MARINE ELECTRONICS - Onboard with Lowrance

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It has been an interesting month — errant fluxgate compasses, water testing new electronics and hearing some interesting news snippets

MARINE ELECTRONICS - Onboard with Lowrance
<B>MARINE ELECTRONICS</b> - Onboard with Lowrance

The news of Garmin gobbling specialist sailing instrument maker Nexus Marine is yet another signal that the big US brand is becoming ever more serious in growing its boating market share. Some analysts have said the tough automotive market conditions, a major niche for Garmin, has pushed it to focus more on marine.

"Garmin has a lot of credibility in the broader marine market, and Nexus is a premier brand among sailors," said Richard Macalister, CEO of Nexus Marine AB. "Combining the two makes perfect sense — for our companies and our customers."

Undoubtedly its large R&D budget should produce new products so expect some announcements during the upcoming Northern Hemisphere boat-show season and of course, the massive Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS), but more on that next month.

Lowrance is another brand aggressively pushing product, as I found out last month when I spent some time on the water with its chief operating office and product manager, John Scott, during the launch of the HDS Gen2 Touch MFDs. Primarily aimed at the fishing market, but also used by cruising sailors, the new 7, 9 and 12in models come with inbuilt Broadband Sonar and StructureScan plus a fascinating new chart creation capability; so fishos can map their favourite reefs.

This new Insight Genesis feature allows you to record the seabed image to an SD card, with the data processed by Lowrance into a customised chart. Only downside is its lack of tide information, but nevertheless an attractive feature.

Out on the water the sensitive touchscreen felt responsive to my fingers and the sharp image (showing even the stanchions of a wrecked yacht) was impressive.

"We’ve learned a lot from the clean user interface Apple has used on its products, including its 100 millisecond button-response time," acknowledged Scott.

The new range can also be controlled by iPad and Android devices using the Go Free Wireless module (RRP $299). I notice Aquatronics are already discounting the 7in HDS Gen2 for $1299.

As an occasional fishing kayaker I also look forward to January’s launch of the Lowrance Elite 7, which would suite my Open Ocean Scupper Pro kayak nicely thanks to its transducer-scupper fitting and again a sharp screen display in a rugged compact unit. Expect to pay about $1099 for this stretched version of the Elite 4/5, which will come with broadband and down-scan sonar.

Elsewhere there’s Digital Yacht’s new wireless hub iNavhub (RRP $599), which not only connects all your smartphones to the internet but also includes NMEA support allowing GPS, AIS and other data to be streamed wirelessly (using UDP format). Plugging it into the company’s WL510 long-range Wi-Fi adaptor gives a 4nm wireless range so ideal for marinas and coastal.

Our reliance on electronic compasses is total, but they aren’t infallible. I’ve been on raceboats that have placed them too deep in the bilge, becoming submerged when heeled. And more recently I experienced yet another scenario.

Motoring out of the marina, we gazed with anticipation at the horizon filled with islands lying under a cloudless blue Whitsundays sky then clicked the Raymarine Autopilot into Auto as we readied the new Seawind 1250 catamaran for sea.

Our excitement soon ended as we realised the autopilot was drifting off course. Several attempts at resetting it didn’t work and the horrible realisation that we’d have to return to the marina was dawning on us all. Numerous heated calls to shore for local technical support brought no joy so we began a rampage through the boat to check the wiring and fluxgate compass.

Drawers and bulkhead covers were removed to no avail until eventually I spotted the small black box, the size of a teacup hidden in a most ridiculous spot beside the binnacle, surrounded by ferrous metal of every kind: audio speaker, the iron steering column and of course, the computer controller unit.

With screwdriver, gaffa tape and a few curses we removed the compass to another bulkhead before trying for the second time to rectify it. As per the manual, we then went into a series of slow circles to recalibrate the system and after about quarter of an hour, a loud beep signalled our success. Cups of tea were dished out all-round as we toasted our success.

Generate your own charts with the user-friendly touchscreen Lowrance HDS Gen2.

Handy charting icons include the compass rose, while the four-button exterior gives the HDS Gen2 simple controls.

The Elite 4 (above) and 5 will be joined by the new Lowrance Elite 7 in January, with through-scupper transducer ideal for sit-on-top kayaks.

Digital Yacht’s wireless hub combined with its WL510 booster unit can give a 4nm wireless range.

Two views of the Lowrance HDS7 screen: in chart and navigation mode (above), and main menu screen (below).

From Bright Sparks column, Trade-a-Boat Issue 433, Nov-Dec 2012. Column by Kevin Green. Photos: Kevin Green; Digital Yacht.


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