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2020's Best Fishfinders/Sonars
Looking for new electronics to supplement what’s on your boat already or maybe it’s time to upgrade that old radar? There’s never a shortage of innovative new equipment to choose from, whether it’s the latest communications electronics or a more effective fishfinder. We’re here to help you sort through the many choices out there so you get the equipment that best meets your particular needs.

Every year the crew at Marine Electronics Journal asks manufacturers to name one model in a particular category of boating electronics they consider to be their Best & Brightest. It’s not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in that category for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters. In some cases it has proved itself over the years as the go-to device.
 
This year the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics list includes 19 categories, from autopilots and survival devices to radar and satellite TV. For the next several weeks The Mic will roll out the results. We lead off with fishfinders/sonars.

Furuno Deep Impact DI-FFAMP

Welcome to the future of high-powered, deep-dropping, full-featured fishfinding. We’re not talking about your daddy’s fishfinder. Furuno took their commercial fishing know-how and put it into NavNet TZtouch3, giving you capabilities that a recreational line of fishfinders has never seen. Deep Impact DI-FFAMP transforms your NavNet TZtouch3’s onboard TrueEcho CHIRP Fish Finder into a high-powered fishfinding machine. Deep Impact amplifies your power to 2 or 3kW, allowing you to reach depths previously unfathomable. High-powered TruEcho CHIRP ensures your echoes come back strong and clear at every depth range, displaying fish targets and bottom structure with amazing clarity.

Garmin Panoptix LiveScope

Garmin’s Panoptix LiveScope is the first and only live real-time scanning sonar. It gives anglers easy-to-interpret live scanning sonar images of structure, bait and fish swimming below and around the boat, even when it’s stationary. LiveScope features three modes in one transducer—LiveScope Down, LiveScope Forward and with the optional mount accessory, LiveScope Perspective. The transducer can easily be adjusted to fit the angler’s fishing techniques; simply point it down to see directly below the boat up to 200 feet, forward to see up to 200 feet around the boat, or adjust it to Perspective mode to get an overhead angle for shallow water up to 50 feet. All three views provide incredibly sharp, real-time scanning sonar images, and the view automatically changes on your compatible Garmin chartplotter screen.
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New electronic wizardry for your boat
As the pandemic continues to complicate lives nationwide, we’re hearing encouraging reports that boaters in some areas are spending more time on the water than usual. The reason is obvious—you’re outside in fresh air with a lot of control over who’s sharing your space. To celebrate the pleasures of boating-and to ring in summer-here’s a look at a half-dozen new electronics products that could make that time with family and friends even safer and more fun.


Marine PC delivers on nav, entertainment and more

Digital Yacht has launched a new marine PC designed specifically for onboard navigation, entertainment and office tasks. The latest DC-powered, Aqua Compact Pro+ utilizes Intel’s 10th generation i7 processor. It has a large, rugged, solid-state hard drive (480GB) and 8GB of fast DDR4 RAM and can support up to three displays. Despite the powerful new processor, average power consumption is only around 25 watts.

PCs have found markets in ocean cruising and offshore racing where users want advanced navigation software or multiple chart systems, weather overlays and routing. They are also popular in commercial fishing, where professional mariners want charting, radar and bathymetry/sonar overlays, which demand fast 3D graphics. The Aqua Compact Pro+ has been optimized for Maxsea TimeZero and Adrena systems.
 
There’s a built-in SD card slot that is ideal for use with Digital Yacht's SmarterTrack navigation software, which can accept plug-in Navionics charting cards. Network connectivity is provided by a wired gigabit port as well as the latest AX200 WiFi card, which supports 802.11ax protocols (2.4 and 5GHz with up to 3x bandwidth) and has built-in Bluetooth 5 for easy connectivity. There’s a USB interface option for NMEA 2000 systems using the Digital Yacht iKonvert gateway.

Garmin rolls out Apollo audio system enhancements

Garmin has expanded its Fusion-branded Apollo Series with the introduction of the Apollo WB670 premium hideaway system and the Apollo ERX400 wired remote.

The WB670 eliminates the need for a stereo to be present on the dash, while the ERX400 offers users complete audio entertainment control with an all-new intuitive user experience, and an ultra-compact design that can be mounted in convenient places around the boat.

A powerful extension of the Apollo Series, the WB670 inherits the key audio innovations from the Apollo RA670, but in a compact, space-saving form that can be hidden away behind the dash or mounted in a variety of locations like storage lockers, inside of the helm console or a glovebox compartment, and controlled through a compatible multifunction display (MFD) via NMEA 2000 or Ethernet.
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Unique electronics keep workboats rollin' on the river
Whenever I’m in New Orleans one of my favorite things is grabbing a sandwich and a bench on Riverwalk, which winds along a stretch of the Mississippi. It's a great vantage point to watch tugs and towboats of all sorts push strings of barges in both directions before disappearing around bends in the river, sometimes blasting horn signals and salutes to passing traffic. Keeping those vessels on track and pointing in the right direction is no easy task. Helping captains accomplish the job are some very unusual electronics, which veteran marine writer Lenny Rudow described in an article for Marine Electronics Journal a few months ago. Here are excerpts:


By Lenny Rudow

Commercial river boats have unique requirements, and the pushboats, tugs, and barges that work for a living on the nation’s waterways often have equally unique electronics systems to meet the challenge of operating on narrow, winding and sometimes crowded rivers where depth and bottom configuration may be constantly changing.

One of the reasons why there are so many diverse electronics systems in the marine market overall is that each fills a specific niche. For example, recreational cruisers need systems focused on complex long-distance navigation, while anglers need the best fish-finding tech available, and day-boats require simple basic systems that help them get from point A to point B. Naturally, all of them also need electronics that raise the communications and safety bars as appropriate to where and when they go boating. But when it comes to commercial vessels, it’s an understatement to merely say the needs and niches are "different.” Commercial boats are far more specific to the waters they work and the jobs they perform, and as a result highly specialized systems are often in order.
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Land mobile radio moves offshore
For boaters who operate close to shore, cell phones and Wi-Fi play a primary role in communications, although they fall short in summoning help in the event of emergencies. There’s also VHF, of course, and for some who venture farther offshore and some commercial operations single sideband radio is still available. Lately, land mobile radio is making a move offshore. That technology is scoring points with some large yachts and commercial vessels because it offers immediate access to information, more efficient and safer vessel operations, better communication on the job and the ability to handle larger data files than analog VHF radio.



Traditional marine radio communications have always been uniquely different than land mobile radio (LMR). If you’re not familiar with LMR, think of the handheld radios used by fire fighting crews or building contractors that need to coordinate the work of several people. It’s a person-to-person voice communication system consisting of two-way transceivers that can be portable, vehicle/vessel mounted or fixed base. Most systems are half-duplex (only one radio can transmit at a time) with multiple radios sharing a single channel. The transceiver is normally in receiving mode so the user can hear other radio users on the channel. When he/she wants to talk they press a push-to-talk (PTT) button.

Like LMR, marine two-way radios can transmit and receive radio waves for person-to-person communications. However, seafaring vessels both large and small must use designated channels, depending on vessel and communication type, and operate on the very high frequency (VHF) 156 to 174 MHz radio band or the ultra high frequency (UHF) 300 MHz to 3 GHz radio band, or both.

Smaller vessels typically use VHF handhelds for internal crew-to-crew communications and external ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore communications. The UHF radio band provides a more powerful signal to transmit through the bulkheads, floors and hulls of larger vessels.

Aside from wattage and channels, marine radios are very similar to LMR radios, but include additional capabilities such as waterproofing, rescue services, weather alerts and other maritime-specific needs. Marine VHF radio equipment traditionally includes portable two-way radios, often in conjunction with fixed-mount sets for maximum transmit power. Newer programmable portable radios allow users to departmentalize channels so they can talk to each other separately or as a group with the deck, engineering or other interior channels. Some VHF radios offer both marine and land mobile frequencies with programmable channels for navigation and communications.
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When power at the dock lets you down, part 2
Last week we waded into a topic that has been a problem at some marinas for years--leakage of electrical current. We ended part one with a comment that updated rules governing electrical installations didn’t solve the problem, and in fact made it worse. Electrical expert Ed Sherman recently reported on the problem in Marine Electronics Journal. Some of the information is a bit technical, but we include it for those who want to drill deeper into the issue. Here are excerpts from Ed’s article:

By Ed Sherman


For marina operators that waited until the 2017 edition of the NEC (National Electrical Code) to provide guidance, the problems got even worse.


For some reason that is beyond my comprehension, the 100mA threshold was removed from Article 555 within NEC 70. Instead, the verbiage reads as follows:

"Feeder and Branch Circuit Conductors. Feeder and branch circuit conductors that are installed on docking facilities shall be provided with ground fault protection set to open at currents exceeding 30mA. Coordination with downstream ground fault protection shall be permitted at the feeder over-current protection device.”

This change was equivalent to pouring salt on an open wound! If 100mA was causing problems, 30mA was only going to amplify it.

The 2020 version of NFPA 70 swings us back to the 100mA specification with a notable addition. "Ground-Fault Protection of Equipment (GFPE) and Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter (GFCI) Protection. (A) Ground-Fault Protection. For other than floating buildings, ground-fault protection for docking facilities shall be provided in accordance with 555.35 (A)(1) through (A)(3).

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When power at the dock lets you down
Several months ago we heard about boat owners complaining of electrical problems at some marinas on the west coast of Florida. Leakage of electrical current at shoreside facilities is nothing new—and it can be deadly in some instances. Updated rules governing electrical installations at marinas were put in place years ago but apparently they didn’t solve the problem. We asked electrical expert Ed Sherman to explain what was going on. The following report is excerpted from an article he wrote for Marine Electronics Journal.


By Ed Sherman

So, your customer is ecstatic over their new boat and the $40,000 worth of electronic equipment you just installed. That is, all except for one minor detail that seems unexplainable: every time the boat plugs into shore power the main ground fault protection device at their newly rewired marina trips, shutting off the power to their boat and all their neighbors on the dock. What could possibly be wrong? After all they just spent $600,000 on their new dream cruiser. Further complicating the issue is that your customer says that when they took their first cruise down the bay and plugged in at a transient dock at a quaint and much older marina down the bay, there were no problems with the shore power. What’s up here?

