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KEP Marine Vessel Monitoring System Scalable for Any Size Boat

KEP Marine Vessel Monitoring System Scalable for Any Size Boat

Editor’s Note — As the marine world finally catches up to the rest of modern life, electronics are controlling more and more of the systems on our boats.  Although some old salts will claim otherwise, this is a good thing.  It means our engines run more reliably, efficiently and pollute a great deal less.  It also means we have more precise control of our major systems — everything from batteries, to air conditioners, tank monitors and safety and entertainment systems.  The next big step in marine modernization is monitoring — getting all those electrons to give us a complete picture of what’s happening on our boats, and giving us the opportunity to interact with and control those systems — all from the helm (or wherever else we want, as we’ll see later in this article).  There are a relatively small, but growing number of companies developing monitoring and control systems for our increasingly electronic boats.  One in particular, KEP Marine, is offering a family of products that scale nearly perfectly all the way from a center-console fishing boat to a superyacht hundreds of meters in length.  Here’s a look at what they’re offering and why I think it’s worth consideration by anyone considering a new boat or a major refit.

KEP Marine Company Logo

KEP Marine Company Logo

KEP Marine’s Intelligent Vessel Monitoring System (IVMS) can give captains of everything from small fishing boats to superyachts precise monitoring and control of nearly every system on their boats. And it does so using an open-standards system that easily handles whatever proprietary data system a particular component manufacturer may be using, so you don’t have to worry about establishing a single data bus format on your boat.  Today’s boat captains have high-definition, flat-screen, multi-function displays to help them navigate, investigate and explore. Now they can have the same kind of inward-looking vision and awareness of what’s going on inside their boats.  Ultimately, this means far fewer nasty failures and surprises and a safer boating experience.

An Open Standards System

The KEP Marine IVMS was developed using open standards, which means that standard Ethernet protocols are used.  The company has developed its system to operate with nearly any information protocol from the individual devices aboard your boat, whether NMEA 2000, CAN bus, MOD bus or company-proprietary.

KEP Marine Intelligent Vessel Management System (IVMS)

KEP Marine Intelligent Vessel Management System (IVMS)

This might be one of the most significant features of the KEP Marine IVMS, since the ongoing lack of device and network standardization in the marine industry can frustrate even the most dedicated efforts of builder, captains and installers to get major and minor systems onboard to talk nicely to each other.  Fortunately, the KEP Marine staff have worked closely with all the major systems and engine-makers and understand how to link these systems into the IVMS.  This is where years of experience in not only the marine industry, but the industrial monitoring and control business pay dividends.

WAGO Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) typically used in a KEP Marine IVMS. The PLC serves as a robust central processor for all the data in most IVMS and IVMS Pro installations. An IVMS Ultimate system might also use a dedicated PC to handle multiple display options. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

WAGO Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) typically used in a KEP Marine IVMS. The PLC serves as a robust central processor for all the data in most IVMS and IVMS Pro installations. An IVMS Ultimate system might also use a dedicated PC to handle multiple display options. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

The system uses a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) from WAGO, a type of digital computer used to monitor and control mechanical, electrical and electronic equipment.  It differs from a general purpose computer in that it is capable of many simultaneous inputs and outputs and is normally designed to withstand the environmental rigors of an industrial (or marine, in this case) environment.

Three Basic Levels Lead to Infinite Scalability

The KEP Marine IVMS is offered in three basic configurations — the IVMS, IVMS Pro, and IVMS Unlimited.  The standard IVMS package is designed specifically for recreational vessels under 50 feet in length.  It allows the captain to monitor and mange the most critical information onboard using a dedicated sunlight-readable 7″ touchscreen display.  Here’s a list of some of the typical monitoring and control functions for such a boat:

  • Battery levels
  • Shore power
  • Smoke and CO detection
  • Tank Levels, including fuel, freshwater and blackwater
  • Voltages
  • Bilge
  • Exhaust

 

