BRIGHT SPARKS 422 - Pump up the Jam

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  • Trade-A-Boat

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KEVIN GREEN unearths some nifty handheld, sound and video devices for the new on-water world…

BRIGHT SPARKS 422 - Pump up the Jam
BRIGHT SPARKS 422 - Pump up the Jam

Grabbing some handy gear for that charter or just to take as backup has never been easier, with manufacturers clambering to pamper us with longer battery life, brighter screens and more megapixels, so here is my summer selection.

Casting off with every sailor’s useful friend, a handheld GPS, is a wise move so check out Garmin’s latest unit, the Montana 650t. This unit just landed on my desk so I’m in the process of putting it through its paces on sea and land, because it’s a true multifunction unit. It has a mini SD card for Garmin marine BlueCharts, while also having inbuilt detailed topographical maps of Australia and New Zealand.

The font panel is one large touchscreen, quite like a smartphone, and initial impressions are that it’s more user-friendly than some of the brand’s dedicated marine handhelds, such as the GPSMAP 78s. Important specs include 4000 waypoints, 200 routes and even a 5MP camera. It can also be tilted in both planes, so can fit various chart views and comes with an optional marine cradle, making it handy for smaller vessels and even kayaks. Price-wise I’ve seen it for as low as about $650 on the internet for the base 600 model.

Another handy piece of kit for the holiday grab bag is a pair of UHF radios. These have many uses both on the water and when the shore party heads off in the dinghy. I’ve been using a pair of GME TX6100s for the last few months (visit and they’ve proven to be very good — with long battery life and the 5W transmitter even penetrating bushland outcrops when kayaking.

For close-range communications the transmitter can be switched to one watt to increase the available talk time and they support 80 channels. A waterproof pouch is advisable as they are only splash rated. Cheapest internet price I noticed was $269.

Recording your trips has never been easier thanks to the ever popular GoPro ($399) HD video camera, which I’ve deployed up masts, on the foredeck and on other awkward spots. But thanks to the upcoming release of a wireless version I, hopefully, won’t have to clamber back up the mast to switch it on and off, ever again.

The waterproof GoPro delivers HD video for about 2½ or five hours if the optional battery pack is fitted and comes with attachments specifically for bulkheads and a suction cap for smooth surfaces. The new wireless version ships in February (for more, go to

Major competition for the GoPro comes from the new Contour camera that I had a brief look at during a recent trade show. The five-inch, tube-shaped Contour may be harder to locate in awkward places but is a versatile HD recorder and camera, and even has an optional underwater case. The lens has a 170-degree viewing angle, comes with various installation fixings and a whopping 32GB SD card. Very good value for only $299 (log on, I’d say.

If you are looking for a sturdy marine camera, the Olympus Tough is a great unit. I’ve been testing the 14MP Olympus Tough 8010 (RRP $369, see for the last six months and undoubtedly it can take great images — I even used one to shoot a magazine cover shot. But my bugbear is the menus, I found they require more fiddling than the equivalent Canon Powershot D10. There’s nothing worse than missing that special shot, so check both brands out at your local camera shop before deciding.

One item in most peoples’ pockets nowadays is the ubiquitous smartphone, and the newest iPhone, the 4S, has continued Apple’s reach into our marine world.

The latest company to supply an app is Digital Yacht, which also recently won a DAME award for its innovation. Its new iOnBoard app allows iPhone users to wirelessly connect to their WLN10 NMEA to wireless server, BOATraNet and iAIS system (log on iOnBoard works as a wireless repeater for use with instruments or GPS systems and is a cheaper option than a dedicated display.

Another useful smartphone accessory and one that I’ve enjoyed using are these new mini amps that pump out an amazing volume, especially if located on resonating surfaces. About the size and weight of a small camera lens the SSASS (RRP $100 from output varies according to the surface it on sits on, with metal tanks ideal.

The WA-based company has tried a few experiments with the SSASS — "Wow, you should have heard it when we put it on a grain silo!" said the distributor. It’s ideal for sticking in your kitbag and has both USB and mini USB inputs, so copes with most smartphone connections. Powered by a lithium battery, the SSASS recharges via the USB and cranks out my favourite Jimmy Buffet tracks as if the old crooner was below decks.


1. The Garmin Montana GPS (L); GME TX6100 UHF (R)
2. The GoPro
is expected to come with wireless as
of this month
3. The new
Contour HD video camera has a 170-degree veiwing angle and an optional underwater case
4. My Olympus Tough 8010 has
plenty of offshore miles and a less-than-friendly menu system is the only bugbear
5. Digital Yacht's latest iPhone app is the iOnBoard, it turns your
smartphone into a wireless repeater
6. Plug the
SSASS into your smartphone and crank up the volume at your favourite anchorage

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 422, Dec-Jan, 2012. Photos: Digital Yacht; Jimmy Buffet.


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