BRIGHT SPARKS 417 - Wireless Onboard?

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Plug-and-play wireless connections in the home are taken for granted nowadays, so it begs the questions: how much of this technology will migrate onboard?

BRIGHT SPARKS 417 - Wireless Onboard?
BRIGHT SPARKS 417 — Wireless Onboard?

We are predicting a lot of answers regarding wireless technology’s migration to boating will come from Raymarine. Maturing wireless technology standards combined with Raymarine’s recent acquisition of the specialist wireless company, Tacktick, will make for some great synergies.

Following the Flir buyout, the rejuvenated Raymarine may well incorporate Tacktick wireless technologies into its range of plotters and deck instruments. It then begs the question: how far can you go with wireless instrumentation onboard?

In an ideal world you could link-up radar, autopilot (like competitor Simrad does with its remotes) and many other key instruments. Marine connectivity is currently based on the old NMEA 0183 and newer NMEA 2000 standards, but most of the manufacturers use variations of these standards (often they say to add functionality, not change the standards), although connectivity between different brands can be a challenge.

The answer may lie in gear already onboard some yachts — the humble wireless router that uses standardised wireless protocols (IEEE 802.x) initiated way back in 1985 and now globally used in electronic devices.

Tacktick has to use different frequencies according to its geographic location but of course any IEEE 802.x would not suffer from this limitation and would take away proprietary communications from the major nautical hardware manufacturers. Time will tell, so watch this space.

Meanwhile, it’s worth pointing out Tackick’s recently launched Coach Boat Pack, which like its general boat packs, allows quick installation of instruments that are solar powered.

The Tacktick Coach Boat Pack comprises a wind transmitter, GPS antenna, Compass Transducer, Hull Transmitter and a handheld Tacktick Remote Display. The system is portable and can be calibrated, so enables race coaches to have accurate true wind speed and direction data in the palms of their hands, while keeping an eye on students.

Another useful wireless gadget recently launched is the Spot Messenger Connect, which is a development of the widely used Spot GPS alert product.

Spot allows users, who have an annual subscription, to send 41-character messages or predefined 120-character messages through the GPS network. The new Spot Messenger Connect uses a Bluetooth wireless link allowing iPhones and some other smartphones to send short emails, texts and even connect to social networking sites (Twitter and Facebook) while out of range of mobile phone towers.

For the iPhone, you simply download the app from the Apple Store, switch Bluetooth on at the phone and you’re connected. It’s not a replacement for an EPIRB but a useful emergency device (thanks to its SOS button that broadcasts your position) for localised boaters and adventure sports folk.

Another handy tool for adventurous types is the Magellan eXplorist series of handheld GPSs that launched last year but has now been boosted by Navionics charts. Comprising the 510, 610 and 710 models these are touchscreen handhelds. I’ve tested the 610 and it’s an excellent device.

The eXplorist is compatible with Navionics Gold marine charts, HotMaps Premium lake maps, and Fish’N Chip bathymetric fishing maps that come on MicroSD cards or internet download for selected areas in Europe, Middle East, South Africa and Australia.

With the addition of Navionics the eXplorist is good all-round adventure GPS for land and ideal for my adventure kayaking. The main reason for choosing the eXplorist is to use the detailed mapping because it’s preloaded with Geoscience Australia’s Nat Map 1:250,000 raster map. In addition, optional SD cards are available to add more detailed Topo Maps (DiscoverAus Topo). It can superimpose these detailed maps over the street level base map.

The 610 model is a compact unit with its 3in screen allowing it to fit neatly into the palm of an average hand and the waterproof case is sturdy with a useful lanyard hole. It’s touchscreen also has two hard keys (that are programmable) on the unit’s side and the four corners of the rectangular screen have soft keys, which reveal layers of functionality — way beyond what an average sailor might need.

Waypoint input can be via the touchscreen Add Waypoint option or via a computer interface. Another quick way for waypoint creation is in Pan Mode; done by sliding a finger across the screen to pinpoint your destination.


1). Will simple plug-and-play wireless connectivity ever run all onboard instruments?

2). Tackticks’ wireless devices have now been bought by Raymarine.

3). Navionics has recently announced charting for Magellan’s eXplorist range, which are useful on land and sea.

4, 5). Spot device (left) fits into the palm of the hand. Spot Connect Messenger (right) links to the iPhone via Bluetooth, allowing GPS messaging (photo 5).


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