Example of a typical engine-related gauges information display from the KEP Marine IVMS System. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

Example of a typical engine-related gauges information display from the KEP Marine IVMS System. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

The simplest installation might be for a center-console fishing boat, where the IVMS is monitoring all the basic systems, but might also be controlling the aeration of the baitwell when water temperature or species change. A boat owner might spend around $5,000 for a system like this, which will earn back its investment the first time you head offshore in a big tournament and discover a dying engine battery before you get stranded in the Gulf Stream. The standard package includes the 7″ display, control panel, terminal block kit and a choice of 16 monitoring selections. The graphics on the display are user-configurable.

The IVMS Pro series includes all the features of the base system but expands the “human interface” software element to support additional monitoring stations, remote viewing, full engine monitoring and switching of electrical circuits.  A typical IVMS Pro installation will include one sunlight-readable panel for an outdoor station — say a flybridge — and one standard panel for an indoor station, likely the pilothouse helm. This is the kind of system you would expect to find on an offshore cruising yacht or sailboat, with more and more-complex systems to both monitor and control.

An example of an iPad displaying detailed engine information, as might be used with an IVMS Pro installation from KEP Marine. A remote, wireless display like this can give the off-watch captain some peace of mind while she is off the bridge. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

An example of an iPad displaying detailed engine information, as might be used with an IVMS Pro installation from KEP Marine. A remote, wireless display like this can give the off-watch captain some peace of mind while she is off the bridge. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

Imagine a Nordhavn or Kadey-Krogen trawler offshore with engines, generators, watermakers, extensive fuel and water management systems, hydraulic systems like stabilizers, and an extensive HVAC system with several zones.  All are easily handled with a single PLC in an IVMS Pro installation.  The owner of such a yacht might spend $50,000 to $70,000 for a system like this, once the components, installation and software development is totaled. My feeling is that level of expense is likely to be well-leveraged when insurance premiums and unscheduled repair costs are figured into total operating and ownership costs.

I have to admit that, for a recreational yacht, this level of display, from a KEP Marine IVMS Unlimited superyacht installation, would be nice on my idea of an ocean-capable trawler of the Excelsior-class starship "Enterprise." Seriously, it illustrates a conning display with the types of information important to the navigator, helmsman and captain. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

I have to admit that, for a recreational yacht, this level of display, from a KEP Marine IVMS Unlimited superyacht installation, would be nice on my idea of an ocean-capable trawler of the Excelsior-class starship “Enterprise.” Seriously, it illustrates a conning display with the types of information important to the navigator, helmsman and captain. Image courtesy of KEP Marine.

When you get into the superyacht and ship category, you will see IVMS Unlimited series systems using a PC to drive more extensive and customizable displays of all the systems.  The addition of the PC — called an “Operator Work Station” in the IVMS system, is a type-approved computer with a solid-state hard drive and Windows Embedded OS.  The Unlimited series still use the WAGO PLC for connecting and controlling sensors and actuators.  With the Unlimited series, display and control panels can be installed throughout the vessel — picture crew’s mess and cabins, engine room and other key locations.  Unlimited systems might require an investment of $150,000 or more, depending on the size and scope of the installation.  While that might seem like a lot of money, it’s quite normal in the superyacht industry to allocate those kinds of resources to safety, monitoring and control systems, many of which are required by the classification societies that govern shipbuilding at that level.

Bottom Line

Consider a system like the KEP Marine IVMS, either at the basic or PRO level if you are going to have a new boat or yacht built,  And if you are buying an older vessel and planning a major refit, particularly one where electrical and plumbing runs will be completely replaced, you’ll be in a good position to incorporate the IVMS in the refit.  The process will involve working with a local dealer and installer but you will undoubtedly work with the KEP Marine staff directly as well, since they do all the programming of the PLCs in-house.  They have programmed controllers for nearly every type and brand of system on today’s yachts, so your system is unlikely to pose any difficulty.  The PLCs they typically use in most installations are programmable via SD memory card, which makes modifying and updating the program (and backing it up) extremely simple.

