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Because the boating market is not as large as the consumer electronics world, new electronic designs for your boat have always been adapted a few years late to match up to consumer things like CDs, iPods, and mobile phones. Some years ago, government funding for wars made for new products for military ships, but then we had to wait for the secrets to become public before we got the technologies on boats.

However, this year we are in for a new round of innovation and the technology involved in designing new software and hardware is lightning fast. So, the new stuff for your boat is just as new as for other markets.

I don't even think Santa Claus could have produced so many touch screens, wireless connections, Bluetooth, infra-red scopes at bargain prices, or amazing radar resolution. Of course there's Apple compatibility, new music and video sources and networking. Also there's more work being done at the lower-priced end to actually have some leading technology there, not just copying after the introductions of last year's expensive developments.

Before we sort through all the features of the new Raymarine e7, which has nearly all the items listed above, we have to consider the answer to the most-wished-for new piece of electronics for SKA members.

INFRA-RED SCOPE

Mounted night vision cameras don't work very well on a small boat. The quick motion makes it impossible to keep the image steady on whatever screen you would use as a display, and the remote controls are hard to relate to something you may be trying to focus on. Of course, the five-figure price tag put these cameras out of reach for most of us. Nevertheless, in a survey of small boat owners, the most desired piece of electronic gear is a night vision camera.

A couple years ago, FLIR put a camera in a hand held case, which made it easier to aim in your intended line of sight. Still the price was more than a few thousand dollars.

This year, FLIR put the infra-red sensor in a waterproof scope called MS. There is no output to a screen, but now the price is under $2,000 and the resolution is still very good. Since FLIR owns Raymarine, the scope is in the Raymarine product line, too. There are upgrade options in the scope like zoom and higher resolution, and you can step up to the handheld camera.

NETWORK DISPLAYS

There were obvious delays in new product while Raymarine was going through all the changes of the last few years, and that gave Garmin the chance to become the leader in clever networked displays and sensors. Also Navico recently took a big step into an upgrade of their operating systems in their displays and network control.

However, Raymarine piled the new cash infusion from new corporate parent, FLIR, into a heavy bet on the e7 system. Nearly everything you've seen in consumer and automotive electronics is here.

Not only does the e7 link by WiFi to your iPhone or iPad, but the e7's touch screen responds to your finger's sweeps, pinches, zooms and dragging like you do naturally now on your Apple devices. In bouncy wave action, any function can still be controlled by conventional knobs and buttons, continuing the hybrid trend from previous Raymarine designs.

There is a wireless remote control, which other manufacturers also have, but Raymarine includes a bracket to put the Bluetooth remote on your steering wheel or on a lanyard to wear around your neck or where ever you can tie it. You can easily program the remote to control different devices like chart zoom or audio volume, waypoint entry, etc.

Raymarine is also making an effort to make the e7 Network Multifuntion Display (MFD) compatible with your existing sensors for depth, radar, satellite weather, etc., from past generations of Raymarine equipment. It can also interface wirelessly or by ethernet with a stereo like a Fusion 700 Series, and exchange data, video and audio with Apple devices using the RayView app.

Notice, too, that the e7's screen size and the wireless features are all aimed at SKA-sized boats and refits, not new-build large yachts with their big-budget wiring and big flat-screen helm stations. If you have the space and the budget, the E120W is still the preferred MFD for the center of your network.

While we're looking at 7-inch screens, I'm intrigued by the effort that Garmin is putting into their 720 and 740 combo units for people on tight budgets or tight console spaces. Again, they are doing their best with compatibility issues and pre-existing sensor boxes. Resolution and brightness are great in these screens.

FISHFINDERS

Last summer, Garmin introduced their new Spread Spectrum CHIRP sonar, called GSD26. Since these sounders use a range of frequencies, the transducers are all new to go with the new processor at the helm. You get a more accurate picture of fish and bottom after the system combines and compares the data from the various pulses, frequencies and their echoes.

Garmin's touch screen control is very easy to use, and I had no trouble learning my way around the frequency adjustments you can make for various depths of water.

The detail that can be seen, like individual fish in a school, makes it worth having a big display screen with plenty of pixels. Bottom structure is easy to match up with what you may be looking for on 3D electronic charts.

RADAR

Navico's Broadband Radar uses a similar technology of sweeping a range of frequencies. The new 4G radar this year has improved long distance resolution. For example, it's the difference at five miles out between seeing two jetties at your inlet instead of a single blob. It's comforting in bad visibility. This sort of resolution from a small radar antenna defies the laws of physics that made this impossible a couple years ago.

BRING IT

If you're about to bring your iPad on board to use a second station for an e7 or for chart plotting or whatever, you will want to keep it dry. Both Scanstrut and Tallon have waterproof cases and mounts for iPads for 2012 . If you try to get away with a big sandwich baggie, remember I told you so.

Whether you're recording your trip from your sounder for review later, using charts and waypoints that you got from SKA, or just entertaining the kids, an iPad will be cool to have on your boat.

The new technologies for boats are very up-to-date for 2012, and suddenly there's no wish list for marine versions of the gadgets that you use on land. I think they are all connected in a way that we would not have believed only a couple years ago. Take advantage of the ability of these devices and enjoy it.

Garmin's Spread Spectrum CHIRP sonar called GSD26

View of a wreck with fish targets above it. This is a direct screen shot generated by Garmin's GSD26.

This screen shows off the high performance of Garmin's GSD26 depth penetration, tracking bottom at over 10,000 feet in the Bahamas.





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