1. Radar/Chart Plotter Overlay
Most GPS/chart plotters with radar have the ability to superimpose their radar picture right on top of the navigation chart. This gives you a living real-time picture of nearby boating traffic and other objects that appear around you. All you need to do is connect an electronic compass or heading sensor with a suitable output rate (from $600) to a plotter. In fact, in most cases the compass signal from the autopilot will do the job just fine without additional cost.
2. Chart Plotter Navigation Enhancement Tools
C-Map’s PC-Planner ($180, jeppesen.com/lightmarine) lets users of its Max and NT+ chart cards duplicate chart viewing and trip planning on their home computers. You can plan routes and fishing trips and transfer your valuable waypoint collection to a home PC as backup insurance. Navionics (navionics.com) has a downloadable app that can provide you with much the same features.
3. Free HDTV
Just because you may not have a multi-thousand-dollar satellite HDTV antenna doesn’t mean you can’t have spectacular onboard TV reception. For around $200 or so you can have a compact, 14- to 21-inch-diameter, flat, saucerlike antenna (Shakespeare, shakespeare-marine.com; Glomex, imtra.com) that can pull in a plentiful supply of HDTV programming from local TV stations. No, you are not going to receive HBO, ESPN, the news networks or other cable/satellite TV programming. But you will get a surprising amount of local and national sports, entertainment, news and more in high definition.
4. Wi-Fi and Cellular Range Boosters
Marine Wi-Fi and cell phone range extenders are available to keep you connected to cyberspace when your boat has ventured beyond normal range. Prices on signal amplifiers specifically designed for boating start as low as $50. Check out products by Digital Antenna, digitalantenna.com; PDQ Connect, pdqconnect.com; and Wave WiFi, wavewifi.com.
5. Radio Tester
A VHF tester like the Shakespeare ART-3 ($145, shakespeare-marine.com) is a mini version of the equipment used by professional marine electronics technicians to test a radio and antenna. It can be conveniently connected to the antenna cable to let you know if your VHF is in top operating condition every time you depress the transmit button. It provides an instant radio check by indicating transmitted power out, modulation condition and reception quality. It also provides early warning of possible or pending failure.
6. Battery Monitoring System
This is not just a voltmeter for a battery but also an electronic “dipstick” that monitors almost every facet of the battery system and warns of any brewing problems. Among the valuable information provided is battery system voltage current being used, amount of energy used and amp-hours remaining, as well as high- and low-voltage alarms and more. Check out the Newmar DCE monitor ($300, newmarpower.com) or the Xantrex LinkPro ($300, xantrex.com).