Copyright © 2014 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Boat Systems, Electrical Systems, Electronics, Maintenance & DIY, Marine Electronics, Technology

Outfitting the Nordhavn 55 with Computers – Part 2

John Marshall's Nordhavn 55 Serendipity - Photo Credit: CJ Walker

This is Part 2 of our new series on outfitting the Nordhavn 55 with computers instead of, or in addition to dedicated marine electronics such as chartplotters.  In the first installment we covered the boat itself, along with some comments about the boat from an actual owner, John Marshall.  In this article, John gives us his thoughts on the subject of computers aboard. John has some definite opinions, but they’re grounded in hard experience and are worth listening to.  Particularly note John’s views on keeping his computers isolated from potential outside infections and instability-causing “updates.”

Q&A with N55 Serendipity owner John Marshall

1.    Do you use any PCs or Macs onboard Serendipity?

We have five computers on Serendipity, with four in active use and one as backup.

2.    What are their roles?

-Two Macbooks, my wife’s and mine, are for personal use, email, web browsing, etc. We mostly use cellular data cards for internet connection as its more reliable than Wifi (and we have one of those Syrens bridges and internal AP).

– Primary Navigation: One desktop-style PC (120v) with Win/XP is dedicated to running Nobeltec.

– Backup Navigation: One notebook PC with Win/XP is my “hot backup” Nav system (also with Nobeltec). It can be plugged into the main instruments and GPS via a USB cable, but also has its own hockey-puck GPS. This is also my satellite communication PC (Inmarsat Fleet 55 running MPDS and Ocens email) as the OS needs to be stripped down to avoid to much background traffic. (*More on that later).

– One backup desktop PC that runs on 24v that’s configured with Nobeltec and can be used to replace the Primary Nav computer if it dies. This computer is stored, disconnected, in a metal case down below waterline.

3.    How did you select them?

PCs were selected given that’s what Nobeltec and my comm software ran on. So basically, the application software drove the selection.

Macs because we love the OS and Apps… we’re Mac people who suffer Windows because we have to. Unfortunately, none of the Mac-based navigation software is up the Nobeltec standard, at least IMHO.

 4.    Would you be comfortable with a computer-based nav system as your primary system?

Absolutely and I am. But… the caveat here is that I have two Furuno NavNet2 BB systems with chart plotters, and backup PC’s. I use the Furuno’s as read-only displays, but I know I can navigate the boat from them if needed, but I don’t like the interface for routes, etc. But the Furunos and their networked sounder, radar, plotters are wonderful as read-only instruments.

I also like having more than one chart source running, and I tend to keep one Furuno chartplotter zoomed down to 2 mile range so it shows great detail, and sometimes overlay radar on the chart, and then use Nobeltec for big picture and route planning as well as my autopilot interface for route following. 

A PC (running any of the available Nav applications) is infinitely superior to any chartplotter I’ve ever seen for route planning and route management.

 5.    If you have a PC aboard, does it serve any other roles, such as entertainment, ship management, etc.?

No, unless you count my iPod that’s hooked into the Bose system.

One thing I am a big believer in is minimizing the single points of failure. For instance, I would never consider putting my nav computer on a network or have it running background tasks. I don’t trust Windows that much. So I’m not a fan of a “wired, networked” boat, and prefer simple computers with an inactive backup computer. If lightning or viruses kill or disable my Nav computer, or the hardware just dies, I know I have a clean, backup machine kept in a Farraday-shielded box that I can quickly plug in and get running.

Also, I’ve only been able to gain confidence in Windows-based computers by stripping them down. No auto-updates, no antivirus, etc. Stripped down to just the base OS and Nobeltec. Then they are very reliable. But of course, in that mode, I can’t expose them to the internet, except to access Nobeltec or  Jeppeson sites for software and chart updates, in which case I use a USB cellular card.

