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Space-Saving Helm Electronics

Six ways you can squeeze more electronics into limited helm space.

September 26, 2012
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Boaters face the common need to accommodate more and more useful electronics in less and less available helm space. To eliminate this problem, here are some proven tips.

1. VHF Radios
Your radio must always be at least within arm’s reach. If helm-top or flush-mount space is out, choose a set that has a full-function remote microphone option. The radio can then be placed out of the way, and the fist-size remote mike can be hung at a convenient spot on a bulkhead. Standard Horizon created two space-economy radios by building two sets in one case. The GX1700 ($229) sports both a VHF and a GPS in the same case. Its GX2150 ($399) adds an AIS receiver.

2. Mounting
There are several aftermarket products that create room for electronics where little is available. National Products (rammount.com) manufactures a line of RAM swivel brackets and swing-out arms that require a footprint of only a few square inches. NavPod (oceanequipment.com), Seaview (seaviewglobal.com) and Edson International (edsonmarine.com) each produce an array of mounting pods and overhead enclosures that can multiply your mounting space.

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3. All-in-One Displays
Multifunction navigation displays that bundle a number of devices and added functions into one unit are the most practical solution for saving helm real estate. Displays with screen sizes typically from 5 inches, like the Lowrance HDS-5, to 15.5 inches, as with the Garmin GPSMap 7215, make extra elbow­room by combining the GPS, chart plotter, fish finder, radar, AIS, video cameras and even satellite radio and live satellite weather imaging into one unit. Input connectors provide you with the option of attaching additional devices.

4. Custom-Fit Displays
Several electronics manufacturers offer “black box” multifunction devices without a display, such as Furuno’s MFDBB. This allows flexibility for selecting a suitable-size monitor for the helm space available. Suitable 12-volt, daylight-viewable monitor displays are available from a number of specialized suppliers including ComNav Marine (comnavmarine.com), Green Marine (greenmarinemonitors​.com), KEP Marine (kepmarine.com), Nauticomp Inc. (nauticomp.com), VEI (vei-systems.com) and others.

5. Virtual Reality
Interfacing your electronics allows information from one instrument to be shared with other equipment. Many fish finders can also display position and waypoint information remotely when connected to a GPS/chart plotter. Multifunction digital displays like the Furuno RD33, Raymarine i70 and Simrad IS20 can all display a wide range of analog, digital and graphical data on compact 4-inch screens. Newer NMEA (National Marine Electronics Association) 2000 interface standards can tie into the engines of a growing number of manufacturers and graphically depict a variety of simulated engine gauges right on the nav screen, sparing vital dash space.

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6. Autopilots
The Si-Tex SP-70 autopilot saves helm space because it places the entire control and display unit in the palm of your hand. This umbilically connected hand remote can be hung to the side when not in use. The Raymarine S1000 autopilot does the same thing wirelessly. Its remote controller can even be worn around the neck.

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