Marine Electronics - Holiday Bytes

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Gadgets for messing around in boats

Marine Electronics - Holiday Bytes
Marine Electronics - Holiday Bytes

As Ratty from Wind in the Willows famously said "there is nothing — absolutely nothing, half so worth doing as — simply messing around in boats", and with summer holidays approaching most of us are planning a few coastal cruises or perhaps charter trips farther afield. I’m particularly looking forward to showing my English niece around our glorious Sydney Harbour on the yacht and then giving my kids a workout on the paddles during some kayak camping.

All this planning of course is a great excuse for us blokes to talk gadgets and it’s by no means restricted to just us. "Dad, I really need the new iPad Mini for Christmas, and remember it’s my birthday then as well," urges daughter. Mmm… thinks dad, what’s wrong with the iPad 3 only recently bought for the family? Daughter does have a point though — along with the three million who’ve bought it since its launch last month — as the new 7in iPad is a nimble tablet that fits in the hand (53 per cent lighter and 23 per cent thinner than its 10in big brother) yet has all the benefits including screen resolution of the iPad2. The entry model sells for $379 but well above the sharp pricing of the $199 Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD.

Capturing the moment has also never been easier and the Olympus Tough range remains my favourite rugged camera, with the latest version now offering full HD video. The Olympus Tough TG-1 ($320) can be taken down to 12m and is reputedly much faster than its predecessor. But even more impressive are the new features — an electronic compass, a manometer and inbuilt GPS; however the latter has been accused of reducing the legendary battery life.

For hardcore video footage from the foredeck or other rugged spots the latest GoPro Hero3 would be very welcome in my Christmas stocking — I hope the wife reads this — as it now comes with a remote wireless control, so no more mast climbing for yours truly to operate it!

Another item for the electronic grab bag is a handheld GPS — something that solo yachtsman Glenn Ey should have packed for emergency use after his 11m yacht Streaker was rolled by a rogue wave and dismasted off the NSW South Coast in October. The 44-year-old sailor’s GPS failed, causing him to lose position so badly that he thought he was near the coast when actually 520km east of Sydney. Handheld GPS such as the entry-level Garmin GPS 72H sell for only $189 and offer 18 hours battery life.

Using a handheld for waypoint plotting and chart reading requires a bigger screen and the versatile Garmin Montana 650T justifies its high price of $799 by having multiple uses — I take it on the kayak, the motorbike and on the boat as it has good charting capabilities. The downside of course is battery life compared with a smaller-screened unit.

Returning to Glenn Ey’s dismasting, he also made the near fatal mistake of not registering his EPIRB (a GME MT400 with inbuilt GPS) with AMSA. For the emergency bag and your pocket a personal locator beacon — which should also be registered — is a wise choice. I noticed that BIA Boating are selling the ACR ResQLink for $399 and that’s well worth the money.

Staying in touch isn’t cheap but satellite phone plans are becoming more bearable and the Iridium Extreme that we used onboard the other month in the Gulf of Carpentaria does the business. The Iridium Extreme ($1500), also known as Iridium 9575, offers global satellite coverage in a toughened handset. Despite not being immersible the unit is water resistant to IP65 and has data speeds of 2.4kbps when used with Onsatmail, making it useful for email and GRIB weather maps.

Another handy device is the new Yachtphone. It floats, is shockproof and can be left in the grab bag for eight months under charge, while offering 200 hours of standby time. A hand-crank option is also available so that you can use your phone even if your battery is dead and it also has an FM radio in it. Certainly worth the $99 for the starter pack that includes talk time — as long as you have GSM coverage of course.

Top photo and below: Messing about on the water is what summer boating is all about; just bring a few gadgets to ensure it goes smoothly.

The iconic GoPro is available now with wireless and is smaller — $468 from Johnny Appleseed.

The iPad Mini screen is 7.9in, which is big enough to run charting software while easily fitting into your hand.

The latest Olympus Tough camera now has inbuilt GPS.

Remember to register your PLB.

The large touchscreen allows easy waypoint plotting and the Garmin Montana 650T is preloaded with topography maps, good for all kinds of summer adventures.

Iridium’s Extreme 9575 sat phone sells for $1500 and sends data at 2.4kbps along with preformatted messages. For more info, phone AST on 1300 660 084 or visit

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 434, Dec-Jan 2013. From Bright Sparks column by Kevin Green. Photos by Kevin Green; Apple; Ast; Garmin; Gopro; Olympus.


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