*Background traffic: I’ve found the Windows OS and its applications (anti-virus being the worst) generate a lot of background traffic looking for updates or whatever, even when the user-configurable auto-update features are turned off. When I pay dearly for bandwidth, not connect time, as I do with Inmarsat and MPDS, that background traffic can be 10x or even 100x my actual email traffic. Even if I was paying for connect time, but had severely limited bandwidth as is the case with Iridium, the same issue applies. So stripping as much of that junk out as possible is key. I’m also experimenting with a third-party firewall that should let me block the OS from looking for updates. The built-in firewalls always trust the OS to communicate with its own trusted sites so you can’t keep them from talking.)

In the next installment in this series, we’ll publish the “Request for Proposals” detailing what we’re asking the computer companies to address with their suggested installations for an N55.  We’ll also have an extensive set of documents and drawings to share with you and we’ll start to get into the details of computer installations aboard.  Follow-on articles will each have the response from an individual computer company.  Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Electronics, Passagemaking News, People, People & Profiles, Technology

Outfitting the Nordhavn 55 with Computers

Nordhavn 55 Starboard Running -- Photo Courtesy of PAE

With this article, we are beginning a new series that illustrates how the Nordhavn 55, one of the most popular of the globe-girdling Nordhavns built by Pacific Asian Enterprises, might be equipped with computers for navigation and other chores.  Earlier this year, OceanLines ran an extensive series of articles on outfitting the Kadey-Krogen 55′ Expedition with a full marine electronics suite.  In this new series, we look at the alternative to dedicated marine electronics — the PC.  There are several companies in this market, including some that manufacture or modify their own components and some that are systems designers and installers.  We’re asking them to submit full proposals for navigation, monitoring and entertainment solutions. As we did before, we’ll dedicate a separate article for each manufacturer to highlight its proposal for the N55.  Today’s article is the first of two introducing the series. Part 2 follows tomorrow and offers a dedicated Q&A on the subject with a current N55 owner.

The Nordhavn 55 was developed as a logical follow-on to the 47, but is obviously substantially larger in all the spaces. The N55 has a standard flybridge and single engine, although N55 Project Manager Mike Jensen says 7 N55s have been delivered with twin engines. The N55 has a new sister ship with the advent of a 5-foot hull extension creating the N60. The extra length shows up in the cockpit and extended boat deck overhead.

Nordhavn President Dan Streech suggested we use the N55 as the subject for this series since it represents the classice Nordhavn trawler, in form and function. Not surprisingly, N55 owners agree with that sentiment.  John Marshall owns N5520, Serendipity, and says, “I view the N55 as the largest of the ‘simple, little boats’. It’s really not much more complex than an N40 (same numbers of systems, one main engine, one wing, one genset, same stabilizer design, etc. etc., just beefier) so it’s just as easy to maintain as the littlest Nordhavn. For instance, it’s no harder to maintain a 300 hp diesel than a 120 hp diesel.”  Here’s more of what John Marshall has to say about the N55:

It’s the ultimate couples boat as its big and roomy but still simple, but has extra staterooms for guests when needed. We use the upstairs Captain’s cabin mainly as a reading room, for instance, given the great light.

That said, you could make an N55 complex by adding twin engines, full hydraulics, dual generators, etc. etc, but most of the N55s I’ve seen are closer to the N40 in complexity. (The only place where the N55 is inescapably larger is when you have to wax it!)

Once you step over that size threshold, Nordhavns, like most boats, get far more complex. While the bigger boats aren’t necessarily harder to operate, the maintenance chores can overwhelm many couples. The larger boats mostly come with twin engines, twin gensets, complex hydraulic and electrical systems, etc. Bottom line, even a mechanically adept owner of the larger boats may want a captain or boat manager just to keep on top of everything, otherwise you become a slave to boat maintenance. As I see it, the bigger boats are really very seaworthy pocket superyachts than traditional trawlers.

