praticalboater
By Lenny Rudow

Red Hot In Lauderdale

It preludes the 2012 model year, so the Fort Lauderdale boat show always gives us a sneak peek at the newest and coolest in marine electronics.

Pressure Cooker Raymarine's New Electronic Offerings
Raymarine will present a wealth of new goodies at Lauderdale, which are headlined by their new e7. This all-new MFD has a completely different look than older Rays, and the word is they'll be transitioning more units to this new style in the future. But for now, we'll have to be satisfied with this seven-inch touch-screen, which has a joystick/rotary control as a tactile back-up, built-in GPS, a built-in fishfinder option (on the e7D), and extreme expandability.

Using this unit is similar to using a smart phone: A start-up wizard gets the ball rolling, then you customize each page via drag-and-drop placement of icons. The e7 can "talk" with many different units, to gather or share information. Radar, thermal imaging, video, instrument and engine data, multimedia, and satellite weather all speak the e7's language, and it has built-in WiFi, can use Bluetooth to network with up to six displays or remote system control, and can even stream music and data to iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touchs.

If you'd rather have your engine and instrument data front and center on a dedicated display, Raymarine's i70 instruments (list cost: $595) will be of interest. These share the e7's new look, low-profile flush mounting, and minimal bezel size. They display their data on 320 x 240 pixel, four-inch screens in full color, and of course, are NMEA2000 compatible. Display choices include red pallets for night viewing, and "virtual" analog gauges.

Raymarine is also rolling out its P70 autopilot control, which again shares the new look for this company's electronic offerings. The P70 is a button-controlled unit (the P70R version has a rotary control), with a 3.5" LCD display. It works with X-series core packs, via SeaTalk connectivity. Highlights include trolling patterns, power-steer mode, 3-D pilot display, and wind-compensated track mode. The P70 will cost you $595, and the P70R ups the ante to $645.

With all these new intros, you know Raymarine hasn't been sitting around on its AIS… in fact it's introducing a new one of these, too. A pair of units, actually: the AIS350 and AIS650. The AIS350 ($649) is a receive-only unit, which puts AIS targets onto your MFD, chartplotter, and/or radar via the SeaTalk network, NMEA0183, or a USB link. Mount it belowdecks; it's rated IPX2 water-resistant.

The AIS650 is a class B unit, which has the same reception capabilities as the 350 along with a 50-channel GPS and transmission abilities. One nifty feature is the "silent mode," which mutes your broadcast and can be activated from your MFD. Another interesting perk is the addition of an SD card slot, which you can use to log AIS data as it's received. Both of these units have dual-channel receivers, which provide faster updates and target acquisitions. They're also smaller than Raymarine's previous AIS offerings, by about 50 percent. www.raymarine.com

Touchy Subject Simrad Yachting NSS Chartplotter/MFD
A few months back we mentioned that Simrad was going to introduce a touch-screen MFD, called the NSS. Since then we've gotten the chance to use an NSS first-hand, and come Ft. Lauderdale, you will, too — the upcoming boat show marks its first big introduction to the general public. Our hands-on testing brought a few interesting facts to light. First, we found the touch-screen extremely intuitive to use and very app-like in nature. Simrad says they spent a year and a half exposing boaters to interfaces found in smart phones and tablets, until they found what worked best. Each screen is drag-and-drop customizable, and icon-taps open different menus.

By now just about everyone smart enough to write their own name has used touch-screens so much they're second nature, but plenty of boaters have also had "can't-touch-that" experiences in rough weather. So during our test we ran through two and three foot seas at speeds over 40-mph while using the rotary and keypad back-ups, to see how well they worked. And we discovered that as using the touch-screen became difficult, the tactile interface allowed us to perform simple functions easily and accurately, if somewhat more slowly.

Screen sizes of 6.4", 8", and 12" are available, they have SimNet/NMEA2000 compatibility, and are expandable to include Broadband radar (including the farther-reaching 3G version, also ready for its coming-out at Lauderdale), side and down-looking fishfinders, SonicHub entertainment systems, and Sirius satellite weather radio. MSRP starts at $1,895 for the NSS7, goes to $2,845 for the NSS8, and hits $3,995 for the NSS12. Check them out at www.simrad-yachting.com — or come to the show and let your fingers do the walking first-hand.

Humming A Sweet Tune Humminbird Expands Network, Adds Radar
Humminbird is making a serious push to expand its offerings, and the announcement of their 2012 product line is going to change the way many boaters view this company. Henceforth, their 700HD, 800, 900, and 1100 series models will be NMEA2000 compatible, and software updates will also make many of their SI- and C-series units NMEA2000 compatible. A black box and a five-port Ethernet switch ($199 each) will do the talking, and you'll be able to see everything from sonar to engine data to radar, right on your Humminbird. Wait a sec — did we just say radar? That's right! Humminbird's other big news is the introduction of their first radar, a four-kW, 21-inch, 36-mile unit. The dome will work with 1198c, SI, 1158c SI, 998c SI, 898c SI, 958c, and 858c units, and kicks out a four-degree horizontal, 25-degree vertical beamwidth. Features include gain control, rain and sea clutter, and target expansion, though MARPA isn't in the cards.


Weather Or Not Garmin GDL 40 Brings New Ways To Watch The Weather
You want instant weather data on day one, and you don't want to have to pay for it on day two? Garmin's new GDL 40 takes care of this problem, by providing daily real-time weather data to your Garmin GPSMAP 6000/7000 series, GPSMAP 4000/5000 series, GPSMAP 700 series, and GPSMAP 4X1/5X1/5X6 series (NMEA 2000 versions). This cellular receiver, which pipes in the data via a waterproof low-profile antenna that can be mounted above or belowdecks, gets its info from weather provider Digital Cyclone. And here's the best part: When you purchase a GDL 40 (MSRP: $299) you get an account that lets you activate the service on a day-by-day basis, for $4.99 per day. After the first year, there's a $9.99 yearly account activation fee. Firing up the weather data at any given time is easy; just select the "Buy Weather" option right on your chartplotter screen; once it's online you'll see live weather radar, wind speed and direction, sea-surface temperature, wave height, local forecasts, marine warnings, lightning, and more. See it at www.garmin.com, or get a demo at the show.


Can You See Me Now? New And Improved FLIR First Mate MS
The First Mate was FLIR's first handheld infrared night-vision monocular for the marine market. Now, the First Mate MS 24 and MS 32 give your night-vision capabilities a boost without boosting the cost. In fact, the MS 24 is actually less expensive than the $2,999 original, at $1,999 (the MS 32 lists at $2,999). These units offer 2x magnification, simple operation, and a tripod mount. They're also waterproofed to IP-66 standards, and even have an LED flashlight built in. But they're smaller and lighter (12 ounces, versus 16) than the old First Mate, and they include a rechargeable Li-ion battery (rechargeable via USB or 12V adaptor) instead of requiring four AAs. The MS 24 has a 240 x 180 resolution thermal detector, while the MS 32 has a resolution of 320 x 240. In the real world, that means a person in the water is visible from about 350 yards in complete darkness with the MS 24, while with the MS 32, you can spot them from about 500 yards. www.flir.com