Chuck Husick: Techno-Talk,
July 2001 BoatUS Magazine - Updated January 2009
The instrument panel on the next boat you buy may look very different
from what you are used to: a blank display screen where you normally
see the familiar engine gauges. The new display is the visible result
of the introduction to boating of a new data system similar to one already
used in late model cars. In addition to providing a better looking and
more useful information display, the new system will improve reliability
and reduce the cost of finding the cause of problems in boat engines
and other systems.
digital technology similar to the local area network that connects
the computers and printers in your office or home, virtually everything
on the boat will connect to a single pair of wires over which all
on-board information will flow. What you see on the screen is the
result of software programming, allowing designers almost unlimited
freedom to create innovative graphics. You might see a conventional
looking round gage, with its needle and scale markings. However,
while the gage, markings and its needle are green when everything
is normal, they may change to yellow if the readings are somewhat
abnormal or blink on and off in bright red to warn of an unacceptable
can see this type of display on your next airline flight. Turn to
the left when you enter the cabin and ask the pilot to show you
the Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System (EICAS, pronounced
"eecas") on his instrument panel. He will be flattered that you
are interested and will recognize you as a very well informed passenger.
computer technology to replace conventional gauges will also allow
more room for the navigation displays, radar, chart plotter and
sonar. When things are going right, you only need to see the gauges
you use to set power, the tachometers. If something goes out of
normal limits, a caution or warning alarm will sound and the appropriate
displays will automatically appear. With virtually all of the boat's
system information available on the data bus, the monitoring of
generator sets, water makers, water tank and holding tank fluid
levels, bilge water levels and pump status becomes practical. You
will also be able to make everything visible with the press of a
button. The overall usefulness of the instrument panel will be greatly
enhanced, especially in its ability to alert you to a possible problem in a monitored system and to direct your attention to the specific out of tollerance condition that created the alarm.
advantages of the new digital data systems extend beyond the engine
room. Control of the remote-mounted searchlight on the bow rail
can be handled via the boat's digital communication network. The
same network will connect to and command the anchor windlass and
countless other remotely controlled devices.
addition to being useful, the new system will save money when something
breaks. As with autos, a technician will diagnose problems by plugging
in a hand-held computer that interrogates the engine and all other
boat systems, revealing the cause of the problem and in many cases
recommending the fix. Many engine systems will retain an operating
history, alerting you of needed routine service and providing a
useful long-term performance analysis tool.
number of manufacturers are already using digital communication
systems to control and report on their engines. The new Mercruiser
and Teleflex systems are two examples. Virtually all medium and large
diesel engines use electronic controls to optimize economy, maximize
reliability and meet ever more stringent emission limitations. An
industry standard digital bus system, NMEA 2000, is already in widespread
use for monitoring and control of equipment where its modest data rate is sufficient for the task. Interconnecting NMEA 2000 equipped devices is largely a plug-and-play exercise as each device recognizes the other on-line participants. High-speed digital communication between radar sets, plotters,
fish finders is increasingly being accomplished using the familiar 10/100
Base T Ethernet protocol (as in the new Furuno NavNet 3D and other similar systems) used
in millions of computer systems worldwide.
electronic flow of bits and bytes will make our boats easier to
use, more reliable and less costly to repair when something breaks.
Welcome to the 21st century!