I suspect that might be what Dan is referring to when he says the N55 is a “classic trawler”, given that designation implies (to me!) a boat that is simple enough for an active and resourceful owner to maintain and operate without difficulty, and has the seaworthiness of a traditional trawler.

The topic of this series is installing computers in the N55, so I asked Mike Jensen about recent trends.  Using a computer — as opposed to a dedicated chartplotter — for navigation is becoming more ubiquitous on this type of yacht. Jensen says about 75 percent of N55 customers are using computers for navigation, with perhaps half also using them for entertainment. Anecdotal research suggests that when they are used for entertainment, they are likely to be dedicated to that function. John Marshall’s setup is an example of the philosophy behind that “separation of church and state.”  In tomorrow’s installment, you can read a Q&A with John about the computers installed on Serendipity.

(Read Part 2 in this series here)

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Electronics, Gear & Apparel, Passagemaking News, Technology

A Marinized Computer Could Replace Your Chartplotters

In the last couple of years, the notion of bringing a fully integrated personal computer aboard anything smaller than a megayacht has become not only possible, but might even offer some significant advantages to the traditional solution of dedicated chartplotters.

Bringing a modern, marinized PC aboard your trawler might just be a gateway to enhanced navigation, communication and entertainment capabilities that would have cost many thousands of dollars just a few years ago. It can also be intimidating, with a bevy of choices to make and no clear path to follow for solutions.

Argonaut's Avalon mini computer. Many marine machines are petite, built for a boat's small spaces.
Argonaut’s Avalon mini computer. Many marine machines are petite, built for a boat’s small spaces.

Yet buying a computer for your boat need not be any more difficult than buying one for your home or business. It merely requires a modest investment of time and perhaps a somewhat less modest investment of money.  The first choice you are apt to face is whether to buy a “marinized” computer or a standard, landlubber unit from one of the big manufacturers like Dell, HP or Gateway. Both have advantages and are worthy of investigation.

OFF THE SHELF

If you have a stately pilothouse trawler and you take weekend cruises on quiet waters, you might be able to get away with a laptop or desktop from a big–box store.  The primary advantage is cost: they can be dramatically cheaper than a purpose–built marine computer.  There’s also a familiarity factor – most of us have done this before and know the drill.

But that choice is not without risk.  What happens to your electronic charting system if your nephew knocks the machine off the chart table, or you drop it yourself while traveling between house and boat?  Another constraint on a standard laptop is the screen.  Most are not designed for use in bright sunlight, and may require a special shade.

But there is no debating that the cost of standard computers is lower – and one could argue that it may be efficient to simply replace a laptop every few years, taking advantage of the latest technology, rather than spending substantially more for a dedicated marine system.

MARINIZATION DEFINED

So what do you get with a “marinized” PC?  The truth is that there are no universal specification standards for marinization, and so the term means different things to different companies.

AmbientNav marine displays and computer installed on a Grady-White 360. Modern marine computers are capable of doing heavy duty navigation work.
AmbientNav marine displays and computer installed on a Grady-White 360. Modern marine computers are capable of doing heavy duty navigation work.

But there are some things you can expect.  Most marine computer manufacturers use some form of solid connection – usually solder or glue – to secure wiring and components.  Circuit boards are often coated with silicone or some other non–conducting material to protect them from corrosion, which is probably the biggest contributor to early death among marine electronics.  And hard drives and optical drives are usually shock–mounted to combat everything from the normal vibrations of the engines to the shock of landing in the trough of a large wave.  Many units are also far smaller than their land-based counterparts, and have connections placed strategically with a marine installation in mind, such as the Argonaut unit pictured above.

Most marinized computers also run on 12–volt DC power, with power supplies that can adjust to the varying DC voltage that is common on boats.  Some of these computers can be powered by either DC or AC systems.  Many are also designed to handle the extreme thermal environment of a boat cabin, using fans, passive cooling tubes or heat–sink components to draw heat away from the processor and circuit boards.

