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Big-Boat Trends & Innovations

By Michael Vatalaro
Published: October/November 2013

New options, from propulsion to stabilization, are popping up on midsize cruising and fishing boats. Here are some features you might see at the fall boat shows.

See At Night — Thermal Vision

Images from a thermal camera such as those made by FLIR

What was once the stuff of spy movies now has a price tag under $3,500 (even less for handheld models). Infrared-sensing thermal cameras can see in the dark, using the tiny differences in temperature and heat output to create video images on your chartplotter screen. Unlike radar, which takes some interpretation and getting used to, images from a thermal camera such as those made by FLIR just appear as black-and-white video.

Thermal vision can also spot objects floating just at the surface, like a log or an MOB — something radar cannot do. People in the water, in particular, jump out on a thermal-vision screen as body temperature is much higher than that of the surrounding water. It doesn't even have to be dark for thermal vision to be useful. Returning to port with the sun low in the sky can leave you fighting to see through glare. Thermal cameras don't pick up visible light, only infrared, and are unaffected by glare. With the price tag now down near that of high-end radars, and FLIR cameras controllable directly through just about every chartplotter brand out there, thermal cameras are showing up as an option on more and more midsize boats.

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