I always wanted a thermal imager on my 22-footer, so I asked a captain of a 95-foot sport-fishing boat what kind of fixed-mount thermal imager he recommends for cruising at night. “One with a stabilizer,” he said. “The image of a nonstabilized unit bounces around too much.”
“The smaller the boat, the more it bounces, so unless you want to buck up for a stabilized unit, you’re better off with a handheld,” he added.
That led me to FLIR’s new Ocean Scout 320 handheld model, which features a 320-by-240 high-resolution LCD display for outstanding clarity, even in total darkness, with the ability to detect the heat signature of a human target at 600 yards and a small boat at a mile away.
The handheld FLIR Ocean Scout 320 can also serve as a fixed-mount thermal imager, thanks to a camera-mount receiver and a live-video output cable (included), which you can connect to a multifunction display (MFD) from marine electronics makers Furuno, Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine or Simrad.
I used a RAM mounting system with rail- and camera-base adapters ($36.45, rammount.com) to install the 320 at about eye level beside the helm and then plugged the mini-USB/video adapter cable into the unit and added a 3-foot RCA male-to-male cable ($1.60, smarthome.com) to reach the helm. I also needed a video adapter cable ($49.99, store.navico.com) to plug into a Lowrance HDS-12 Gen2 Touch MFD.
Once it was set up, I selected the video window in the menu to view the thermal image on screen. Very cool feature, especially for a small boat. With a landscape format, it looks great using a full-screen view.
There are two caveats: It works best in calm seas, because the image has a seasickness-inducing bounce in rough water, and the 320 performs an auto-shutdown every five minutes to save battery power but gives you a 30-second on-screen warning. Touch the “on” button to deactivate shutdown.