To answer this question requires a look back at some interesting history relative to both dock wiring as well as boat wiring. Let me begin by identifying the root cause of the dilemma that has emerged. In-water electric shock death, more commonly known today in the marina world as ESD, is what got this ball rolling. Believe me, this ball has been winding down a long and winding road over the last decade, in part due to a general lack of understanding of the problem and its causes as well as changes in the choice of equipment used on new boats.
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Troubleshooting and install tools
A year or so ago, NMEA began offering courses to technicians in the proper operation of basic tools and hardware used to install and troubleshoot marine electronics. Last month we discussed one of the topics—cable connectors and in March rolled out the first round of troubleshooting tools. This week is the second round of specialty tools that help you get a fix on things like proper VHF installations and voltage/current put out by a USB port. The article is excerpted from an article written for Marine Electronics Journal by instructor Johnny Lindstrom. Where the information gets a bit techy, we provide some background.

By Johnny Lindstrom

We broke training down into several general categories: DVM (digital volt meter), RF tools—watt and SWR meters, NMEA Data and Networking (PC tools, cable testing) and Miscellaneous. [The SWR meter or VSWR (voltage standing wave ratio) meter measures the standing wave ratio (SWR) in a transmission line. The meter indicates the degree of mismatch between a transmission line and its load (usually a radio antenna). Technicians use it to evaluate the effectiveness of impedance-matching efforts—Wikipedia.] In the process we demonstrated the numerous uses of the ubiquitous digital volt/ohm meter, illustrating how to measure volts, ohms and current.  

RF (radio frequency) tools

Following the training outline used in NMEA’s Marine Electronics Installer course for proper VHF installation testing, we were able to show how to test the VHF using a dummy load, and then again with the antenna in circuit.
 
First we measured the transmitted power into a dummy load using a standard Bird watt meter to confirm proper output power from the transmitter. Then we did the same test with the antenna in circuit.  During each test we used the DVM to measure the supplied power to the radio to confirm proper wire size and secure connections.

We also used a pretty cool tool that measures both forward and reflected power and displays them on an easy-to-read LCD screen digital VSWR meter. The Nissei RS-50M would be easy to carry in one’s tool bag and is a little more robust than a traditional Bird meter.
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Autonomous vessels: Coming to a boat near you, but maybe not this week . . . part 2
Autonomous vessels are nothing new. More than a decade ago the US Navy developed, tested and delivered prototypes for use in anti-submarine and mine warfare operations. More recently most of the focus has been on commercial ships. Like other technology, what begins in one sector of the market eventually seeps into others as well. While the article below was written for marine electronics dealers and others in the trade, it should be of interest to boaters of all stripes who wonder what the future may hold for them in terms of autonomous operation on the water. Last week we discussed some basics about the technology and introduced some of the players.


By Zuzana Prochazka



Drawbacks & hurdles

Vessel autonomy isn’t a panacea for maritime woes and getting there won’t be a linear path. As with all new technologies, only a handful of early adopters will be able to afford new-builds, and costs won’t come down until a critical mass in deployment is reached. Retrofitting Sea Machines Robotics systems aboard existing vessels make autonomous technologies more accessible to marine operators who are looking to leverage the investment in their existing fleet,” says the company’s Amelia Smith.

Another issue is a lack of infrastructure. Remote control takes robust communications, redundancy in vessel systems, integrated logistics, trained personnel and a slew of new tools and command centers that don’t exist yet. For example, if docking an autonomous ship means having slips with integrated sensors and knowledgeable operators to meet it, it’ll take time to ramp up ports, and if that ship rams the dock and does damage, who’s responsible? "Cost is not only associated with the ship,” adds Ornulf Jan Rodseth, senior scientist at SINTEF Ocean. "Most of the projects also involve various forms of automation in port like mooring and cargo handling and the question is who will pick up the cost of the infrastructure needs?”

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Autonomous vessels: Coming to a boat near you, but maybe not this week . . .
A lot of very smart people in the US and abroad have been working on automated systems on vessels for years that tie in directly with the evolution of monitoring and control equipment. Most but not all of the focus has been on commercial ships. Like other technology what starts in one part of the market eventually seeps into other sectors as well. While the article below was written for marine electronics dealers and others in the trade, it should be of interest to boaters of all stripes who wonder what the future may hold for them in terms of autonomous operation on the water.


By Zuzana Prochazka

Everyone may be talking about self-driving cars, but the vision of unmanned cargo ships and self-driving drone boats evokes images of a James Bond future that can be hard to grasp and even harder to prepare for if you’re a professional in the marine industry.

Just how much of the autonomous vessel concept is real? What kind of boats are likely to be the first targets for conversion? What are the benefits and obstacles of the technology? How will this phenomenon shape the recreational marine segment? How do dealers and installers prepare for this future? To get some answers, we need to break it down.



First, we must define what autonomy is. An autonomous ship doesn’t have to be unmanned, and a remotely controlled unmanned ship doesn’t mean it’s autonomous. There are varying degrees of autonomy—self-driving boats that have humans aboard for other operations, unmanned vessels operated remotely by humans, and ships that function completely without human interaction. That last one is outside the scope of our discussions because it’s too far out in the future even if it does ever come into being.

Thiru Vikram, CEO of New York-based artificial intelligence startup Buffalo Automation, considers the term "autonomous” to be purely academic. But since we need a point of reference, I’m sticking with the term autonomous for most levels of automated navigation and operation, in other words, for centralized command and helm control.

The autonomy we’ll discuss here has to do with both onboard computer-assisted operations as well as advanced perception and situational awareness. The big picture is to detect obstacles by bringing together numerous sources of data and then acting on that information to enhance safety and productivity. Amelia Smith, who represents Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics, notes that today’s systems are composed of cameras, electronic charts, radar, laser-based LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), GPS, AIS (Automatic Information System), autopilot control, lots of computing power and a certain amount of Artificial Intelligence that is capable of adapting or learning over time.
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Upgrading a sound system on a small center console, part 2
Selecting and installing an audio system on a boat can be complex and expensive. Doing it right requires a plan, a capable team/installer, and an understanding of acoustic principles. In future blogs we’ll take a dive into audio systems on larger boats, but this one deals with boats under 20 feet. Here we describe the process of upgrading sound equipment aboard a 2015 NauticStar 1900SX center console with marine audio products from Prospec Electronics, whose brands include JBL by Harman and Infinity by Harman. Last week we touched on the onboard layout and speaker basics. Below we discuss a lost art--setting the gains of the amplifier.

By Josh Berry


Before we started cutting fiberglass, and in typical South Carolina fashion, we took part in lawn chair audio. Lawn chair audio—undeniably a "high-tech” name and process, involves placing pre-installed speaker boxes with the spec’d-in speaker size in the spots where the speakers will be installed and listening to them. This pre-installation process allows us to hear them before regret occurs. It takes a bit longer to do this step, but it’s well worth it—we were spot on. Time to roll up our sleeves and begin installing. I can almost hear Lizzo now . . .

Amplifier gain setting is key

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to provide a play-by-play of the install. Yawn. What I do want to provide is a better explanation of a misunderstood part of audio-level— matching the amplifier to the source unit. In this case the amp is a JBL Apex 1254 and the source unit a JBLPRV275. It’s not that anyone’s dumb, it’s that there has not been enough education done on this subject by the audio experts—in short, us.  For insight, we turn our attention to sound expert Mike Silber, VP of Product Development for Prospec Electronics.
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Upgrading a sound system on a small center console
Selecting and installing an audio system on a boat can be complex and expensive. Doing it right requires a plan, a capable team/installer, and an understanding of acoustic principles. Publications usually report on boats that are beyond the realm of affordability for most buyers, and while we applaud those beauties we also wanted to focus on an upgraded audio system for boats under 20 feet. So in the article below we begin the process of upgrading sound with marine audio products from Prospec Electronics, whose brands include JBL by Harman and Infinity by Harman. In the process we wanted to include special emphasis on a lost art: setting the gains of the amplifier.

By Josh Berry


The first part of upgrading a current audio system is to sit down with the owner and capture the emotional spirit of his/her sound and budgetary needs. Sound is an extremely passionate subject for boaters. Have you ever been a captain about to charter a group of excited individuals for a day offshore and had your source unit take a dive that morning? Whistling the rest of the day is unfulfilling and leaves you pissed off. Try to live without Michael Bolton for one day and tell me how that works out for you. #notfun. But back to the issue at hand.  Some consumers want more bass, higher output, or the ability to tap into the NMEA backbone. Others may want to focus on mid range. You get the picture. The install requires diligence by the installer(s) to determine budgetary and acoustical needs and then to shape those within the boat’s framework.

The star of this upgrade show? A 2015 NauticStar 1900SX (similar to the new NauticStar 195XTS pictured at right). Location-Mount Pleasant, SC. Installers-Brian Henry and Marvin "Fiberglass” Jones.

First, I began with a discussion with the owner about their current audio system likes and dislikes. The current audio system is a basic aftermarket package—a gauge style head unit and two speakers. There are tens of thousands of these sold each year and they’re a great solution for an entry system. Our point is not to belittle the existing system, but to point out that as you get on the water and yearn for a bit more, the audio gods "come a calling.” And so our coastal audio upgrade story begins.
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Cable connectors: A weak link if done improperly
Many of the failures of electronics on boats are due to connections between cables that are made improperly during installation.  If you’re planning to do some wiring or re-wiring, marine electronics dealer John Barry says to consider frequency response, and be sure to match impedance, use environmentally rated connectors, tie carefully, never mount under tension, don’t over-tighten wire ties and test all connections. And, importantly, he says to always follow manufacturers’ guidelines.

By John Barry


Marine electronics installers use a wide variety of connectors to accomplish the job.  Connectors used in the marine environment range from simple to complex and overlap other industry connectors in their construction and usage.  We share the PL259, the UHF connector used for marine VHF, with many other radio services, like HAM radio or CB radio (Citizens Band).  We also share the RJ45 Ethernet connector with the computer industry.  We all use connectors for all types of connections, but there is more to getting the connection right than just plugging it in.

Of course, connectors, like all technology, is a topic that has evolved and is evolving as we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Connectors have properties that make one connector OK and another not OK!  The most obvious property or specification associated with a connector is its frequency response. A PL259 connector will pass up to 300 MHz, so a signal that is below 300 MHz will pass through the connector with minimal signal loss.  If we connect a 900 MHz cell phone using a PL259 connector there is huge loss, to the extent that it will not work.  TNC (Threaded Neill-Concelman) connectors have a much higher frequency response, and so we often see TNC connectors on cell phones.  Always use a connector that is rated for at least the frequency you are using.
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Take a pandemic break--new boat electronics to ponder
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Marine electronics dealerships--still doing business
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Solar power installs -- not for the do-it-yourselfer, part 2
Onboard solar power used to mean a small panel or two mounted on a cabin top or cantilevered over the taffrail that couldn’t do much more than generate the illusion of energy. Things are very different today with extremely efficient solar collectors and energy storage systems that harness the benefits of lithium-ion technology.
 
