Tech Wonders at FLIBS 2011

The gear and equipment at this year's show will get any boater excited to be on the water.

While boats and motors get oohs and ahhs, gear and equipment gets boaters worked-up and jawing with equal enthusiasm. That's especially true here on opening day at the 2011 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. What products are creating the biggest buzz?

Navigation applications, or "apps" for using smartphones and tablet computers are all the rage. I spent appreciable time with the folks at Jeppesen today, and downloaded their Plan2Nav app onto my i-thing. Plan2Nav is the first and only chartplotting app for C-Map by Jeppesen cartography and I'm calling it a winner after only using it for 10 hours and aboard two different boats just today.

It boasts all the features of a full-fledged charplotter, including heading, distance, time, speed and waypoint functionality. Additionally, I found it easy to overlay weather forecasts and Google maps right atop the charts. And you can buy any charts you need instantly just by touching a button built into the app.

The Plan2Nav app is free and comes with a base chart; detailed charts are available at nominal charge; for instance the US East Coast from Maine to Florida plus the Bahamas is $29.99. Its a great planning tool as well and you can save your routes and waypoints to your computer. Look for a complete review of Plan2Nav later this year, after we've taken it to sea for full-blown trials.

We were also impressed enough with ACR's new ResQLink, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to elbow our way through the crowd clamoring for a glimpse at ACR's booth (If you were there and are the very large guy whose foot I stepped on, let me apologize now!) This safety beacon is the world's smallest 406-mHz device: at less than 4-inches tall and under 2-inches wide, it's very unobtrusive clipped to belt or PFD. But that small size doesn't diminish features. It comes with a strobe light and a battery certified for a minimum 24-hour run time. "Street" pricing for the ACR ResQLink was under $300 dollars at several show retailers, so if you're here, consider grabbing one. At that price, we think there's little reason for any boater not to have the safety provided by a 406 mHz safety beacon.

Another product that had boaters crowding for a peek comes from Pettit paint. It isn't glamorous, doesn't use satellites, and it's not even electronic. But it's truly high-tech.

Pettit Hydrocoat SR is the world's first water-based ablative bottom paint. What that means is that there is no solvent smell while applying the paint and clean-up can also be performed with simple soap and water. And of course it's better for the environment than solvent-based paints.

Hydrocoat SR uses Composite Copper Technology along with an organic algaecide to afford excellent protection against both hard and soft fouling. And because it's ablative, your boat's bottom doesn't suffer from layer upon layer of built up coats, which rob performance.

Hit the pavillions at FLIBS 2011 to see all the latest equipment--or check out_ Boating_, boatingmag.com, and our Facebook page. We're constantly testing, reviewing--and sometimes giving away--the newest and coolest boating gear.