Unfurling the latest, fastest in technology

Electronics: Handheld global positioning systems and electronic chart plotters are commanding attention.

October 12, 2003|By Doug Beizer | Doug Beizer,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Massive 65-foot yachts with twin staterooms and hardwood floors may draw the biggest oohs and aahs at this year's boat shows, but for an increasing number, it's all about the smaller stuff.

While the temporary piers in Annapolis will be packed with boats, the nearby tents will have all the latest in electronics, such as handheld global positioning system (GPS) devices and full-color, electronic chart plotters.

"There are a lot of gadgets and electronics involved in boating. I think that's one of the reasons people love their boats so much," said Rick Franke, a spokesman for the boat shows.

This year will be a continuation of a trend that started about two years ago: Electronics are getting faster and easier to use, and they come with big color displays, industry experts say.

Si-Tex Marine Electronics, for example, now uses Intel computer processors in its products, said Ron Breton, product support manager.

"What that does for you is make it incredibly fast," Breton said. "What's happening these days in cartography software is becoming more and more sophisticated, just like the software you buy for a home PC. As the programs get more sophisticated, the hardware needs to be upgraded to handle it."

However, manufacturers aren't just speeding things up. Si-Tex's ColorMax Wide has a 7-inch color screen that uses the same wide-screen 16:9 ratio found in many plasma TVs. While the big color screens are mostly for aesthetics, some of the GPS/charting systems double as video monitors.

"Turning your charting system into a monitor is great, especially for larger vessels," Breton said. "You can hook a camera up to the stern to help with a tight docking situation."

Another thing consumers are looking for in marine electronics is portability, said David Ittner, director of communications and marketing for Lowrance Electronics.

Several Lowrance products enable the use of multimedia cards, so boaters can record data from marine devices as they travel and then play it back later at home.

Lowrance also makes GPS units that are portable.

"So that same unit can be taken off your boat and placed in your motor home or car," Ittner said. "Now you can travel on land with the same GPS unit."

In between finding their way from port to port, many boaters try to find where the fish are hiding.

Garmin's Fishfinder 320C is the company's first stand-alone color fishfinder for both fresh water and salt water. It also allows fishermen to send a specific location from the fishfinder to a Garmin GPS unit.

Connecting home electronics with marine technology is also becoming desired.

Magellan, for example, has several cables to connect a notebook computer to its devices. For example, its PC data cable with cigarette lighter adapter for its GPS 300 series enables transferring data from a laptop to the GPS unit. The cigarette lighter adapter ensures the GPS receiver won't run out of power.

Representatives from dozens of marine electronics providers will be at the boat shows, with the new hardware on hand.

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