends on which of the system pages has been selected. The four primary selections are the Radio page, used to control and monitor voice communications and receipt of position transmissions; the Map page (terrestrial maps, marine charts and other data can be uploaded into the Model 120’s 8 MB memory); the Navigation page, a very comprehensive Trip Computer page; and a Main Menu page that provides access to a total of 15 subordinate pages of information. A series of clever pictographs are used to inform the user of what the radio is doing. The owner’s manual devotes 24 pages to an explanation of the four primary pages and an additional 38 pages to the contents of the Main Menu pages. Plan on devoting three or four hours to your initial review of all that this device can do. The Rino 130 model includes a barometric altimeter, electronic compass and a 24 MB memory. The 520HCx and 530HCx models have color LCD screens, high sensitivity GPS receivers, 5 watt transmitters and can accept microSD memory cards. They have USB ports and are powered by rechargable Li-Ion batteries. The 530HCx also includes a NOAA weather radio.

In my opinion, Rino radios will become a valued part of many boats’ communication/ navigation suite. Using FRS or GMRS channels for routine boat-to-boat communication provides the dual advantages of more useful channels and, with the selective squelch, a quieter communication environment than is available on the marine VHF channels. The instant availability of position information from other boats will be particularly valuable when traveling in a flotilla. The Navigation pages will provide a backup for the boat’s normal navigation system and very useful trip computer pages will add a level of capability not found in many marine GPS navigators.

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