BRIGHT SPARKS - Wireless is more
Declutter and go wireless with today’s latest remote technology
Some compelling reasons for considering wireless marine products include portability, remote control, and even safety by avoiding dangerous deck work and electronic tagging your crewmembers, for instance. For shorthanded sailors such things can liberate you from tasks such as clambering around the anchor windlass, adjusting the autopilot and continually referring to the chartplotter nestled down below. And when considering a refit scenario, new cabling running through endless bulkheads can be avoided.
Popular potential wireless areas on the boat nowadays include navigation, instrumentation, mooring, general equipment controls, entertainment, communication and, most importantly, safety.
Wireless products operate without the need for any hard cable links and use specific radio frequencies that have been standardised by authorities (to avoid interference and ensure quality of signal). Currently, they are fixed as IEEE 802.11 with variations of a, b, g, n.
Just as our televisions receive terrestrial analogue signals (which will change to digital in the near future) so do modern digital wireless products like our mobile phones and laptop computers. Laptops, smart phones and a growing variety of marine products support localised wireless protocols, commonly referred to as WiFi that emanate from a wireless router, often connected to copper landlines. Onboard marine versions of this established land-based setup are available, so that just like in your house the wireless hub will support remote devices around the boat.
A variation of WiFi is Bluetooth. It is a mainstream standard nowadays, invented by Ericsson, which can be described as a lower power WiFi. Commonly used as a means of using hands-free mobile phone earpieces this principal can be applied onboard between any Bluetooth compatible devices. Combine this with marine standard communications protocols — NMEA 0183 and the latest NMEA 2000 — and you have the possibility of connecting a variety of gear and then repeating the information to handheld devices, such as the new iPad.
Installing a black box to interface all these connections is best done by employing an electronic multiplexer box (such as Mr Marine’s MiniPlex-BT, costing $570). As well as NMEA 0183 compliant the MiniPlex-BT also translates Raymarine’s SeaTalk signals, so opens a host of navigation options.
Wireless instrumentation has been popularised in yachts by manufacturer Tacktick (available from www.coursemaster.com) with its line of solar-powered wireless readouts. These include speed and wind instruments, and they have some major advantages over cabled gear, such as ease of installation, especially when considering an anemometer on the mast top. For smaller craft, including kayaks, wireless products such as Speedwatch (available from www.aquatronics.com.au, price $299.99) are ideal.
Communications is a major area for development and traditional VHF handsets are also changing to utilise wireless with units such as the newly launched Cobra HH475 VHF (available from www.cobramarine.com.au, cost $435) able to use Bluetooth, allowing it to remotely link to, say, your mobile phone. This rugged 6W receiver also floats and means that your expensive smartphone can be left down below, safe and dry, while you receive telephone calls on the deck.
Elsewhere in telephone communications, the coastal sailor can remain in mobile contact by using a marine-grade hub, such as the new Ericsson W35 that gives a boosted signal as well as operating as a wireless hub. With average reception reach, dependant on mobile carrier, of around 80nm offshore it could be a more cost effective alternative to a wireless USB key or satellite phone (available from www.powertec.com.au, price $1046.10).
Anchoring is another area to benefit from wireless, especially for the shorthanded sailor who at the flick of a button can operate the pick and predetermine rode length needed by the use of products such as Maxwell’s wireless remote (available from www.keoghsmarine.com.au, cost $875.00).
Finally, safety at sea is much enhanced, especially with small children on board by using wireless tags on crew that send off an alarm should anyone stray over the side. Products such as Mobilarm Crewsafe Tag (available from www.mobilarm.com, from $349) and Raymarine’s Life Tag (available from www.aquatronics.com.au, $963 for complete system) should give peace of mind when you cast off.
Photos: Wireless anchor controls and systems are available from many manufacturers including Maxwell; The marinised Ericsson W35 boosts the cellular signal allowing longer range mobile connectivity; Ensure crew safety with wireless Life Tags from Raymarine; This Steber powerboat is using a Tacktick’s wind transmitter mounted on the mast of the flybridge roof; Cobra’s new HH475 VHF comes with Bluetooth allowing mobile phone connectivity; The Speedwatch has a wireless transducer and is suitable for very small craft.
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