Sophisticated onboard solar equipment and systems can make sailors pretty much energy independent--but there’s a big caveat. These systems can be mighty complicated--way beyond wiring up a few simple panels. Few among us have the skills needed to design and install a proper system. Below is part 2 of an article written for Marine Electronics Journal by Julia Carleton, an electrical engineer and specialist in marine solar power installations.

Our goal in running the story is twofold: to dissuade anyone who thinks whipping up a sophisticated solar energy system on their boat is a do-it-yourself project; and to provide any boater considering solar power with essential topics to talk about with a qualified installer.
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Solar power installs--not for the do-it-yourselfer
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Dealing with challenging antenna installs, part 2
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Dealing with challenging antenna installs
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Tools of the electronics installer trade
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More from MIBS 2020
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Miami Boat Show rolls out new electronics & lots more
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Wired network--an essential onboard Wi-Fi partner
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Electronics go for the gold, Part 2
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Electronics go for the gold
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AIS: New uses on the horizon
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Marine electronics rollout: multi-GNSS position sensor, nav/communications handheld & more
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Best marine electronics for 2019, Part 2
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Best marine electronics for 2019, Part 1
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Installing transom-mounted transducers can be tricky
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Autonomous vessels--coming on strong or too risky?
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Handheld GPS takes DAME Award
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Electric propulsion & sustainability headline METS trade show
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Onboard cyber security--know your vulnerabilities
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More electronic wizardry from the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show
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Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show highlights electronics
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Best marine gateways for 2019
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Best small-boat satcom for 2019
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Best vessel safety/security monitors for 2019
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Best vessel engine/electrical/fuel monitors for 2019
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Best multi-function vessel monitors for 2019
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NMEA hands out awards to 18 products
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Best EPIRB to have on board for 2019
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Best personal survival devices for 2019
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Best AIS devices for 2019, part 2
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Best AIS devices for 2019
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Best marine VHFs for 2019
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Best marine night vision equipment for 2019
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Best marine electronic charts for 2019
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Best marine wireless devices, part 2
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Best marine wireless devices for 2019
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Best marine radars for 2019
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Best underwater lighting for 2019
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Best marine audio systems for 2019
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Best marine autopilots for 2019
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Top Dog MFDs for 2019
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'Top Dog' fishfinders/sonars for 2019
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Ever wondered how NMEA standards are developed?
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New electronics worth a look
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Conversion project: converter to smart inverter/charger
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On the helm of a New England fishing boat
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On the helm of a New England fishing boat
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NMEA 2000: Behind the scenes
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Boat rolling a problem? 'Smart' gyro to the rescue
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Electronics rollout: Plotters, wireless devices, TV antenna & more
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How satellite TV works
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When your onboard electronics don't work, Part 2
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When your onboard electronics don't work, Part 1
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'New' Class B+ AIS bridges the gap
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Those navigation lights could be a problem
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Searching for solutions to MFD thefts--Part Two
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Searching for solutions to MFD thefts -- Part One
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Miami International Boat Show new products sampler
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Onboard electrical system trends
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Costa Rica--Keeping the fleet's electronics on the bite
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Declutter your multifunction display
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Lithium-ion battery swap: a few issues to consider
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Troubleshooting: Connecting the dots to fix a problem
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Troubleshooting: Charting a course to fix the problem
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Digital Switching: Packing a boatload of benefits, part 2
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Digital Switching: Packing a boatload of benefits
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Best night vision, small-boat internet access electronics
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Best boat engine, electrical and security monitors for 2018
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Inside the workboat electronics & equipment tent
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DAME Award contenders: Boat electronics worth a second look
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2018 DAME Award goes to generator system
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Best multi-function vessel monitoring systems for 2018
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Best electronic gateways for 2018
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Best EPIRBs for 2018
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Best personal survival devices for 2018
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Best satellite TV and VSAT for 2018
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Panoptix LiveScope takes 2018 NMEA Technology Award
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NMEA Product of Excellence Awards for 2018
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Best marine VHFs for 2018--part 2
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Best marine VHFs for 2018--part 1
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Best AIS devices for 2018--Part 2
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Best AIS for 2018--Part 1
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Best underwater LEDs for 2018
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Best marine electronic charts for 2018
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Best wireless devices for 2018, part 2
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Best wireless devices for 2018, part 1
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Best autopilots for 2018
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Best MFDs--Multi-Function Displays--for 2018
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Best audio systems for 2018
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Best radars for 2018
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Best fishfinders/sonars for 2018
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Big Data: coming to a boat near you
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Upgrading GNSS accuracy
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LEDs: How bright is bright? Well, that depends . . . Part 2
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LEDs: How bright is bright? Well, that depends . . .
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Making music: Apollo hits all the right notes
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Antennas: Spacing and other basics
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Treat your boat to some new electronic wizardry
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Updating NMEA 0183, 2000 and IMEA OneNet
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Tracing radio frequency interference---RFI
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Breathing new life into old electronics, part 2
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Breathing new life into old electronics
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Troubleshooting marine electronics
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Digging deeper into your boat's electronics
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Wireless spectrum: are we going to hit the wall? Part 2
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Wireless capacity: are we going to hit the wall?
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5G: Get ready for wireless performance on steroids
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Cell phones play growing role in remote monitoring & control, part 2
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Cell phones play growing role in onboard remote monitoring & control
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Thermal imaging as a diagnostic tool

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Small but mighty boats pack a wallop, part 2
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Small but mighty boats pack a wallop
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A primer on network gateways
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Radar: diving deeper into magnetrons vs. solid state
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36 marine electronics that won awards in 2017
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Eleven marine electronics that won awards in 2017
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Autopilots: Getting a handle on headings
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E-navigation: a lot more than just a bunch of electronics
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VHF: installation do's & don'ts
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A primer on VHF radio
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NMEA Technology Award--a look at the rest of the pack, part 2
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NMEA Technology Award--a look at the rest of the pack
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Prize products from across the pond
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Going Domeless
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Selecting the 2017 NMEA Technology Award
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NMEA Product of Excellence Awards
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Best thermal imaging and security equipment for 2017
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Best vessel monitoring systems, Part 2
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Best vessel monitoring systems, Part 1
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Best wireless accessory devices, Part 2
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Best wireless accessory devices, Part 1
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Best Sat TV, VSAT and Internet, Phone & Data system
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Best personal survival devices and EPIRBs for 2017
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Best AIS for 2017, Part 2
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Best AIS for 2017, Part 1
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Best VHFs for 2017, Part 2
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Best VHFs for 2017, Part 1
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Best electronic charts for 2017
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Best MFDs for 2017
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Best underwater LED lights for 2017
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Best autopilots for 2017
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Best radars for 2017
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Best fishfinders for 2017
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Best marine audio systems for 2017
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Dealing with pesky power problems
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Software updates: the good, the bad & the rest
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More new electronics worth a look, part 2
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More new electronics worth a look
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Displaying engine data on a NMEA 2000 network
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Hydrographic sonar: charting the sea floor, Part 2
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Hydrographic sonar: charting the sea floor
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Sat com at sea: going domeless
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From Twain to high-tech, Part 2
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From Twain to high-tech, Part 1
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Getting wiring right, part 2
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Getting wiring right
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Embracing new technologies can be painful
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New electronics worth a look
Boat shows are all about new products---ranging from that new center console fishing boat that's top of the list to the many innovative new things that make your days on the water more fun and safer. Most boating magazines and websites also offer their take on new products that might interest their readers. Here's a handful of electronics that we've rolled out to the readers of NMEA Boater in recent issues.
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Heading for the Internet of Things Afloat---the what? Part 2
Wireless connectivity and the technology that drives it are pushing out in all directions---on land and at sea. Many of the marine applications are springing up aboard commercial ships, but as with other technologies they will eventually work their way down to recreational boats of all sorts. Here’s a sample from a story we recently ran in NMEA Boater. We ran Part 1 last week.
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Heading for the Internet of Things Afloat---the what?

From the commercial introduction of electric power in the late nineteenth century until relatively recently, we have been frantically connecting everything together with wires. For the past 25 years or so, since the introduction of the World Wide Web, we have been working just as frantically to get rid of the wires and go entirely wireless! 


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Understanding radar horizons and pulses
Radar technology has advanced considerably in recent years and its usage on boats is up. That’s a good thing. Experienced boaters know that radar is not an optional item on a boat—rather it is an essential safety device. But it must be properly installed, calibrated and operated in order to deliver true benefits.
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Miami International Boat Show offers lots to like
To get the most out of the Miami International Boat Show---which ends today, Feb. 20---you really should spend a few weeks in the gym and log miles on the running track to build your stamina. After all, there are literally miles of docks and aisles in several huge tents to walk, plus outside exhibits and other locations linked by shuttle buses and water taxis. But most visitors, me included, just wade in and go for it---and the rich returns are well worth the effort.
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Simrad, Lowrance and B&G: So much stuff, so little time
Navico continues its drumbeat of launching an impressive assortment of new electronics every year, as a couple dozen or so boating writers and editors witnessed earlier this month. Here's several more products to add to the bunch we talked about last week.
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Simrad, Lowrance and B&G strut their stuff
At Navico’s annual new equipment demo in the Florida Keys last week, the takeaway was twofold. One was to look for even more integration of marine electronics and onboard systems like engines, electrical, mechanical and data management. The other was full connectivity between equipment on the boat and literally everything else around you—the Internet of Things.
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Top-dog electronics for 2016, part 2

Every year the staff at NMEA Boater looks forward to the announcements of products that marine publications and organizations name as winners of various awards. Last week The Mic rolled out award-winning electronics from several contests, including the Pittman, IBEX and Miami Boat Show Innovation Awards. Here are some others that took home prizes in 2016.


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Top-dog electronics for 2016, part 1

Marine publications and organizations hand out awards every year to new products that represent the best in innovation, usefulness and other criteria. Here are some of the electronics that took home top honors in 2016.