There are many vendors of marinized PCs. Some companies, such as VEI Systems and Big Bay Technologies, grew up providing high–end systems to the megayacht industry, with some commercial and military business too.  Others came from the community of passagemaking sailors, and were focused on inexpensive, low–power units that could do yeoman’s duty at a nav station without draining the batteries.  Some of these latter suppliers use basic processors and chipsets intended for mobile computing because of their inherently lower power requirements (and lower heat generation), while others swear by full–powered Pentium chips to handle the requirements of a fully networked system.

What you need will largely depend on what you intend to do.  If you’re going to install your system on a sailboat with a limited electrical budget and a snug nav station with limited air flow, a mobile chipset might be a good idea.  If you have the juice and the space for cooling, go with a full–blown Pentium Core Duo or higher.

Similarly important is the video processing capability.  Today’s vector charts are rich with detail, layers and colors and most experts agree that you need to have at least 128MB of available video memory in order to ensure the machine will re–draw the screen reasonably quick.  A computer with a dedicated video processing card is the best choice, as opposed to the integrated video offered on many budget systems.  As with most things in the computer world, more video memory would be even better.  Ask your vendor specifically about this and let them know the type of navigation software you plan to use.  (If you need help choosing, read Mad Mariner’s multi–part series on electronic charting software.)

The same more–is–better philosophy goes for RAM.  Simply stated, buy as much as you can afford. Nothing on any PC runs worse with more memory – it all runs far better.  Modern standards call for a minimum of 1 gigabyte of RAM.  Big charts and multiple programs will benefit from 2 gigabytes of RAM but it’s cheap enough that you should buy as much as the motherboard will accommodate.

Many marine PCs are still shipped with Windows XP because of its maturity and stability and the fact that drivers for most peripherals are readily available.  The complete switch to Microsoft Vista in marine computers may take another year or more while vendors finish writing drivers and users get more comfortable with the system.  If you do get a unit with Vista, make sure the software you want to use has been updated to run on Vista.

VEI Systems installed this full computer system with displays on a large sportfishing boat.  Monitors that can be seen in daylight are one of the most expensive components of an onboard system.
VEI Systems installed this full computer system with displays on a large sportfishing boat. Monitors that can be seen in daylight are one of the most expensive components of an onboard system.

One of the major advantages of the marine computer alternative is that today’s units can take inputs from nearly every traditional marine sensor — radar, depth and fishfinders, weather sensors — that a chartplotter can, but they can also integrate sophisticated new monitoring systems, like those from Krill Systems, and the nearly unlimited entertainment hosting of the modern PC.  In short, you don’t have to settle for the tiny video window on a chartplotter to see your engine room or swim platform; you can have the boat’s computer display it full-screen on one of your multiple displays.  In fact, the notion of a “glass-bridge” need not be confined to the superyacht society any longer.  A typical higher-end PC will host many displays and easily integrate dozens of sensor and system inputs simultaneously.  Your imagination and helm space (and your budget) will be the only real limitations.

MONITORS

Indeed, monitors are among the most costly items required for an onboard computer rig, whether you buy a marinized unit or something off the shelf. But help is on the way.

 

Speaking of displays, these will be where you end up spending most of your money.  The nautical world has yet to catch up to the size and resolution capabilities of the consumer units most of us are familiar with from the office or home.  They do face stiffer technical challenges, however, and that contributes significantly to their higher cost.  Chief among these is the requirement to be visible in extremely bright light, yet also capable of being dimmed to almost nothing for night operations.  Add to that the challenge of dissipating heat somehow through a waterproof enclosure and you understand where the higher costs come from.  AmbientNav has some of the most impressive displays, with passive cooling technologies and mil-standard waterproof performance.

