BRIGHT SPARKS 414 - Electronic docking

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Simple-to-operate joystick-steering systems are revolutionising how we go boating, and sailboats are the latest to adopt the new technology.

BRIGHT SPARKS 414 - Electronic docking
BRIGHT SPARKS 414 - Electronic docking
Boat handling in close quarters gives most of us a bit of stress at the best of times, so it’s not surprising that development aimed at this area has continued apace, just like in the world of motoring. Also, as yachts are becoming larger, controlling them is an increasing challenge in many areas — both physically and in the systems required to operate them.

Thrusters in sailing yachts have become common but the development of azimuthing systems, or pod drives as they’re more commonly known, are spreading to sailboats from the motorboat world with companies such as ZF in Italy developing systems for recreational craft. Builders including Hanse, Jeanneau, and Beneteau have been working on these pod systems, with Hanse’s Smart Docking System arriving with the advent of the 2011 Hanse 495, while Beneteau’s system is already here.

Beneteau’s version, developed in conjunction with Yanmar and ZF, simplifies manoeuvring with a joystick control. Using this new Dock & Go system on an Oceanis 50 recently, took me a mere 10 minutes to master (despite the words of imagined scorn echoing in my head from my old Yachtmaster examiner telling me I was cheating!).

HOW IT WORKS
Operation is simple — you push the joystick in your desired direction of travel and the boat slides that way. For more power simply twist the joystick and away you go. As you can imagine there’s a lot of clever electronics below decks that allows this all to happen.

Up front, the traditional bowthruster (a Max Power on the Oceanis) is doing its usual job, with separate battery and electronic controls, but the big innovation is the 360-degree rotating saildrive at the stern.

Designed for a minimum 75hp engine (Yanmar), the rotating saildrive is electronically synchronised with the thruster when in docking mode, which automatically blocks the helm when engaged. The saildrive is rotated by an electric motor and can be turned in half a second. Connecting all this up is ZF’s Smart Control System that uses the industry standard NMEA2000 connectivity protocol, which is part of the motorcar industry’s CAN-bus (Controller Area Network) technology, patented
by Bosch.

On the water, the quiet operation of this system is uncanny and the reaction to the joystick prods nearly instantaneous. Reversing is done by rotating the saildrive 180°, which means that folding propellers will work efficiently, as they’re facing the way they mostly operate in. ZF has also developed an iAnchor control that integrates with GPS to hold a vessel in an exact position, again with a mere button press.

SIMRAD TOUCH AND GO
Elsewhere in the electronics world, Bright Sparks will be sea-testing Simrad’s new multifunction display, the NSS Sport next month.

Joining competitor Raymarine in the hybrid-touch arena, the Sport series is available in three display sizes — NSS7 (16.3cm), NSS8 (21.3cm) and NSS12 (30.5cm) that work in conjunction with keypads and a rotating knob — the latter is handy for zooming in on the Navionics charts that come with this new range.

Anglers will be particularly interested in the NSS7 and NSS8 models with echo-sounders. All units have integrated GPS. Interesting features that I’m keen to try out include custom screens, which allow you to drag and drop functions onto a tailor-made screen. Also, I understand that the touch system allows a heavy prod for access to sub-menus. This is a good way of giving users a simple high-level menu system and hiding all the extras well out of the way.

The Simrad NSS Sport series will be available in Australia from mid-2011. Recommended retail prices start at $2099 for the NSS7, $3299 for the NSS8 and rounds out at $3999 for the NSS12.

Finally, it’s boat-show season again so I’m looking forward to bumping into everyone at Sanctuary Cove (May 19 to 21) and reporting on new electronic gear launches. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Photos: Practising with the Dock & Go system took a mere 10 minutes to master; Joystick control can be rotated for increased power; the Beneteau Dock & Go system uses a 75hp Yanmar connected to a modified SD-50 saildrive; the Simrad NSS Sport MFD series has touchscreen, keypad and rotary-knob controls.

 


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