 

 

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Autopilots---size matters
If you do a lot of cruising, or even if you just need a break from the helm, an autopilot is essential---as long as it steers properly. If it doesn't, the problem could be that the system's hydraulic pump is not the right size for the job.
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eLoran: More accurate & less vulnerable but not a done deal yet, Part 2
Despite its faithful and reliable service for over 67 years, Loran was terminated in February 2010. The Coast Guard considered the system antiquated in light of successes with the nation’s Global Positioning System (GPS). Last June, Congress introduced a bill, H.R. 5531, that provides for the implementation of the eLoran system as a backup to GPS. eLoran is short for “enhanced Loran,” which is an upgrade from the old Loran system in terms of accuracy and dependability. What happens with the eLoran proposal as we move forward with a new presidential administration and Congress is anyone’s guess.
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eLoran: More accurate & less vulnerable but not a done deal yet, Part 1
Nearly a decade ago we started hearing about eLoran as a possible backup to GPS but then in 2010 Congress in its infinite wisdom decided to pull the plug on both the existing Loran C system and further development of eLoran. We seem to be moving in a good direction to finally implementing eLoran---but we're not there yet. 
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VSAT: what kind of service and performance can I expect?
WiFi and portable devices work great for boaters who operate close to shore and in areas with reliable communications service. For others who venture out farther or cruise technologically challenged waters, mini-VSAT offers some attractive benefits—like reliable voice and data servicexxxxx as well as high-speed Internet and email access. Stabilized marine antennas, those amazing pieces of technology that keep onboard VSAT and TV systems in touch with their satellite hosts despite being tossed about by wind and waves, come in sizes compact enough for boats in the 25-foot range.
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Getting a better handle on your radar, part 2
If you're not 100% comfortable operating your radar, you have a lot of company. Marine electronics dealers and manufacturers tell us all the time that boaters find radars intimidating unless they use it all the time as just another tool on board their boat. In last week's blog and this one, our goal is to help boaters better understand their radars by explaining some of the terms and how they impact performance.
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Getting a better handle on radar

Many boaters find radars intimidating to operate. They usually don’t pay much attention to the display, if they fire it up at all, when leaving the marina on sunny days. So when they’re cruising after dark or in the fog, especially in unfamiliar waters, making sense of targets and other information on the screen can be frustrating---and dangerous.

Understanding some of the technical terms that companies use when describing their radars can be difficult also---terms like pulse compression, CHIRP, continuous wave, Doppler and so forth. This week and next we’ll try to take some of the mystery out of radars.

 

 

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Stand by for ramped-up search and rescue

EPIRBs and other emergency rescue beacons have helped to save lives since 1982. Search and rescue abilities are about to take a big leap ahead with the advent of a new generation of satellites—compliments of something called Cospas-Sarsat.

 


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Stack the deck in favor of survival
For lack of an EPIRB two young lives were lost . . . 

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Best cellular and HF/SSB antennas for 2016

Antennas don’t always get the respect they deserve---and that’s too bad because they can make the difference between poor performance and getting what you expect from an expensive radio, whether it’s VHF, cellular or HF/SSB. Last week we gave you the results when we asked manufacturers which VHF antenna they consider to be their Best & Brightest. This week it’s cellular and HF/single sideband---SSB. We also tucked in some installation information and do’s and don’ts.

 

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Best VHF antennas for 2016

One of my many conversations at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show a couple of weeks ago was with a major marine radio manufacturer. We were talking about getting peak performance out of installed VHFs. I wasn’t surprised when he emphasized the importance of buying the best antenna you can—I’ve heard that repeatedly over the years. Dealers often advise boaters who are pinched financially to save money on their choice of radio but not on the antenna.

In our annual survey, NMEA Boater asked manufacturers to name what they consider to be their Best & Brightest antennas. Here’s what they said about VHF antennas. Next week we give you the results of cellular and HF/single sideband antennas.

--Jim Fullilove, NMEA Boater Editor

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Best vessel monitoring systems, part 2

Last week we posted descriptions of electronics that are designed to keep a close eye on how your mechanical, propulsion and electrical systems are operating as well as conditions in the engine room and other spaces. This time we look at several pieces of equipment to improve onboard security. Both lineups came from a survey NMEA Boater does every year of equipment in 19 categories that manufacturers consider to be their Best & Brightest. The electronics range from multi-function displays and fishfinders to radars and wireless accessory devices.

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Best vessel monitoring systems, part 1

Like the rest of marine electronics, devices and instrumentation designed to track and monitor various onboard conditions have come a long way.

This week we look at equipment designed to keep a close eye on how your mechanical, propulsion and electrical systems are operating as well as conditions in the engine room and other spaces. The goal is to prevent costly situations that can ruin your whole day---and maybe worse. Next time we’ll roll out installed security equipment. 

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Best EPIRBs and personal survival devices for 2016

Safety and survival gear have always been a tough sell to mariners, whether they’re coastal cruisers or commercial operators. In New England that tradition goes back to the days when fishermen chased cod from small dories launched from wooden sailing ships in the often treacherous and cold waters of Georges Bank. Most never learned how to swim. In the event of capsizings they’d rather drown quickly than tread water or hold on to an overturned boat.

Carrying modern survival equipment, where it’s life rafts, inflatable jackets or electronic signaling devices, should be a no-brainer, especially if you cruise or fish offshore. It’s inexpensive compared to just about everything else on a boat and the beacons can bring help quickly in an emergency—as long as you maintain it properly and know how to use it.

We asked the top marine safety and survival gear manufacturers to tell us what they consider to be their Best & Brightest EPIRBs and personal survival devices. Here’s what they said.

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Best underwater LED lighting for 2016

Some boaters install underwater lights as an added security measure---some in an attempt to attract fish. But mostly, they’re for entertainment and a serious “wow” factor. Boaters can program them to change colors and intensity and sync them with music. As part of our annual survey of the Best & Brightest marine electronics, we asked the top manufacturers to name what they consider to be their top underwater LED lights. 

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2016 NMEA Technology Award entries
Two weeks ago we described the winner of the 2016 NMEA Technology Award---Furuno's DRS4D--NXT Doppler radar. The solid-state device is wonderful technology that should help make boating safer, but it had a lot of very worthy competition. The awards process works like this: manufacturers nominate products that must meet certain requirements. The NMEA Awards Committee is the gatekeeper---it reviews the nominations and hands those that qualify to a panel of judges for closer scrutiny and to select a winner. The judges (at work in the photo at right) rate the products based on innovation, benefit to boaters, practicality and value.
We thought you'd like to see what the NXT had to compete against---all very worthwhile contenders. We boiled down the descriptions that the manufacturers submitted with their nominations.

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2016 NMEA Product of Excellence Awards
Last week we told you about the winner of the 2016 NMEA Technology Award, Furuno's DRS-4D-NXT, an affordable solid-state (no magnetron) radar that paints threatening targets red and performs a bunch of other very useful functions as well. This week it's on to the NMEA Product of Excellence Award winners---16 categories that include some great new hardware and apps. The top dogs in the Product of Excellence competition are selected by NMEA members through an online voting process. The descriptions that follow are not ours---instead they come from the manufacturers.
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Furuno DRS4D-NXT radar wins 2016 NMEA Technology Award
There was no shortage of terrific electronics on display at the latest National Marine Electronics Association Conference & Expo---everything from new hardware wizardry to cutting-edge software and apps. A highlight of the annual event is presenting awards for the best electronics. Here's a look at what went on behind the scenes in selecting the winner of this year's NMEA Technology Award---Furuno's DRS4D-NXT Doppler radar.
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Best Sat TV and VSAT for 2016

Two technologies have made life a lot more enjoyable for boat owners who can afford it—satellite TV systems that pull in hundreds of channels at sea and VSAT communications equipment that connects them to home and business. NMEA Boater asked the three leading manufacturers to name the one satellite TV system and also the one VSAT antenna/terminal that they build which they consider to be their Best & Brightest. 

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Best VHF handhelds for 2016

Many VHF handhelds today come packed with features that were only on wish lists several years ago. As part of our annual survey of manufacturers, NMEA Boater asked companies to tell us what they considered to be their Best & Brightest handheld transceiver. Here’s the list.

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Best fixed-mount VHFs for 2016

Like most marine electronics, VHFs have come a long way from when they were just for communication. Fixed-mount transceivers added DSC—Digital Selective Calling—years ago to provide an extra measure of safety at sea, and today some sport GPS, AIS, buddy tracking, voice mail, second-station remotes and a bunch of other features. Here’s what manufacturers told Marine Electronics Journal when we asked them to name the one VHF model they consider to be their Best & Brightest.

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Best marine audio systems 2016

Long gone are the days that you dragged out the CD player or portable radio to play some tunes while fishing, cruising, water skiing or just swinging on the hook. Modern marine audio electronics are integrated entertainment systems that come with a variety of features, installation options and horsepower. Here’s what manufacturers told us when we asked them to name the one audio entertainment product that THEY consider to be their Best & Brightest.

Photo from Over the Edge

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Best Autopilots for 2016

Autopilots are getting smarter all the time—literally. Some are able to learn steering responses and boat characteristics to improve their performance, eliminate the need for rudder feedback or sport algorithms that compensate for set and drift---and that’s just some of the new technology twists. Here’s the pick of the litter when NMEA Boater asked manufacturers to tell us which autopilot they consider to be their Best & Brightest.

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Best Wireless Accessory Devices, Part 2
Every year at NMEA Boater we survey scores of equipment manufacturers and ask them to tell us which one product in 19 or so categories they consider to be their Best & Brightest. Great electronics show up in all of the categories, whether it's new radars, multi-function displays or satellite TV systems. One of our favorites is wireless accessory devices because you never know what will surface. Unlike big-ticket items which usually hit the market amid a lot of fanfare, wireless accessories often slip in almost unnoticed. Last week we showed you several wireless devices their makers told us about. Here's the rest.
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Best Wireless Accessory Devices, Part 1

In talking to marine manufacturers about what they say are their Best & Brightest electronics, one of our favorite categories in the annual survey is Wireless Accessory Devices. That’s because you never quite know what’s going to surface. Unlike big-ticket items such as multi-function displays and satellite TV systems, wireless accessories often slip into the market under the radar without much fanfare. Here’s the first batch of some very interesting products. We’ll show you the rest next week.

