If I have to pick the marine electronics trend of 2012, it’s got to be the integration of familiar dedicated boat devices with the wonders of mobile consumer electronics. Unless you boat to truly get away from it all (not that there’s anything wrong with that) you probably already know that phones and pads that can run apps and connect wirelessly to the Internet are even more valuable afloat than on land. I hardly need mention the hundreds of usually inexpensive charting, weather and other marine programs that are putting smiles on boaters everywhere. But the new trend that’s really sizzling, though it’s confusing, is what’s possible when those mobile app capabilities marry the modern multifunction display and other formerly unconnected marine devices.
Raymarine’s new e7 MFD is a good place to start (raymarine.com). It can connect in traditional wired ways with all sorts of Raymarine radars, black-box fish finders and so forth, plus a wide variety of sensors and even engines using standard NMEA protocols. But the 7-inch display also contains bidirectional Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless radios. Right out of the box, an e7 can stream its screen to a free iPad app called RayView, and it can also synchronize routes and tracks with the Apple and Android charting apps offered for download by Navionics (navionics.com) starting at $9.99.
But that’s just the beginning because Raymarine is committed to making the Wi-Fi iPad connection two-way, which will mean that a touch pad can serve as a second station to a touch-screen e7, and the mobile-to-MFD connection enables all sorts of other possibilities, like synchronizing chart and fishing/cruising information updates. The e7’s Bluetooth can be used to control tracks on many types of digital music players that might be plugged into a stereo mounted below, and it’s also used with Ray’s new RCU-3 wheel-mounted or lanyard-hung remote control, which you can use to manage tunes or basic chart-plotter commands.
Meanwhile, the CPN 7- and 10-inch multifunction displays announced by Standard Horizon (standardhorizon.com) last year also include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and, when finally launched, will have some features like the e7, including a synchronized relationship to Jeppesen’s Plan2Nav iPad and iPhone apps (jeppesen.com), which are free with charts extra. The CPN’s bright, waterproof screen can also stream video media stored on a memory stick or streamed from a shore Wi-Fi access point, or even browse the Web or manage e-mail.
A good place to see what’s possible with the digital media so many of us carry in our pockets these days is the latest generation of Fusion marine stereos (fusionelectronics.com). The new MS-IP700 and MS-AV700 head units can not only distribute up to four zones of iTunes content, video included, and MP3 tunes around a boat, but they also offer three alternative forms of control. One is a full-featured NRX200 remote that installs easily using a boat’s existing NMEA 2000 network and can even show other data flowing on that cable, like boat speed or depth, on its 2.7-inch screen. The 700 Series head units also have an Ethernet port that can be used in two ways. When cabled to a boat’s Wi-Fi router, any apps phone or pad becomes a remote and is able to select tunes or manage the AM, FM or VHF receivers (Sirius optional). But Fusion is also offering a software license to MFD manufacturers so that we may also see full 700 Series controls on screens by Garmin, Raymarine, etc. Altogether then, there’s the integration of mobile media with marine electronics in many forms.
Actually, Aquatic AV’s new AQ-DM-4B Digital Media Locker illustrates yet another way that an iPod or MP3 player can find a safe and useful home on board (aquaticav.com). It’s simply a waterproof box with 4 x 72 watts of amplification and an FM tuner built in, and you control it with up to 10 two-way radio-frequency remotes that can even display iTunes song titles. There’s also a trigger switch so you can turn on, say, your cockpit lights from up to 50 feet away.