A few years ago, while my boat was sitting at the dock, I was entering fishing waypoints into my chart plotter, laborious button push by cumbersome button push ... beep, beep, beep. After about 10 minutes of that, I heard a nearby angler doing the same thing … beep, beep, beep. But when I spun around to look for the source of the sound, there was no other boat nearby. The beeping call came again, and as I looked toward the sound, I saw that a mockingbird had joined my waypoint opus and was mimicking the beeps with crystal clarity!
No matter how good your navigation electronics are, entering waypoints through keypads or touch pads, especially while the boat is rocking, is a slow, simmering pain. Even if it’s as easy as pie, it’s still time consuming.
Wouldn’t a Bluetooth keyboard connected to a multifunction display (MFD) lessen the labor? Maybe not. Eric Kunz, senior product manager at Furuno, says Bluetooth isn’t a very good solution compared to marine Wi-Fi. “Bluetooth’s range is short, and the bandwidth isn’t good enough,” Kunz says. “And handling multiple units with Bluetooth is too tricky. That’s why we chose Wi-Fi apps.”
In fact, nearly every key player in marine electronics is creating iOS or Android apps to ease the job of accessing data and, in some cases, even operating chart-plotter and MFD systems via Wi-Fi connections.
Observe or Control
Furuno’s NavNet TZ may have been the first out with an iOS device-to-MFD app. The company has introduced two, and they’re pretty cool.
First is the NavNet TZ Touch View. It’s free, and it lets you see what your chart plotter displays, via an iPhone or iPad within Wi-Fi range. Use a water-resistant iOS mount, and the mates in the cockpit or the helmsman in the tower can anticipate upcoming waypoint hot spots — without having to perma-nently install MFDs in the open.
Second, and definitely worth its $49 app price, is NavNet TZ Touch Remote for iPads (not iPhones). Touch Remote gives the owner complete control of his navigation center from any spot within Wi-Fi range. And, if the MFD Wi-Fi is connected to the Internet, the captain or owner can keep tabs on the vessel from anywhere using his Wi-Fi-connected iOS device.
But the real beauty of the system is its remote-control capability. Touch the app icon on an iPad, and a remote-control panel pops up to give the user complete control of the Furuno NavNet TZ system and attached devices like sonar, radar and autopilot. Pretty sweet.
Black Box Wi-Fi
While Furuno’s tactic was to build in Wi-Fi network capability, Navico, the creator of Simrad and Lowrance, is making a network module that plugs into the Navico NMEA 2000 backbone. This will connect Simrad or Lowrance navigation devices and NMEA 2000-capable engine systems through the system’s Ethernet port.
“We expect to introduce it in Q4 2012,” says Navico’s product manager, Robert Langford-Wood. “With the new device, current owners of Simrad or Lowrance products can take advantage of the latest Wi-Fi connectivity without installing a new MFD system.”
To complete the package, Navico’s research-and-development efforts entail creating software that will let their MFD hardware communicate with new app systems for iOS (iPad and iPhone) systems. Fortunately for all you Android users out there, Navico plans on building ’droid-based apps as well.
“Our matrix of apps, hardware and software will not just let users observe data on their MFDs; they will give powerful, portable control of their MFDs too,” Langford-Wood says.
Raymarine also integrates its Wi-Fi system in its MFD units. Jim Hand, director of marketing for Raymarine, says, “In our C and E series MFDs, each have their own mini router for a Wi-Fi network. Turn one on, and it broadcasts to our mobile apps — whatever is on screen is on iOS or Android screen.”