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Best AIS for 2016, part 2
Automatic Identification Systems have a lot to offer mariners, whether you're a weekend boater or a commercial operator. They supply information about vessel traffic in your area that's unavailable via radar or other traditional electronics onboard. Overlaid on your multi-function display, AIS data indicates the position and course of nearby vessels and can provide a bunch of other information as well, such as names of vessels, MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) numbers, call signs, and type of ship. There are two main types of AIS equipment: Class A units are designed for large vessels and have the ability to transmit and receive safety-related text messages among other functions. Class B devices are lower power and less expensive; they can receive but not transmit messages. 
AIS has grown to be the largest category of electronics in our annual survey of Best & Brightest Marine Electronics, where we ask manufacturers to name the one model in their product line that they consider to be their best all-around AIS. We presented nine of them last week. Here's the rest.
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Best AIS for 2016
AIS---Automatic Identification Systems---have come on strong in recent years and for good reason. They provide a wealth of situational information about vessels around you, starting with their course direction and speed. A click on the symbol produces the name of the vessel, MMSI number, call sign, type of ship and a bunch of other details. There are two main types of AIS equipment: Class A units are designed for large vessels and have the ability to transmit and receive safety-related text messages among other functions. Class B devices are lower power and less expensive; they can receive but not transmit messages. 
AIS has grown to be the largest category of electronics in our annual survey of Best & Brightest Marine Electronics, where we ask manufacturers to name the one model in their product line that they consider to be their best all-around AIS. We present nine of them this time around and another nine next week.
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Best radars for 2016
If you're looking for a new radar, you're in luck. That's because over the past year or so the technology has made a couple big leaps in what it offers recreational boaters. One is the choice of solid state operation, which means there's no magnetron and therefore no radiation coming from the antenna. Another is the incorporation of Doppler technology into signal processing. Two of the new radars introduced this year harness Doppler to paint targets red if they pose a threat to your boat and green if they don't. There are other refinements and functions also. As part of our annual Best & Brightest Boating Electronics survey, NMEA Boater asked radar manufacturers to tell us which model in their product line they consider to be their best all-around radar.
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Best MFDs for 2016
Multi-function displays---MFDs---have clearly taken over center stage on bridge consoles aboard most recreational boats, whether they're set up for fishing along the coast or blue water cruising. Evolving from dedicated chart plotters of a decade ago, MFDs now integrate and offer an unbelievable amount of data from a variety of sensors and devices. Fill the display with one large fishfinder image of what's below the boat, or split it several ways to keep tabs on vessel performance, traffic in the area, weather and a long list of other functions while you continue to chase fish. As part of our annual Best & Brightest Marine Electronics survey, we asked manufacturers to name the one MFD in their product line that they consider to be the best---not necessarily the most sophisticated or expensive, but the one they feel is their "all-around" best.
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Best Fishfinders---2016
If you're looking for the right fishfinder, we've narrowed down the field for you. Every year in Marine Electronics Journal we ask the top electronics manufacturers to tell us which fishfinder they consider to be their "Best & Brightest." Not necessarily the one in the product line with the most whistles and buzzers or the most expensive---but the model that performs best or has proven itself over the years or maybe that provides the best value. 
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New electronics worth a look
Boating is all about new stuff, whether it's a revolutionary vessel stabilizing system, a better sail furling device---or the latest in electronics. Hardly a week goes by when I don't get at least several new product announcements. Here's a selection of recent products culled from a stack of press releases on my desk that may be worth considering.
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NMEA 0183 vs 2000: What's the difference?
A few weeks ago a friend and I were talking over a couple of beers about boats---no big surprise there. What was surprising was his confusion about a pair of familiar terms that have been a part of boating for years---namely NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000. Maybe it's understandable since this guy’s a fisherman and not an electronics geek like some of us. He's probably a lot like most boaters who just want to know that things on their boats work as advertised. But for anyone who wants to know a bit more . . .
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MOBs: Big differences you need to know about
There are all kinds of Man Overboard devices---MOBs---that are aimed at rescuing crew who fall overboard, whether it's getting them back aboard the boat they were on or safely on the deck of another vessel. Some devices can bring much faster rescues than others because of how they operate relative to crews on the victim's boat or search and rescue teams. It pays to know the differences.
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Sat TV: it's not just for megayachts, Part 2

Many boaters are surprised to hear that vessels as small as 25 feet can be equipped with a marine stabilized antenna to pull in satellite TV signals at sea. There’s a lot of interest—maybe curiosity—in Sat TV; all you need to do is queue up at one of the equipment vendors' booths at a boat show and listen to the questions boaters have. Very quickly you realize there’s more than a little confusion involved—about HD reception, some of the newer technology and programming.

 


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So, you're thinking about a Sat TV system . . .

You don’t have to be the deep-pockets owner of a megayacht to be able to watch your favorite TV shows or sports teams while cruising offshore—and that’s been true for nearly a decade for vessels as small as 25 feet. All you need is a stabilized marine antenna—one of those pieces of electronic wizardry that automatically twists and turns to keep the TV locked on to satellite signals no matter how snotty it is outside.


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Boating writers put new Garmin electronics to the test

The launch of innovative new boating electronics continues strong in 2016. Last week The Mic looked at products rolled out by Simrad, Lowrance and B&G. This round belongs to Garmin. 


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Navico rolls out a wide range of new electronics

Earlier this year, Navico put on a two-day demo event in the Florida Keys to give 30 or so boating writers and editors a closeup look at some of their new electronics. At what has become an annual event, the company pulls out all the stops—giving us the opportunity to get aboard any of several boats that are equipped with the latest from Simrad, Lowrance and B&G and talk to product managers and tech specialists. Here’s a glimpse at some of the equipment they showed off.


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Cybersecurity: Don't let an invisible threat cripple your boat, Part 2
Keeping hackers and cyber criminals out of our houses, offices, financial affairs, boats, cars, you name it--virtually everything we own and do in this totally connected world--is a full-time job. Just how vulnerable are you to being hacked or worse?
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Cybersecurity: Don't let an invisible threat cripple your boat

No matter where we live or what we do for work or play, we’ve all heard the warnings about hidden viruses that can cripple our computers or shut them down completely. Unfortunately that may be just the beginning of our problems if we have sophisticated networked electronics at home or on our boats.


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Lithium-ion batteries: A closer look at the benefits & risks, Part 2
As we continue to demand batteries that are lighter, more powerful and deliver a longer-lasting punch before they need recharging, experts are researching new and promising technologies. One that has been around for a while and is still undergoing a lot of scrutiny is lithium-ion---Li-ion, for short. We continue our discussion about the good and bad of an advancing technology.
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Lithium-ion batteries: A closer look at the benefits & risks
New technology often comes with risks, or at least unintended consequences. Take the marvels of portable devices and the world of near total connectivity---which offer great convenience and control but also make our systems vulnerable to cyber attacks. Lithium-ion batteries are another example. They're lighter and more powerful compared to other stored energy technology on the market, but are more prone to a condition known as thermal runaway---which can cause the battery to overheat and burst into flames.
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The year of the radar
Advances in marine electronics continue at warp speed, whether it's the latest round of networked equipment offered up by ever-improving MFDs---multi-function displays---or high-intensity LED lighting that changes color on command and syncs with your music. 2016 started out with a blast of three great new radars, a trend in radar technology improvements that actually began last year.
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Vessel data recording can save lives

While information in The Mic this week comes from the world of commercial ships, we thought readers would be interested in a peek behind the curtains at what happens in the wake of catastrophic events like the sinking last year of the El Faro. Uncharacteristically, in this instance the bureaucratic wheels are spinning a little quicker to require equipment changes that could result in fewer accidents---and lost lives---in the future.


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'Sweetwater' electronics, part 2

Freshwater boating in the US is huge—and so is the appetite of 'sweetwater' boaters and fishermen for electronics. Check out one of the many Bassmaster tournaments sometime and you’ll see what I mean. The boats may be smaller than those gorgeous multi-decked sportfishermen that chase marlin and tuna far offshore but their owners are no less passionate about having the latest high-tech wizardry on board.

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'Sweetwater' electronics
Most of us don't even think about it----if you live near bays, sounds and oceans, you sail, cruise or fish salt water. Live in the states between the coasts and you're all about lakes and rivers. There are lots of similarities in the electronics aboard the boats and many differences, too. 
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LEDs---Pumping Up the WOW Factor, Part 2



LED lights are  becoming must-have equipment on a wide variety of boats---and they're not just for megayachts anymore. They produce a dramatic blast of color in wakes behind outboard-powered speedboats, provide a measure of security around vessels and help some fishermen do what they do, but mostly they're there just for fun---changing to a palette of colors and dancing to music. 
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LED technology pumps up the WOW factor
LED lights are turning up everywhere in a blaze of many colors both below and above the waterline and on all sizes and types of boats. And they're getting smarter and more entertaining all the time as a rapidly evolving technology powers ahead. 
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A ton of innovations combine to complete an incredible project
Last summer a team of boat and electronics experts---all volunteers--combined their skills to refit and equip a 60 foot catamaran with a new NMEA 2000 network. The idea was to create a suite of electronics that worked together seamlessly to help the crew of disabled sailors operate the sailboat independently. In December The Mic launched a series that dug into the planning, installation and troubleshooting of the N2K network. This is the final installment in the series---with more on the high-tech electronics that the team put aboard.
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A ton of innovations combine to complete an incredible project
Several months ago a team of electronics experts began putting their skills to work equipping a 60 foot catamaran with a new NMEA 2000 network. The idea was to create a suite of electronics that worked together seamlessly to help the crew of disabled sailors operate the sailboat independently. In December The Mic launched a series that dug into the planning, installation and troubleshooting of the N2K network. We continue the series with more on the high-tech electronics that the team put aboard.
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NMEA OneNet: Pumping up network speed and capacity, Part 2

Last week we rolled out a discussion about a new network interface standard that's close to launch that's been described as NMEA 2000 on steroids. NMEA OneNet will complement and not replace NMEA 2000, but the Ethernet standard will be much faster and able to accommodate many more devices. The discussion is more "techie" than our usual fare but we decided to put it out there in response to requests for more detailed information about how onboard electronics communicate.
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NMEA OneNet: What's that about?
This week and next we're breaking a bit with tradition and dealing with an admittedly "geeky" topic—a new standard that will govern how some onboard electronics communicate with each other. The reason we're doing this is because we're always impressed with the number of readers who want a deeper understanding of how the electronic wizardry on their boats work. 
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GPS can be jammed and 'spoofed'--just how vulnerable is it? Part 2

Last November, we laid out the potential of the nation’s Automatic Identification System—AIS—being manipulated. This time we look at the susceptibility of that mainstay of navigation and positioning—GPS—the Global Positioning System—to naturally caused interference as well as hostile attacks. In Part 1 we focused on just how easy it is to jam signals, even though it is illegal to have and use a jamming device. Here’s the scoop on a much more dangerous scenario—spoofing the system.

