Boat Electronics 2013

By Lenny Rudow

The 2013 crop of hot new electronics introduced at the Miami boat show is one doozey of a display of digital developments.

Darwin may have looked at evolution in terms of millions of years, but when it comes to marine electronics, epochs go by in a matter of months. The proof is plain to see. Just check out how many new and advanced items were introduced this year, even with a delicately improving economy. Sure, we have a slew of new apps, more system integration than ever before, and a series of upgraded offerings. But there are also imaginative items that give new meaning to the word "innovation." So perk up and pay attention, because these hot new goodies soon will be coming down the pike to a marine electronics store near you.

B & G has added sailing-specific SAILSTEER and SAILTIME features to the Zeus touch-screen multi-function display (available in seven-, eight-, and 12-inch versions). SailSteer is a pre-fab sailing screen arrangement that gives prominent display of nav functions important to boaters who depend on the breeze, while SailTime brings up a view of tacking angles without the need for an active waypoint.

Photo of the Bad Elf GPS Pro

Bad Elf GPS Pro may be a funny name, but this little do-dad is anything but laughable if you want to bring GPS functionality to a variety of devices all at the same time. The Bad Elf GPS Pro can interface with up to five units simultaneously (via Bluetooth), or can be used as a stand-alone GPS and data-logger, thanks to the 128 x 96 pixel LCD screen. It's compatible with iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iPad Minis. But the Elf is rated IPX4, which is "splash-proof," and in my experience splash-proof electronic devices don't survive for long on boats. I'd slide the Elf into a waterproof bag before stepping aboard. List price is $179.

Photo of the DeLorme InReach

DeLorme broke new ground last year with the InReach, a two-way satellite texting device. This year they till that same ground, by improving the InReach dramatically. It's now outfitted with a color LCD touch-screen with keyboard, so you no longer need a cell phone to text in an emergency. You'll still want to pair the unit with your phone (via Bluetooth) and use it when sending long texts as the small screen isn't ideal for tapping out book-length messages. But for emergency use and simple texts, this little charm is all you'll need to reach out and touch someone, worldwide, at a fraction of the cost of traditional two-way satellite communications. The new InReach is IP68 waterproof/dust-proof, and has a rechargeable internal lithium battery. More info soon will be available on their website.

Photo of the FLIR MD-series Night-Vision Camera

FLIR proves that high-tech doesn't have to be high-cost, with its new MD-series night-vision starting at $3,499. MD-series cameras are a mere seven inches tall and weigh in at about three pounds, so they'll be a good pick for relatively small cruisers and fishboats. Yet they still come through with thermal imaging that can pick out a man overboard in total darkness. The M-series is being rolled out with two versions, the MD-324 and the MD-625. The 324 has 320 x 240 resolution, a 24-degree field of view, and 2x zoom. The MD-625 has a higher 640 x 480 resolution, 25-degree field of view, and both 2x and 4x zoom levels.

Garmin breathes new life into an old idea, with the $499 waterproof Quatrix marine watch. It integrates critical marine nav data like COG, SOG, and VMG, with a three-axis electronic compass, altimeter, and barometer, and creates virtual count-down timers/starting lines for sailboat racers. This gizmo even displays, um, what's that last thing? Oh yeah — the time.

Photo of the Garmin GPSMAP Touch-Screen and Quatrix Marine Watch

Also new from Garmin for 2013: The GPSMAP 8000/8500 series, a MFD (8000) and black box (8500) system for advanced electronics suites with touch-screen MFDs in glass-bridge installations. The eight-, 12-, and 15-inch displays feature full-touch functionality (including pinch-to-zoom), and significantly more processing power. And — whew! — Garmin still isn't done with new stuff for 2013. See the app sidebar to learn about the BlueChart Mobile app they've just rolled out.

Photo of the Icom M73 PLUS

Icom's M73 PLUS is sure to make waves — over the air waves, that is. This new handheld VHF (which supersedes the M72) is IPX 8 submersible, puts out six watts, and has Icom's "AntiQuake" function that vibrates water off the speaker. What's new is the addition of a 60-second recording feature, so you can rewind a recent reception and listen to it again.

