New MarineNav PC Fits into Real People’s Boats

Not many of us have room for a big tower PC or rack computer system aboard our boats; and even those who do most likely wish they could use the storage space for something else. Take heart, fellow boater. MarineNav, of Canada, has finally done what many electronics companies could have done for recreational boaters long ago but didn’t: they have produced a completely marinized PC in a form factor equal to an AM/FM radio. They are now producing these units in a range of configurations suitable for every boater and budget. Even the smallest of the units, the “Explorer,” is a fully functional PC, with a 1.2 GHz CPU, a 60 GB hard drive and a full complement of USB and COM ports. The high-end “Columbus” unit sports a 2.0 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM and up to 1.5 TB (yes, TERABYTES) of hard drive space. The whole range of PCs will run on 6-24v DC power and incoporates all shock-mounted components in a package that does not require additional external cooling.

The company founder is Kevan Merson, a Scottish design engineer and entrepreneur from Aberdeen. Merson wanted a PC on his own boat, but didn’t like either the space requirements of more conventional PCs or the fact that most were not truly marinized; only “ruggedized.” What Merson was looking for was a “bullet-proof” PC that would stand up to the rigors of North Sea sailing, so he decided to build it himself and formed MarineNav (www.marinenav.ca), based in both Aberdeen and Prince Edward Island, Canada, to get them into production and distribution.

I talked with MarineNav’s district sales manager, Jean Guy Leclerc, and sales agent Norm Richard at the Newport Boat Show, where the company had several units on display. Leclerc said MarineNav has spent the last two and a half years engineering the PCs and preparing for production, which began last Spring. The sales and distribution effort is just now getting underway, with a list of dealers offering the PCs on the MarineNav website. According to Leclerc, MarineNav is also currently in discussions with several different boat-builders to offer the PCs as original equipment on new boats.

The MarineNav PC line comes in four basic packages. The Explorer, Nautilus and Nautilus Extreme all measure 7.0″W x 2.5″H x 10.0″L. The top-of-the-line Columbus is 7″ x 3″ x 12.5″, principally to handle its larger storage and dedicated video card. The basic electrical requirement is 12v DC, drawing approximately 1.1 amps, although the units handle anything from 6v to 24v. This means they are virtually immune to minor power fluctuations, such as those that typically occur at engine start.

According to Leclerc, another unique feature of the MarineNav units is that they were designed from the outset to handle the full range of PC capabilities, not just navigation. They come outfitted with typical office productivity software and are built to handle entertainment as well. In fact, the operating system is the Microsoft Windows Media Center. The units will handle satellite communications and email chores and can serve as a telephone host as well. All the units can drive multiple display screens.

MarineNav delivers these PCs with their own fully marinized LCD screens. In fact, buyers can opt for a special transitional reflective surface on the displays that turns them into high-grade mirrors when powered off. To-date, the screens are for pilothouse or other semi-protected environments. Fully waterproof screens will be available in early 2008, according to MarineNav. All the screens are available with handsome wood frames that can be finished to match nearly any existing helm station woodwork.

Given the miniature form factor, the hardiness and performance capabilities, any boater — from the captain of a small center console fishing boat, or 20-foot daysailer, to the skipper of a 60-foot trawler — now has the option to choose PC-based navigation, with all its flexibility and comprehensive capabilities.

Copyright © 2007 Thomas M. Tripp

Posted by Tom in People, Technology