New Electronics at Hand

Mining the Miami Boat Show, /SW/'s Tony Bessinger comes away with the latest electronic gems. From "Tech News" from our May 2008 issue

SPOT and Garmin 368

Like electronics? If so, make a date for the annual Miami International Boat Show in February, where all the major, and many of the smaller, electronics manufacturers gather to introduce the latest in marine gizmos. We spent a fascinating two days in the show's vast electronics hall and found more than a few products for your racing or cruising program.

Standard Horizon introduced its line of floating radios last year, and has improved upon the unsinkable VHF in various ways. Its basic floater is the HX750S, which can transmit at an impressive six watts, uses a Lithium-Ion battery with an 11-hour life, and has programmable channel names, scan, dual-channel watch, and is ergonomically designed for easy one-hand operation. The HX750S floats face up and, when it hits the water, a strobe light mounted on its face starts blinking SOS. Once recovered, the 750S even tells you the water temperature. Also in the lineup is the HX760S, which has all the features of the 750S, but includes a wireless headset, which communicates via Bluetooth 2, a wireless radio frequency. You clip the radio to your belt, attach the headset to your ear, and have the capability to use Push To Talk or Voice Operated Transmit. Standard's third floater is the HX 850S, which in addition to being encased in rubber armor, has a built-in GPS receiver. From $149. www.standardhorizon.com

****| |HX7505 Standard Horizon floating radio.| One of the coolest products introduced this year was the SPOT Satellite Messenger. Touted as a safety/location-reporting device, SPOT uses position data obtained from the American GPS satellite network to report its position to the Globalstar satellite network. Using both of these networks, and four buttons on the SPOT unit, it has the ability to do several things of importance for those who spend time near or offshore.

The basic service is the "I'm OK" message, which, when pressed, sends a message to whomever you've designated as a recipient. It reports your position and relays whatever message you've preconfigured on the SPOT website. The recipient can then follow a link to Google Earth, which will show your exact position.

If you hold down the "OK/Check" button for five seconds, it initiates the SPOTcasting tracking service (provided you've signed up for it) and reports your position every 10 minutes for a 24-hour period. These tracked points show up on SPOT's website and on Google Maps.

The "Help" button sends a pre-configured help message every five minutes for one hour, or until you cancel the alert. This will provide your contacts with your location.

If you need professional rescue services, the "911" button will send your position to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center every five minutes until cancelled. The Emergency Response Center notifies the appropriate emergency responders and your emergency contacts.

The SPOT is by no means a replacement for an EPIRB or GPS Personal Locater Beacon, but it is a viable way of letting family and friends know you're OK.

Yearly service fees are $99.99 for the 911, Help, and Check-in features, and an additional $49.99 a year for the tracking service. The SPOT is about the size of a handheld GPS, weighs in at 7.37 ounces, and retails for $169.99. www.findmespot.com

Garmin's latest handheld GPS, the Colorado 400C is a sophisticated, easy-to-use handheld that signifies a couple of big improvements by Garmin. The most obvious difference between the Colorado and other Garmin units is an iPod-style wheel at the top of the device, which, with two buttons, controls all features. It's the easiest GPS I've ever used, and has a large, bright-especially in full sunlight-screen. It's preloaded with a chart database of United States coastal waters, and a USB cable computer interface, which is far better than the awkward serial-port converter on older Garmin handhelds. $699, www.garmin.com

For sailors, a broken shroud isn't just inconvenient; it can be downright catastrophic. Carrying spare shrouds on board is one solution, but they can be large, awkward, heavy, and if you're under way, the repair can be complex and time consuming. Colligo Marine has introduced a neat solution with its Synthetic Systems Emergency Shroud Kit, an easy-to-use temporary replacement for broken shrouds or stays up to 50 feet long up to quarter-inch wire. The kit stores in a small, waterproof, resealable plastic bag and contains enough low-stretch 7-mm Dynex Dux UHMWPE line (15,000-pound breaking strength) to quickly make a 50-foot shroud or stay with the enclosed splicing instructions. One terminator is pre-spliced while the other included terminator can be spliced to the length needed. Line terminators enable each end to be lashed on with the enclosed 20 feet of synthetic lashing line, or pinned to hardware if possible. Chafe guard is included for spreader ends. $349, www.colligomarine.com

Industry News

The latest updates for Jeppesen Marine's Nobeltec Visual Navigation Suite and Admiral software have left some users unhappy, as one of the "upgrades" involved removing the capability of either program to read the U.S. government's free NOAA S-57 ENC charts. Some users feel this modification has to do with Jeppesen now owning C-Map, and that Jeppesen wants users to pay for charting rather than receive it free. According to Nobeltec reps, however, the decision was based upon the fact that they could never be sure of the exact source and reliability, and that there could be some rendering issues with the S-57 ENC charts. It's a valid point, especially from a liability standpoint. While the ENC charts are an easy download from the NOAA site, some users may download the charts from other sources, or from friends, and receive older, non-updated versions.

To alleviate the pain of losing a large chart catalog, Nobeltec is working with present customers who have lost their ENC libraries by replacing them with Nobeltec's Passport charts, which are being phased out as the C-Map charts take over, but are still viable. www.nobeltec.com

-Tony Bessinger