BRIGHT SPARKS 405 - Smart Mobility

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Touchscreen electronics are all the go on helm dashes these days, but smart-phones are now vying for a place next to the skipper as well

BRIGHT SPARKS 405 - Smart Mobility
BRIGHT SPARKS 405 - Smart Mobility

This year’s Sydney International Boat Show (SIBS) had a lot of product on offer for the 73,000 visitors, both on the pontoons, where Australian-made boats jostled to be noticed among the armada of imported rivals, and in the six halls, where all available stand space was in use.

New-product releases were understandably down, perhaps with global manufacturers holding releases back until the major METS show (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) in November, but on the pontoons a buoyant mood was apparent by the number of new models among the 200 boats on display, with Bavaria, Jeanneau, Hanse, and Beneteau showing 55ft-plus models.

Australian-built boats included the Seawind 1250 and an interesting deck saloon monohull from Melbourne’s OC Yachts, the OC50DS, which sported Raymarine’s latest touchscreens at the twin helms and the repeater station in the stylish saloon. The premise that technology should make our lives easier is a fair one and touchscreens are arguably yet another step along this path.

Touchscreen advancements are being propelled by the general mobile-device market with land-based technology edging more and more into marine applications. Of course, companies such as Garmin have been using touchscreens for years and their latest multifunction display on show in Sydney, the GPS map 750s, looked impressive and user friendly.

Detractors of touchscreens have in the past cited the flakiness of displays, the difficulty of daylight viewing and general robustness, but nowadays this maturing technology has largely met these criticisms. And with a sluggish new-boat market owners have to upgrade onboard systems rather than simply trading up to a new vessel, so decisions have to be made and there’s a myriad of choice in marine electronics like never before.

The latest version of the ubiquitous Apple iPhone has just hit the market and marine applications such as Navionics charts are now big sellers because of this device.

The new iPads can run the same software but on a bigger, even more user-friendly touchscreen for potentially very useful plotters. However, one wave over the transom could douse this type of navigation gear so I asked the Apple Store in Sydney for advice on this problem. Salesman Ben told me that the company didn’t market any waterproof covers yet and warned against aftermarket products that could cause chemicals to seep into the shiny new iPad’s sensitive screen.

A quick scout on the internet, though, has shown several waterproof covers for sale with zip-lock bags available from and more a stylish case from Major players and also have an established range of iPhone waterproof cases.

The iPhone’s dominance in the smart-phone navigation market may be challenged by Android-based smart phones with Navionics releasing its popular charts for this family of mobiles.
These devices include the HTC brand that Telstra is popularising in the Australian market. A demonstration of the latest HTC phone showed it to be significantly faster than the equivalent iPhone but user-friendliness still lagged and Apple’s streamlined marketing approach of selling all applications via its Apple Store also makes life less ‘geeky’ for average users.

The popularity of smart phones at sea has prompted Marine Rescue NSW to issue some important advice on their use where land-based applications are used for position fixing. The reason being that some of these devices only give out a digital GPS reading used in land-based maps, rather than standard latitude and longitude. Establishing the correct latitude-longitude from the digital figure involves retaining the pre-decimal figure and multiplying the decimal digits by 60. For more information and a quick calculator, refer to

Elsewhere in the chartplotter world, the SIBS saw the introduction of Korean marine electronics brand Samyung to Australia. Queensland distributor, Ocean Solutions, anticipate the 5.6in displays and user-friendly software, based on Navman menus, should win market share. The latest models are suitable for both general boating and fishing, said Ocean Solutions director Brian May.

Screens dedicated to AIS information is another emerging trend with several manufacturers at SIBS displaying new models, including ICOM’s MA 500TR. When released later in the year it will allow a target vessel to be automatically called up via its dedicated link to a VHF radio — very handy for emergency situations where a potential collision may be avoided by a quick call to the bridge of that oncoming ship.

Photos: Touch and go... the Seawind 1250 flagship is among the new class of bigger and ever-more luxurious cruising yachts and cats sporting the latest touchscreen navigational devices; The Samyung NF 560 sells for $1299 and the top-of-the-range NF700 retails at $1899 - both include external antennas; Screens dedicated to AIS information allow the skipper uncluttered view targets; Garmin's many years of touchscreen know-how was on display at SIBS.


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