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GPS can be jammed and 'spoofed'--just how vulnerable is it?
Last November, we laid out the potential of the nation’s Automatic Identification System—AIS—being manipulated. This week we look at the susceptibility of that mainstay of navigation and positioning—GPS—the Global Positioning System—to naturally caused interference as well as hostile attacks.
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Unmanned vessels on the horizon

Back in 2013 we ran a blog entitled “Look mom, no hands!” The topic was unmanned boats that operate without active human control—they were called autonomous vessels. We reported on a robotic “sailbot” competition that judged entries by high school students. This week we’re notching up the topic with a story about unmanned vessels being tested by the military.

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2015's Award-Winning Marine Electronics, Part 2

Every year marine publications and organizations single out new products for scoring highest in criteria such as innovation, usefulness, practicality and value. Last week we presented some of the outstanding marine electronics hardware and software that were named in 2015. Here are the rest.


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Award-Winning Marine Electronics for 2015

Every year marine publications and organizations single out new products for scoring highest in criteria such as innovation, usefulness, practicality and value. Here are some of the awards presented to outstanding marine electronics hardware and software in 2015.


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Refitting the Impossible Dream: Devices that make the NMEA 2000 network tick
Several months ago a team of electronics experts began putting their skills to work equipping a 60 foot catamaran with a new NMEA 2000 network. The idea was to create a suite of electronics that worked together seamlessly to help the crew of disabled sailors operate the sailboat independently. This week we continue to look at some of the N2K equipment that makes this happen---and troubleshoot the system.
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Outfitting the Impossible Dream: Devices that make the NMEA 2000 network tick

A team of electronics experts put their skills to work equipping a 60 foot catamaran with a new NMEA 2000 network. The idea was to create a suite of electronics that worked together seamlessly to help the crew of disabled sailors operate the sailboat independently. Here's a look at some of that equipment.
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Outfitting the Impossible Dream: Putting NMEA 2000 to the test
Equipping a 60 foot sailing catamaran with new electronics and electrical components gave a team of experts an opportunity to show off what NMEA 2000 can do. One of the benefits of the "open architecture" standard for interfacing electronics is offering boat's disabled sailors a full measure of independence.
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Refitting the Impossible Dream

Several months ago, Pete Braffitt and a team of volunteers from various marine companies began refitting a very unusual sailing catamaran. The 60 foot boat was designed to be operated independently by a sailor in a wheelchair. Ultimately the refit showed off some very creative solutions, both electronic and mechanical.



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Manipulating AIS, part 2

Automatic Identification Systems---AIS---are like many modern electronics technologies. They make tasks simpler, more efficient and often safer but they can have a downside, too. It's not a good idea to rely solely on the data they give you because equipment can malfunction, and some, like AIS and GPS, can be jammed or spoofed. Make sure you always have a backup system, even if it's visual observations out the windshield.


 


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Manipulating AIS

Back in February we wrote about the Automatic Identification System---AIS---and the equipment that is required aboard some commercial vessels and growing in popularity among recreational boaters. Check out AIS, A Useful Tool for Everyone. By all accounts, AIS has been very successful in improving vessel monitoring and safety. Because of the growing use of the technology we wanted to know more about reports that the system can easily be manipulated to give false information. 

 

 

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Electronic charting---innovation in every direction, part 2

Multifunction displays and the world of electronic charting are evolving at a pace that makes it hard to keep up with what's new---both functionality and the overall "smartness" of the system. If you haven't been following the innovations and changes, here's part 2 of a discussion that will help bring you up to date.




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Electronic charting---innovation in every direction
Boat shows are always a great way to check on new trends on just about everything marine--from boat design and power options to electronics. Last week at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of late-20s guys who were checking out a center console 28-footer. They were playing with the MFD, putting various functions through their paces. I mentioned paper charts and how much more nav and other information the electronic version provided than what we had in the "old days." One of them looked at me kind of funny and said he'd seen a paper chart a long time ago but really didn't remember much about it. 

We've come a long way . . .
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Loran---staging for a comeback
In 2010 the government shut down the nation's Loran C navigation system, despite an earlier federal report pointing to serious vulnerabilities in the Global Positioning System and calling for backup systems to GPS. Renewed support for an enhanced Loran system---called eLoran---is gaining traction.
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NMEA Technology Award: Behind the scenes

If you’re like most of us who want to know about the latest in marine electronics technology, I heartily recommend that you pay attention to the NMEA Technology Award. Here’s a glimpse of what went on behind the curtain in naming Simrad's Halo radar top dog. 


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Internet of Things: Welcome to the world of total connectivity, Part 2
Technology is getting smarter all the time---your house, your car, your boat---you name it. Devices are linked and talk to each other, whether over a wire or wirelessly. Boat networks have been doing this for years, using protocols like NMEA 0183 and 2000. We're living in the age of the Internet of Things and it's expanding in every direction.
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Internet of Things: Welcome to the world of total connectivity
It’s all about connectivity---whether you're talking about that new AIS or some other electronic device on or under the console talking to the MFD, or accessing the cloud to upgrade an electronic chart. Homes, cars and boats are all heading in the same smart direction---24/7 connectivity.
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Survival devices---best of the bunch 2015
One of the toughest arguments to make in the marine industry is convincing boat owners, whether they operate a commercial fishing trawler or recreational weekend cruiser, to carry adequate, operational and updated survival equipment on board. Here's a quick look at devices that save lives.
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Vessel monitors--Best of the bunch, 2015
While navigation and entertainment electronics usually garner most of the attention, there's an equipment category that is critically important to a vessel's overall operation and safety--electronics that monitor engines or fuel systems or warn you if your boat has been broken into--and a lot more to boot.
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Wireless Accessory Devices--top picks for 2015
Just about everything seems to be going wireless, including onboard electronics. With that in mind we added a new category in this year's Best & Brightest electronics roundup. We called it Wireless Accessory Devices and, frankly, we didn't know what we'd get from manufacturers. As it turned out, we received a wide variety of electronics submissions--11 in all--from apps to a wearable NMEA gateway.
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Marine antennas: Best of the bunch, 2015
Ask any marine electronics dealer and you'll hear that marine radios--VHFs or HF/single sideband--are only as good as their antennas. The common wisdom is that if you're on a limited budget, buy the best antenna you can afford and couple it with an ok transceiver. Here are several, including antennas for cellular use, to consider.
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Satellite TV and VSAT: Pick of the 2015 litter

Unless you’re cruising close to the coast or carrying your own DVDs, you'll probably need a more sophisticated system to access the Internet or watch your favorite movies, sports and TV programs. Satellite TV and VSAT equipment can be a bit pricey but they offer a lot to like.

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Night vision: Best & Brightest thermal imagers
A comment you often hear at boat shows from people who've installed thermal imagers on board is wondering how they ever got along without the equipment, especially when coming into an unfamiliar anchorage or harbor after dark.  If you haven't seen a demo of how imagers turn night into day, arrange for one---it'll be a game changer.
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AIS: 2015's Best & Brightest
Not too many years ago, AIS was a new concept to most boaters---and for good reason. Automatic Identification Systems were developed to help commercial vessels and port operators keep track of shipping traffic. Carrying AIS equipment was made mandatory for many types of commercial vessels. The idea is to share information about vessel location, course, speed, identity and a bunch of other data in order to improve safety. The system has worked great.

In recent years, a lot of boaters have voluntarily installed AIS to boost their situational awareness. In fact, the AIS category in our annual roundup of the Best & Brightest electronics is our largest. 
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VHFs: 2015's Pick of the Litter
  • VHF transceivers have been must-have equipment on boats for decades, and they still are. Only now they're a lot more than just communications electronics. Today the technology incorporates safety functions, like Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and Rescue 21---and even AIS (Automatic Identification System). Boaters have a choice of fixed mount and handheld with some pretty cool whistles and buzzers and more functions and features are added all the time.
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Autopilots: 2015's Best & Brightest
Like just about every other piece of marine electronics, autopilots have become a lot more sophisticated and smarter than they were a few years ago. They're also showing up on smaller boats---not only offshore cruisers and fishing boats. 

In fact, a few years ago Trailer Boats Magazine's Jim Barron encouraged their readers to take a closer look at pilots. Here's what he wrote: "There is a widespread misconception that an autopilot is useful only on ocean-going vessels that are used exclusively for long-distance cruising. The fact is that an autopilot is useful in far more applications than just cruising. Like power steering on your car, autopilot owners soon find that the pilot is an essential accessory, and not simply a frivolous luxury. Primary applications are for cruising and fishing. But, when a pilot is combined with devices such as Loran, GPS, c-maps, and radar, a very sophisticated navigation system is formed that can often outperform the captain—particularly in adverse conditions."

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Radars: 2015's Best & Brightest
Radars should be a staple aboard every boat that ventures more than a short distance from land. In some regions, where thick fog can roll in with little warning, radars should be a fixture on every boat larger than a skiff that sticks close to shore. When buying a radar, or any electronics, you want one that has the features you need but not functions that you don't and only drive up the cost. 
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Best & Brightest MFDs/Chartplotters for 2015
MFDs--Multi-Function Displays--have come on the scene like gangbusters in the past few years. Whether you do your research on the Internet, through advertisements in magazines or by talking to buddies at the dock, choosing the right one can leave you a bit bewildered. MFDs/chartplotters come in a wide variety of brands, models, sizes, shapes and flavors, all offering functions that sound great. We're here to help you narrow down the field.
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Fish finders 2015---Here are the Best & Brightest
Fish finders come in an impressive variety of sizes, shapes and flavors, all offering functions that sound great. Often the problem is wading through the dozens of brands and models and selecting the one sounder that is right for the type of fishing you do. We're here to help.
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Coax 101: How to get top performance, Part 2

A boat may be equipped with the best antenna and VHF, AIS, CB, whatever, that money can buy, but if the right coax cable and connectors aren’t used, or if they are not properly installed, the electronics may not perform as advertised or at all.

In Part 1 last week, we looked at the basics of coax cable and different types of terminal connectors. In this final installment we move into installation and some common mistakes that are made in the process. The full version of this article appeared originally in NMEA Boater.   


