BRIGHT SPARKS - Low-Fi in a Wi-Fi world

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Traditional maritime and consumer electronics manufacturers vie for our hard-earned dollars. KEVIN GREEN eyes the latest trends.

BRIGHT SPARKS - Low-Fi in a Wi-Fi world
BRIGHT SPARKS — Low-Fi in a Wi-Fi world

Traditional maritime and consumer electronics manufacturers vie for our hard-earned dollars. KEVIN GREEN eyes the latest trends

Wireless is one area of marine technology that continues to move at pace. With increasing integration of Wi-Fi 802.11x and Bluetooth, major benefits have evolved including the wireless connection of multifunction devices to repeaters above deck, be they in dedicated instruments, tablets or smartphones. Other technologies that have become more mainstream include AIS, NMEA 2000 protocols and digital (FMCW) radar sets, the latter emitting much less radiation than their magnetron powered predecessors.

Integration of less proprietary systems is another growing trend, with Apple championing the cause.

"Apple should begin making marine instruments. It would most likely put all others to shame," commented one cheeky blogger. But just as with the fiefdom of Apple and its walled world, the marine industry continues in a similar vein.

"Some sailors in the last World ARC fleet chose to switch their AIS transponders off while in piracy regions lest the increasing high-tech heavies spot them"

For example, both Raymarine and Simrad support NMEA 2000 but use proprietary plugs requiring adapters to connect to standard NMEA 2000 cabling. Regardless, NMEA 2000 is very much the go for those of us installing new smarts and the protocol has improved out of sight when compared to the 30-year-old NMEA 0183, which used single pairs of wires to receive only one input from its five output channels. NMEA 2000 supports 50 outputs and inputs simultaneously.

In Europe it’s boat-show time and the world’s largest event, Dusseldorf, is always worth a look. Yet again this show saw the launch of mountains of new gear despite the stormy economic conditions. Major player Raymarine continued its rollout of the new ‘e’ multifunction display range with the launch of the e95 and e125 to join the compact e7 that we saw at the Sydney show last winter.

Raymarine continues its rollout of e multifunction display range. It's rumoured that button-only versions are on the horizon.

e function

Wireless connectivity and expanded networking are the two themes Raymarine are promoting, while continuing with the combination of button and touch controls dubbed HybridTouch. However, rumours abound about dedicated button-only screens, which may sound like steaming against the tide but in niche markets, such as fishing where slimy hands poking at screens are not ideal, may be driving this return to the traditional.

AIS has been very much in the news recently with the wrecking of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia. The owners, the authorities and the captain have differing views the events leading up to the incident. However, thanks to AIS, used by insurer Lloyds, the track of the ill-fated ship showing it heading dangerously close to shore can be seen, as was a similar track for the same voyage last year. Some sailors might worry about this Orwellian scenario of big brother watching you, but the tracking of potentially dangerous commercial shipping by the various port authorities — much like an airport control tower — certainly has its merits.

AIS tracking in action; showing the Italian liner Costa Concordia’s two approaches near the coast that eventually wrecked her.

Costa Concordia's near miss and fatal approach - captured with AIS tracking

Not surprisingly some sailors in the last World ARC fleet chose to switch their AIS transponders off while in piracy regions lest the increasing high-tech heavies spot them. In the annual ARC, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, Yachting World’s latest survey showed that AIS was used by at least 137 of the 230 entrants with the majority of 87 using transponders (Class A or B), rather than just receivers. Most skippers reported having the units switched on continuously.

Some things don’t change though, such as the continuing high cost of satellite phone usage, as was shown in the ARC. Dominant supplier Iridium received some withering remarks: "After 10 years of using Iridium there are no improvements; it’s as slow as in 2001," complained one Jeanneau crewman.

One sailor who doesn’t have satellite issues is Laura Dekker because she didn’t use one during her newly finished circumnavigation. The 16-year-old Dutch/New Zealand national had what looks like a very low-fi technology approach aboard the Jeanneau Gín Fizz, a tired 33-year-old ketch she leisurely sailed through Panama on her way to Darwin as part of the 518-day trip.

"I don't have internet access aboard Guppy, Sailmail only, and I don't want to keep bothering my father with putting my texts on my page," she blogged.

Laura Dekker didn't have internet access aboard Guppy
her recent world-record breaking trip.

Laura dekker aboard Guppy without iinternet access

Also excluded from her refit were large radar domes and other satellite gear but despite this she managed to sail 27,000nm leapfrogging Jessica Watson to become the youngest circumnavigator ever. Nicely low-fi I’d say.


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