To–date, these monitors have been prohibitively expensive, on the order of $3,000 or more for a screen big enough to be useable. That is finally changing, as both technology and market demand combine to inspire new designs and lower prices. Argonaut, for example, one of the bigger marine PC companies, is now offering a 15–inch, waterproof, sunlight–readable display for less than $1,000. That may seem like a lot, considering you can buy a 32–inch widescreen monitor for your home with that kind of money. But it is a breakthrough in marine monitor pricing and bodes very well for the future.

WHERE TO BUY

So, who to buy from? There is an abundance of companies offering marine PCs, and the number is growing. For example, MarineNav, of Canada, is a relative newcomer but their founder, Kevan Merson, is a serious sailor who demands reliability and capability. His company, on Prince Edward Island, builds small PCs with lots of front connectors.  The company’s latest model, the Leviathan, has four processing cores, 4 TB of storage standard and can run up to 16 monitors in any combination of independent or cloned displays.  Vice President of production, Jean Guy LeClerc, uses his own company’s equipment, which is always a good sign.

LeClerc has the company’s Nautilus Extreme installed at the nav station of his Hunter 40.5, with all his sailing instruments and real–time weather services connected. The MarineNav systems can accommodate up to 1.5 terabytes of hard disk storage, which is nice if you, like LeClerc, keep your kids’ movies and music on the PC as well. MarineNav also makes a unique line of monitors that are gorgeous, wood–framed mirrors when unpowered but transform into full–featured, high–definition displays when needed. These make handy extra display stations in salons and staterooms. MarineNav PCs start at $1,395 for a very basic setup, including 60 gigs of storage, 512 megabytes of RAM and a 1.5 gigahertz processor.

Another possibility would be Comark Corporation’s unique PCs, which use flash drives for basic storage – conventional hard disks are optional. Comark President Steve Schott says recreational boaters often use Comark PCs as complements to dedicated chartplotters. Comark’s higher–end DuraMobile PC is a special, fanless unit that uses a finned aluminum heatsink to dissipate heat. The result is a quieter, less power–hungry and slightly more reliable unit (fans can fail). Comark says that their PCs will run even Nobeltec’s top–of–the–line Admiral navigation software with just an 8GB flash drive, although one may want to store charts on a hard disk instead of running them from discs.

Motion's larger LE1700 tablet computer is suitable for onboard use, at a base price of $1,699.
Motion’s larger LE1700 tablet computer is suitable for onboard use, at a base price of $1,699.

For a high–end approach, Big Bay Technologies offers a dual PC Book system in which one of the units operates as a silent “mirror” in the background, ready to takeover instantly in case the first unit fails. That setup costs about $3,000.  You could add a 19–inch monitor for the pilothouse and a 17–inch waterproof monitor for the flybridge for about $3,000. The two displays cost $1,495 each (the smaller one is waterproof, hence the same price as the 19–inch).

Most marine computers have numerous USB, Firewire, LAN, modem and VGA connectors, as well as multiple video outputs.  Be sure the computer you buy has what you need. You should also look into the tech support offered by your manufacturer ahead of time.  You may even want to call the tech support number and see how long it takes to get a knowledgeable helper on the line.  If it takes an hour, you know what you are dealing with.  You don’t want to discover that tech support is by email–only if you’re offshore somewhere with only a satphone for communication. Similarly, make sure you understand the warranty, whether it includes all system components and what the repair and return policies are.

Some of the bigger, longer established vendors like VEI Systems have earned their business with a stellar support reputation.  They are unlikely to be the cheapest solution available, but if reliability and support are important, consider buying from them.  Don’t ignore some of the smaller companies, though.  Many have also been around for more than 10 years.  The easiest way to get to know them is to visit at a boat show near you; they’re usually at all the big shows.  Visit as many as possible with a good notion of what you’d like to do and then ask them all for recommendations about “how” to do what you want.  Avoid going into a discussion with pre-conceived notions about the solution.  You might be surprised at the creativity and capabilities you might get.

Copyright ©  2008 by OceanLines LLC 

Posted by Tom in Technology