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Coax 101: How to get top performance
A boat may be equipped with the best antenna and VHF, AIS, CB, or whatever, that money can buy, but if the right coax cable and connectors aren’t used, or if they are not properly installed, the electronics may not perform as advertised---or at all. 
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Charting the past: vintage marine electronics
When I started covering marine electronics and other maritime and boating topics back in the late 1970s for National Fisherman magazine, the stuff I'd see at boat and trade shows were a very different dog than what you see today. There were flashing depth sounders and course plotters with mechanical arms that recorded the boat’s track on rolls of paper and. Bulky Loran A units were giving way to somewhat smaller and more consistently accurate Loran C and most electronics were stand-alone devices bolted to the boat’s dashboard.
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MANS, WANs, LANs & PANs: The ever-expanding wireless world, part 2

Wireless broadband technology has experienced extraordinary growth in the past decade—and it’s obvious that the application and breadth of wireless equipment are accelerating. This is largely due to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices with Internet access.  Also contributing to this growth is expanding applications in improving the ability of first responders to communicate rapidly and efficiently, including real-time videos, images and other critical data. Additionally, consumer products and services such as high-definition video streaming, mobile video conferencing, remote transmission of patient diagnostic information and images, to mention just a few, are helping to fuel the expansion.  

The good news for boaters is that increasing consumption in the consumer, federal, municipal and industrial sectors trickles down to the marine industry through reduced costs and increased marine usage.  

At the same time there’s a fair amount of confusion about what wireless technology is and its limitations. Last week we ran part one of excerpts from a story we published a while ago in NMEA Boater. This week we run the conclusion, including information about marina WiFi hotspots and how to get the best results. 

 

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MANs, WANs, LANs & PANs: The ever-expanding wireless world

Wireless broadband technology has experienced extraordinary growth in the past decade—and it's accelerating. This is largely due to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices with Internet access.  Also contributing to this growth is expanding applications in improving the ability of first responders to communicate rapidly and efficiently, including real-time videos, images and other critical data. Additionally, consumer products and services such as high-definition video streaming, mobile video conferencing, remote transmission of patient diagnostic information and images, to mention just a few, are helping to fuel the expansion. 

The good news for boaters is that increasing consumption in the consumer, federal, municipal and industrial sectors trickles down to the marine industry through reduced costs and increased marine usage. 

At the same time there’s a fair amount of confusion about what wireless technology is and its limitations. Here are excerpts from a story we ran a while ago. We’ve updated it to include some new technology but the basics are still sound.

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Multi-touch displays: here's what happens behind the glass, Part 2
Multi-touch, multi-gesture displays are everywhere---at home, the office and on your boat. Have you ever wondered how that wizardry works? 
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Multi-touch displays: ever wonder what goes on behind the glass?
Multi-touch, multi-gesture displays are everywhere---at home, the office or on your boat. Have you ever wondered how that wizardry works? Read on.
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VHF--a lot more than basic communications, part 2
Not long ago VHF radio tranceivers provided basic communications. They still do but modern VHFs bring a lot more to the table--like automatic distress calls at the push of a button and positioning information. To take full advantage of what the equipment offers, including access to the Coast Guard's Rescue 21 system, boaters need to do their part.
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VHF--a lot more than basic communications
Not long ago VHF radio tranceivers provided basic communications. They still do but modern VHFs bring a lot more to the table--like automatic distress calls at the push of a button and positioning information. To take full advantage of what the equipment offers, including access to the Coast Guard's Rescue 21 system, boaters need to do their part.
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Power inverters: a real onboard asset if you pick the right one and install it correctly
Power inverters, the devices that convert standard battery (DC) power to AC household power, have become very popular in boating circles and are now commonplace in the marine community. When understood and installed properly, these nifty devices significantly enhance the overall boating experience for thousands of power boaters and sailors alike. 
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A leap forward in satellite positioning--Part 2
Whether you're tooling up the coast on your boat or navigating back roads in the car, GPS has become an essential tool---and pretty soon we'll have access to positioning information that is even more accurate and reliable. This is the result of additional satellite positioning systems launched by other countries that are either operational or will be shortly. There are marine electronics devices on the market now that can process data from multiple systems.
 
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A leap forward in satellite positioning
In the world of large-scale, complex and sophisticated electronic “systems of systems”—and there are some big ones—my nominee for this year’s award is the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). In short, GNSS is a system of systems to provide accurate, precise and reliable position, navigation and timing information virtually any place on or near the surface of the globe.

GNSS consists of three types of satellite navigation systems—global, regional and satellite-based augmentation systems. Currently there are four global systems in various stages of development or operation: the US Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), the EU’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou-2 system. 
 
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How portable devices are changing boats
Smartphones, tablets and portable devices of all sorts continue to make their way into just about every aspect of our lives. As they do, they change things around us---including boats.
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Turning night into day: a closer look at thermal imaging, Part 2
Coming into an unfamiliar and poorly lit harbor late at night---every wish you could see in the dark? How about finding a crewman who fell overboard in pitch blackness? There's technology out there that almost turns night into day. 
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Turning night into day: a closer look at thermal imaging, Part 1
Coming into an unfamiliar and poorly lit harbor late at night---every wish you could see in the dark? How about finding a crewman who fell overboard in pitch blackness? There's technology out there that almost turns night into day. Here's how it works.


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Onboard Entertainment, Part 2: From Audio to Visual
Who says you can't tap into the same electronic entertainment on your boat that you have at home? You just have to have the right equipment and know how to use it.
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Onboard Entertainment: From Audio to Visual
Who says you can't tap into the same electronic entertainment on your boat that you have at home? You just have to have the right equipment and know how to use it.
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Getting connected, Part 2: Accessing the Internet
Just because you're on your boat somewhere off the grid shouldn't mean that you can't enjoy the same TV programs, sports events or first-run movies that you do at home. You just need the right equipment.
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Getting connected, Part 1
Just because you're on your boat somewhere off the grid shouldn't mean that you can't enjoy the same TV programs, sports events or first-run movies that you do at home. You just need the right equipment.
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Get to know your VHF DSC radio

There is a problem with the VHF maritime radio system. Okay, there are a couple of problems. Fortunately, solutions to most of the problems exist and it’s up to all of us with radios to do the fixing.

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Yup---there's an app for that
Apps come in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and usefulness---and that is certainly true for apps designed to do just about everything for the boater.  We recently contacted a small cross-section of dealers, installers, journalists, bloggers and boaters of all types and asked them which marine apps they particularly enjoyed or thought stood out from the crowd. Here's what they said.
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AIS---a useful tool for everyone
By now most boaters have at least a basic understanding of Automatic Identification System--AIS--equipment, and that's good because it's technology that can save your cookies, and a whole lot more. If you spend any time in waters where commercial traffic is part of the scene, you ought to have AIS on board.
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Marine Electronics Award Winners--Part 2

 

New products and constantly evolving technology are at the top of most boaters’ lists of must-have equipment every year. Last week we looked at a dozen or so marine electronics devices that took top honors in 2014 in various competitions sponsored by boating magazines and marine organizations. Here's a bunch more:

 

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Marine Electronics Award Winners--Part 1

New products and constantly evolving technology are at the top of most boaters’ lists of must-have equipment every year. This week and next we'll look at the lineup of marine electronics that took top honors in 2014 in various competitions sponsored by boating magazines and marine organizations. 

  

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Marine antennas 101: How to get top performance
Hearing interference on your VHF or having problems with onboard WiFi? The problem could be antenna placement or maybe bad cabling or connectors. Here's several tips that might help clear the air.
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CHIRP 101: What's all the buzz about?

Anyone who has been shopping for a fishfinder in the past few years has heard a lot about CHIRP technology. Stand at any of the booths representing sounder manufacturers and you’re bound to hear conversations that go something like this: "Wow, they're a lot more expensive than the other fishfinders—are they worth it?"


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Getting the most out of your fishfinder--part 2
Like computers and portable devices of all sorts, fishfinders pack more power and ability than most of us realize or harness. In order to get a better understanding of a fishfinder's potential, we're asking a handful of experts how they get the most of their sounders.
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Getting the most out of your fishfinder
Like computers and portable devices of all sorts, fishfinders pack more power and ability than most of us realize or harness. In order to get a better understanding of a fishfinder's potential, we're asking a handful of experts how they get the most of their sounders.
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Three tips to maximize your electrical system
Helping to make sure the electrical system on board your boat operates at peak efficiency doesn't have to be rocket science. Shortening cable runs between equipment, using properly sized wire and knowing not to use wire nuts are a good start.
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Lithium-ion batteries: Both benefits & risks
Lithium-ion batteries offer several attractive advantages but they also present risks---witness a handful of recent fires aboard commercial airplanes. Nonetheless, the smart money is on some type of Li-ion batteries eventually working their way into the business end of boats. Here's a look at the benefits and potential risks.
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Mobile phones: useful at sea but beware their limitations
An explosion of marine apps is turning boaters' smartphones and tablets into a range of useful onboard tools---but you need to be aware of their purpose and limitations. 
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Do I need to use marine wire?
So, you've decided to add that new fixed-mount VHF or depth sounder or maybe rewire devices that were installed badly by others over the years. There's several spools of automotive wire on the shelf in the shop---that'll work ok, right? Wrong!
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Retrofitting an autopilot, Part 2
If you buy a new mid-sized or larger power boat, it either comes equipped with an autopilot or you can have one installed. But if yours doesn't or you want to install a pilot on board an older boat, here's some good advice.
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Retrofitting an autopilot, Part 1
If you buy a new mid-sized or larger power boat, it either comes equipped with an autopilot or you can have one installed. But if yours doesn't or you want to install a pilot on board an older boat, here's some good advice.
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Bluetooth, AIS & satellite weather--A few things worth having aboard
For most of us, it's easy to come up with another piece of gear to add to the list of essentials for the boat. Here's a trio of devices worth considering.
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EPIRBS--Cheap Insurance
EPIRBs---Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons---are some of the cheapest insurance you can have at sea. Here's a quick look at the best.
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Ramping up safety & security
Safety is a topic that a lot of boaters like to avoid, especially if it's equipment that is installed on board. Security systems are way down the list as well. That's too bad because having the right stuff aboard can make all the difference if an emergency or break-in occurs. Here's a glimpse at equipment that will do the job.
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Tuning up your night vision
Cruising into an unfamiliar harbor or anchorage after dark can be a dicey prospect, even if your radar is up and running. Thermal imaging technology can brighten things up considerably and give your confidence a welcome boost. Here's a quick look at the best systems on the market.
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Remote Connectivity at Sea: Satellite TV and VSAT
For many blue water cruisers being able to pull in TV programming and send/receive voice, data and video signals far offshore are baseline essentials. Satellite TV and VSAT--Very Small Aperture Terminal--technology is coming on strong to meet boaters' demands for 24/7 connectivity.
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Considering an AIS? Here's a look at the best.

