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Chuck Husick: Techno-Talk, November 2006 from BoatUS Magazine -

The "Wireless" Boat

I want my boat to be wireless!

Well, maybe not quite wireless; I’ll still need the 12-volt DC and 120-volt AC power distribution system. The wires I want to eliminate are the ones I have to install every time I add new electronic devices, the multi-conductor signal cables, the ones that house varying numbers of very small, and very difficult to connect wires.

When adding new electronics to a boat, installing the signal wiring is invariably the most time-consuming part of the job. So I want instruments, sensors, radios and the entertainment system and all of its speakers to work without wires. I’ll grudgingly provide power wires to each device since creating a radio frequency energy field around the boat strong enough to provide power wirelessly would melt the chocolate, heat the beer, and bring me unwanted attention from the Federal Communications Commission.

I believe the goal of a “wireless” boat can now be achieved. The following scenario supports this hypothesis. Opening scene: You just got off the plane and are in the airport parking garage. As usual you have forgotten exactly where you parked your car. You reach into your pocket and click the remote door lock button on the car key. Your car announces its presence with a chirp and a friendly blink of its lights. As you drive home your cell phone starts playing the overture from H.M.S. Pinafore (your favorite “ring tone”, after all you are the captain of your boat). You tap the answer key and carry on a conversation using the Bluetooth headset that hangs on your ear.

After dinner you pick up the 56-key infrared remote control for your home theater system. Before you can start the movie, the phone rings. You pick up one of the cordless phones and inform the caller they have the wrong number. You start the movie. An hour later, tired of watching the movie, you turn on your laptop computer and using its WiFi link and wireless mouse start surfing the Internet while listening to music on your wireless, noise-canceling stereo headphones.

In the morning you shower while listening to one of your Pinafore recordings, broadcast wirelessly throughout your home. Just before leaving for work you check the wireless remote weather station display and pick up your Bluetooth earpiece from its charging base.

The wireless systems you have used include radio transmitters for your car’s access system and the garage door remote control, the Bluetooth system built into your cell phone, the infrared transmitter in the home theater remote control, a wireless home telephone, the WiFi system that connects laptop to the Internet, the wireless mouse, the radio link to your wireless headphones and the home’s other audio outlets and the transmitter that sends information to your weather display. You are living in a largely unwired world.

These same systems can make your boat wireless! The chart plotter / radar can be managed using an infrared remote control. Wireless microphones are available for some VHF/DSC radios. There are wireless depth sounder, speed, wind speed and direction sensors that require only DC power. Wireless audio systems eliminate the need to run wires to speakers and can work with the same wireless headphones you use at home. A WiFi repeater will create an on-board wireless network, making it possible to use computers anywhere on board without installing Ethernet cables. Install a computer below deck and a wireless link will allow its screen, keyboard and mouse to be used anywhere on board. Wireless controls are available for the autopilot, bow thruster, anchor windlass and dinghy hoist. A combination of the technology used in wireless phones, Bluetooth and WiFi (ieee 802.11b) can handle all of the communication requirements.

There are some devices, for example marine GPS receivers and radar, that are not yet available with wireless signal connectivity. GPS receivers containing Bluetooth transmitters are available for use with computers. So similar units for use with chartplotters can’t be far off. Anyone who has had to cut and splice the multi-wire cable from the radar scanner to the display will cast a vote in favor of a wireless alternative. The technology needed to cut the control /data cable between the scanner and the display exists, and we think it won’t be long before a wireless radar unit appears on the market.

By Chuck Husick

Chuck Husick is a pilot, engineer, sailor and former president of Chris Craft Boats.

© Copyright BoatUS Magazine 2006

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