Jeppesen doesn't have a new product per se, but they do have some new ways for you to use the existing C-Map data. Navico and C-Map have teamed up to enable the B&G, Lowrance, and Simrad brands to run on C-Map Max-N chartography on their Chartplotters and MFDs.

Photo of the Lowrance DSC VHF Radio

Lowrance adds to your communications options with the Link-2, a handheld DSC VHF radio with a built-in GPS. This unit will come in handy for those who hit the water with a buddy-boat; the "Get Buddy" and "Track Your Buddy" features use position poling to display your friend's position on-screen and share nav data. $199.

Photo of the McMurdo GPS-equipped Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo has a new GPS-equipped personal locator beacon (PLB), the FAST FIND 220, which has a battery with six-year shelf life (transmission time is 24 hours at five watts). The unit is the size of an average cell phone, operates down to -4 degrees, and is waterproof down to 10 meters. The size of the Fast Find 220 is kept down by integrating a nifty pop-out antenna that's coiled under a plastic cap. It uses the 406 MHz search-and-rescue satellite system, and transmits a 125 MHz homing signal. Better yet, cost is around $250, making the Fast Find a serious bargain.

Raymarine Dragonfly

<strong">Raymarine Dragonfly brings ClearPulse sonar technology (some call it CHIRP, some call it Spread Spectrum), to the masses. We've seen most of the major manufacturers come out with spectrum-sweeping multi-frequency abilities, but up until now, you couldn't touch this stuff without spending thousands. The Dragonfly, however, is $650. Plus, it incorporates a second distinct channel that pings through a higher frequency band to provide extreme detail (though only in water to 250 feet; frequency ranges for the two channels are 170- to 240-kHz, and 320- to 380-kHz). Raymarine also incorporated a 50-channel GPS into the Dragonfly, with chartography coming courtesy of Navionics, via a microSD card. The display has 640 x 480 pixel resolution on a 5.7" VGA LCD screen, waterproofing is to IPX7 standards, and although the unit can be flush-mounted, it's really intended for small to medium helms with binnacle installation.

Photo of the SI-TEX SVS-750F Digital Echosounder

SI-TEX expands its fishfinder line for 2013 with the SVS-750F Digital Echosounder. This is a dual-frequency (50/200 kHz), 600-watt unit, with a 7.5-inch 480 by 800 pixel daylight-viewable color LCD screen. The unit's all digital to clear out unwanted noise, and the high-speed CPU makes for blink-of-the-eye fast screen redraws. It's waterproofed to IPX7 standards. The stand-alone unit is $899, but the SVS-750F can be expanded with an AIS black-box receiver. It can also be juiced up with a 50-channel internal GPS receiver that turns it into a chartplotter (price goes up by $290). 

— Published: April/May 2013

New Apps!

Of course, there's also a wide variety of new apps for mariners to check out in 2013. Here are some stand-outs:

  • BlueChart Mobile is a free app from Garmin that turns your iPad, iPhone, or iPod into a chartplotter that uses Garmin's own BlueChart chartography. It's particularly useful for trip planning because you can link up your WiFi devices with your networked plotter (with a marine WiFi Adaptor kit) and wirelessly transfer waypoints, routes, and tracks. See it at the App Store, or
  • Boat Battery allows you to use your phone to predict battery use and amp hours of power remaining. You can also calculate how power consumption would change if you upgraded any of your boat's electrical entities. Cost is $2.99 at the App Store.
  • Intelligent Maintenance updated its MOB app ($1.99 at the iTunes App Store), which essentially turns your cell phone into a mini dedicated MOB chartplotter. Hit the MOB button and a steering arrow appears, which points to the MOB's position. Lat/long is displayed on-screen, so you can call it in to the Coast Guard if necessary. All new from the same developer is the What's On My Boat app ($1.99 at the App Store), which is like a boat's inventory log on your phone, and helps you keep track of the locations of spare parts, provisions, or gear.

Photo of the Boat Battery App


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