AIS--Automatic Identification Systems--are a relative newcomer to marine electronics, but in a very short time they've proved their usefulness for enhancing situational awareness and safety aboard both commercial and recreational vessels. Read on to learn which AIS devices are at the top of the lineup.

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VHF and Cellular Antennas: Manufacturers' "picks"
Most electronics dealers will tell you---if you're on a tight budget, buy the best antenna you can afford rather than going for a top-of-the-line radio and a mediocre antenna. Here's what manufacturers say are their Best & Brightest.
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Personal Survival Devices: The Best & Brightest
Safety and survival gear is a tough sell. No one wants to think about their boat sinking or of falling overboard or discovering that a crewman is missing. The right survival equipment can make all the difference. Here's what several manufacturers said were their Best & Brightest personal survival devices.
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Searching for the right radar? Take a gander at these
Like just about every electronic device on boats, radars have benefitted from rapidly advancing technology and a host of new functions. Read on to see which radars nine manufacturers say are their best and brightest.
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Looking for an autopilot? Here's the best of the best.
Modern autopilots are a far cry from the mechanical beasts--affectionately called Iron Mikes--that helped steer commercial fishing boats 75 or so years ago. They're even leaps ahead of pilots that were manufactured several years back. Here's a lineup of autopilots that manufacturers say are their best and brightest.
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Looking for the right multi-function display? Take a look at these.
Cleaner, less cluttered dashboards owe a debit of gratitude to MFDs---multi-function displays. A single MFD linked to a variety of 'black box' modules can display just about anything you'd like to monitor, from navigation and fishfinding data to engine functions. We asked manufacturers to tell us which MFD in their product line is the best.
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Looking for the right fishfinder? Here are the picks of the litter.
For many of us fishing is what boats are all about---and having the right fishfinder can make the difference between an ok day and a great day. We asked manufacturers to tell us which fishfinder in their product line is the best.
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Looking for the right handheld VHF? Here are the picks of the litter
Handheld VHF transceivers have become essential tools for boaters. We asked manufacturers to tell us which handheld in their product line is the best.
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If you're looking to buy a VHF---here are the picks of the litter
That old standby---the VHF transceiver---has come a long way quickly with terrific new functions like DSC, GPS and even AIS. We asked manufacturers to tell us which fixed-mount VHF in their product line is the best.
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No wing nuts on batteries!
Often it's the simple things that can cause problems in electrical installations—like those wing nuts that are quick and easy to use for attaching battery cables. Better to use hex nuts and lock washers—here's why.
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About that new radio . . .
VHF radios do a lot more these days than provide voice communication, but there are a few important details that users have to deal with.
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How to select the right inverter
Like most of us you may be tempted to buy the less expensive inverter even though it may not have the horsepower to do everything you ask of the device. Choosing the right one depends a lot on how you intend to use it.
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Part 2: EMI/RFI causes & cures
It's a great day for a sail or cruise—except there's static and other weird noises coming from the VHF and you're getting crazy readings on the fishfinder—or maybe the autopilot has pooched. Your electronics be suffering from EMI—electromagnetic interference. Here's a look at possible culprits—and what to do about them.
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When things go haywire: EMI/RFI causes & cures
It's a great day for a sail or cruise—except there's static and other weird noises coming from the VHF and you're getting crazy readings on the fishfinder—or maybe the autopilot has pooched. Your electronics be suffering from EMI—electromagnetic interference.
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What is NMEA 2000, anyway?
Most boaters are probably familiar with the term NMEA 2000, but don't really know what it is or what the benefits are. Read on for a basic introduction to the marine electronics standard that is a game changer.
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Touchscreen vs Buttons: Which is better?
Boaters have a choice with many modern marine electronics: touchscreen or button operated. Both are good and offer different advantages. Which way to go depends a lot on how you use the devices and on personal preference.
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Building Checklists: Beware what may lurk under those protective covers
As you pull the winter wraps off your boat and get it ready for another season, it pays to look closely at all of the equipment that you can—even components that appear to be protected from the elements. It's a good idea to develop a checklist of things to keep an eye on.
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The Challenge of the e-Enabled Boat
More and more boaters want the convenience of using their devices at sea whether they're close to the coast or far offshore. If you already have a good onboard Internet connection--consider yourself "e-Enabled." For those who don't, read on.
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Inverter vs Generator: the ultimate grudge match
If you're confused about the difference between a generator and an inverter, you're not alone. What's the difference and which one is right for my boat?
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Will my new electronics affect my compass?
You're planning to add a new electronics device but you've heard it may cause your compass to go haywire. What to do?
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An autopilot for cable steering on Merc sterndrives
If you have a Merc sterndrive and are thinking about installing an autopilot, here's a few tips and some advice on what not to do.
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De-winterizing your electronics
Here are some tips for making sure your electronics will work properly when it's time to take your boat out from under winter wraps.
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Bargain hunting can be disastrous
An EPIRB is only as good as its battery. When it comes time to replace it, make sure you don't go on the cheap and find out too late that the bargain battery you bought falls short.
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Getting Grounded the Right Way
Properly grounding your electronics can make all the difference between equipment that works as advertised vs not at all. Doing it right might also prevent an onboard fire.
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How Not to Get Wired
Your electronics are only as good as their installation, which includes proper wiring. Here's a quick look at how not to run wires into a terminal box.
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Remote monitoring and control---just like magic
Remotely monitoring and controlling functions onboard your boat is not only possible these days---it makes good sense. The payback is enhanced safety, convenience and peace of mind.
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MAN OVERBOARD! AIS to the rescue
Personal AIS signaling devices called SARTs—Search and Rescue Transponders—can make all the difference for anyone who falls overboard.
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Getting a better handle on fuel consumption
Now that installing a simple NMEA 2000 tank level converter is giving more accurate readings of fuel in the tank, the next step is getting a better idea of how much fuel you're burning.
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Reducing Distress Call Options
What do you do when you call the Coast Guard and there’s nobody there?  That has been the situation since Aug. 1 for voice calls made on 2182 kHz, and DSC (Digital Selective Calling) calls on 2187.5 kHz.
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Harnessing the power of N2K
I recently installed a multi-station electronics system on a flybridge boat. This installation required a NMEA 2000—N2K for short—backbone from the thru-hull transducers to the back of the flybridge by way of the portside engine room, the generator room and both helms. An N2K backbone is essentially a conductive cable that connects a variety of electronic devices into a network by way of shorter cable “drops” or “nodes.”
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Winterizing electronics
Most boats in cold climates hibernate during winter. Here are some tips for preparing the onboard electronics to make sure your next boating season gets off to a smooth start.
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Upgrade me, please!
You may not have to spend tons of money buying new electronics. These days many manufacturers provide affordable software upgrades that add to the functionality and value of your existing devices.
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The 'Connected' Boat
For most of us, "normal" these days is to be connected to the Internet at all times--via smart phones, tablets or some other electronic wizardry. Not too long ago when we left the dock we disconnected—for the most part anyway.  Now that's changing as marine electronics manufacturers turn out products that put us back in the loop.
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Look mom, no hands!
They're formally called "autonomous watercraft" but basically the vessels are robotic boats—sailbots. Meet a high school class that helped push the technology envelope.
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Why your electronics may act quirky


In my experience the number one fault impacting the performance or quirkiness of marine electronic equipment is directly related to the voltage being supplied to the equipment in question. This cuts two ways—both too high and too low voltage can have an impact on equipment performance. 


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Choosing the right GPS
If you've never bought a GPS for a boat before the choice can be a bit daunting---lots of makes and models. Here's some plain sense advice on how to narrow down the choices.
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Botox for my boat
My smarter half is right—I don’t need a brand new boat right now or the payments that would accompany it. The boat I have is well maintained and, best of all, it’s paid for. What I do need is to feed my appetite for information and technology that my smartphone, tablet and car have all conditioned me to crave. So how can I get all this vital information on my own still-young boat without discarding it for a new one? 
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What's all the fuss about AIS?

AIS—Automatic Identification System—is instrumental in collision avoidance because it can see around corners and beyond the radar line of sight. It’s the small-boat owners that are most at risk from the larger, faster moving vessels. Just knowing where the big ships are heading, and how quickly, is incredibly helpful—and letting them know where you are is also a very good idea! AIS can make your day trip much less stressful, especially if you are in busy waters.

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Get Amped Up!

A great day on the water can go bad quickly. One minute everything is perfect—it’s sunny, breezy and the waves are just right—then your navigation electronics start blinking on and off, the stereo doesn’t “rock out” like it used to and the autopilot won’t hold a straight course without resetting itself.

Or maybe it’s early evening, you’re heading in and the nav lights don’t look as bright as they should, or they’re not coming on at all—and you still have another hour or two of motoring in the dark to deal with.

Most of the time the problem is that there simply weren’t enough amps available in the batteries at the time to get the job done. While there are many possibilities, the top culprits tend to be older batteries or corroded cables, connections or switches, and even the lack of proper power management in some cases.

Some boat owners simply take for granted the kind, size or conditions of the batteries they have on board. Even experienced boaters don’t always have their batteries tested each season or before a major trip, as long as most systems appear to be operational. What’s more, many smaller craft don’t have adequate charging systems to maintain batteries properly for the work they perform. This ultimately causes the batteries to begin to fail with less than the specified amps left in the core—sooner rather than later.

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Cleaning out the dreaded rat's nest
Lots of really cool and useful electronic and electrical accessories are available—and unfortunately in many cases boat owners haven’t removed old wiring before installing new equipment. Wiring is often “repurposed” and left unlabeled, unfused—and “un-understandable.”

Here in the Great Lakes people rig all kinds of equipment to their boats. In the 1980s, when I first started working on boats, most owners had only a VHF and a compass on board. Rigging them was easy then and life was simple. 

Since then a lot of really cool and useful electronic and electrical accessories have become available—and unfortunately in many cases boat owners haven’t removed the old wiring before installing the new equipment. Wiring is often “repurposed” and left unlabeled, unfused—and “un-understandable.” The resulting rats’ nests of old wiring are often located at the batteries and the helms.

Let’s say you need to install a new device on a vessel that you know has substandard wiring.  In fresh water this is an endemic problem.
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