By Andy Adams
Bringing light to the darkness – adding safety and convenience
While many boat owners simply choose not to venture out after dark, there are occasions when you may need to “see” under adverse circumstances like mist, fog or heavy rain and of course, at night.
You may prefer not to take your boat out after dark but this past summer, we got caught out in a mid-day storm and the daylight really dropped as the unexpectedly high winds and heavy rain ripped through Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan. Visibility was down to about 1,000 feet and the four-lane black iron bridge just ahead of us simply vanished from view.
This Stanley aluminum boat with a Yamaha outboard was fitted with the Furuno DRS4D-NXT broadband Doppler radar system.
So did another boat that was an older cabin cruiser of about 36 feet. Gone. Behind us, a Tiara express cruiser with just one person aboard struggled to get to the relative shelter of the quay in the lee of the bridge and that all-white boat only showed up on our radar. We couldn’t see it until it was literally beside us.
Radar was a huge help that day onboard the new Cruisers Yachts 60 Fly, but that’s a two million dollar yacht. What about older boats and smaller boats?
Ken Harrison is at the helm and you can see the chart on the screen is the channel we are taking north from Honey Harbour to demonstrate the Furuno NXT to the OPP team.
Is there radar for a modest budget?
Ken Harrison,Canadian Furuno Representativeinvited me to join him on a demonstration ride with three gentlemen from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). They wanted to see the affordable and feature-packed new Furuno DRS4D-NXTsolid-stateDoppler radar system. It’s currently priced at $3,395 and it’s powerful as well as user friendly.
The OPP folks were not patrol officers, they were part of the team that buys and maintains the equipment the police officers use. You can imagine, they hear the horror stories, the challenges and the problems the officers face when they have to go out on a search and rescue call, usually under the worst conditions.
This speeding boat is typical of the traffic in the southern end of Georgian Bay – day and night.
They told me that the OPP have about 150 vessels of various types on the water and that the officers often have many other duties, work shifts and may need to use a variety of boats. They don’t just have one boat that they can really get to know, so it’s best that the equipment they will rely on is common across many boats and it is best if that equipment is really easy to use.
Accidents and illness happens. Occasionally, the forecast for rain turns into a wild localized storm like the one we experienced on Lake Michigan.
In British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec especially, there are many island owners and their boats are not just for pleasure. They are a vital link to shore and occasionally, emergency medical services.
Yup! There’s a lake down there but early morning mist will make the other fishermen invisible unless you have radar.
Recently, solid-stateradar systems from many marine electronics manufacturers have come onto the market and this has brought the safety and convenience of radar to much smaller boats, at a price that is far more affordable than a traditional open array system.
One of the latest and most affordable systems, considering the performance and features is the Furuno DRS4D-NXT. This is a solid-state radar with pulse compression, their Target Analyzer™ and Fast Target Tracking™ features, utilizing Doppler technology. Combined with Furuno’s exclusive RezBoost™ technology, the DRS4D-NXT packs the performance of an open array radar, in a compact 24” radome.
The Furuno DRS4D-NXT recently won the 2016 NMEA Technology Award at the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) 45th annual conference and expo in Naples, Florida in September, so it has the attention of the industry for sure.
A big part of the excitement is the price point and that the Furuno DRS4D-NXT will work nicely on smaller boats. The solid-state electronics do not require the big power supply that an open array radar does and it does not need a warm-up either. It comes right on or “instant on” .
User simplicity was what was interesting to the OPP. One of the game changing features is Target Analyzer. This function instantly identifies targets that are approaching your vessel and automatically changestheir color to help you identify when they are hazardous. Green echoes are targets that stay stationary, or are moving away from you while red echoes are hazardous targets that are moving towards your vessel.This makes it extremely easy to monitor the target’s course and allows you to avoid a collision. Target Analyzer improves situational awareness and can increase safety by showing you which targets to look out for.The NXT Radar cantrack up to 100 targets simultaneously.
Even on the relatively small dashboard of the Stanley we were out on, the Furuno screen is crisp and easily viewed.
Ken Harrison took us out from Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay and the boat traffic there can be really hectic, especially in the dark.
Another feature is RezBoost™ beam sharpening and when set to MAX, the sharpness equivalent of a 2 degree beam width can be achieved. You will see more detailed targets, with less clutter, even small and highly detailed targets such as kayaks and dinghies show up nicely separated. That still works even when the target is very close to you, like when you come into the harbour docks.There is even a Rain Mode, that will show rain on the MDF display in blue while keeping the targets identified in green (safe) and red (a threat).
While radar is a great safety and convenience feature, the fishermen look for a “bird mode” that helps identify birds that are gathering around schools of fish. On the Furuno DRS4D-NXT, bird mode adjusts the gain and sea settings automatically for optimal visibility.
Night vision for every boater – FLIR
As impressive as the Furuno DRS4D-NXT is for the price, you still need a place to mount the radome, the screen and you need a power supply, so what if you just have an open runabout (and maybe $5,000 isn’t in the budget) but you still might have to navigate in darkness?
Night sailing could be far safer with a FLIR Ocean Scout TK.
We spent some time trying out the new FLIR Ocean Scout TK and for well under a grand, this light weight device simply hangs around your neck and in seconds, starts up and sees through even total darkness.
FLIR Systems, Inc.,announced the Ocean Scout TK thermal camera at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show so this is still quite new.
The technology was developed for the US military and it is now coming down to consumer price levels. A sub-$600 (in the US), pocket-sized thermal vision monocular, the Ocean Scout TK features FLIR’s revolutionary low-cost Lepton micro camera core, making thermal imaging technology even more accessible to boaters.
You can select different colours for the display to best capture the image. Here are two kayaks in the night.
This is the smallest and most affordable model in the FLIR Ocean Scout series. The Ocean Scout TK creates high-contrast images using heat, rather than visible light. As a result, Ocean Scout TK makes it possible to see the differences in temperature and heat emitted by boats, buoys, and landmarks in total darkness.
An Ocean Scout TK for example, can reveal people overboard or marine mammals breaking the surface of the water.
Pocket-sized and designed for one-handed use, the Ocean Scout TK is designed to withstand rain, wind, and even a drop in shallow water. The neck cord allows even a kayaker to have it handy.
Let’s hope you never have a man overboard, especially at night. This is using the “black hot” image option to make the hot object (the MOB) black, giving a very clear black and white picture of what is happening.
And yes – I agree a kayaker should not be out in darkness, but the Ocean Scout thermal imaging also works right through fog and mist. It’s not an optical system. Another use would be anyone who sails overnight. I would not leave shore without one of these around my neck if I was sailing a night passage, especially to see my way around onboard.
On top of that, an Ocean Scout TK can also store up to 1,000 JPEG images and four hours of video. With a five-hour rechargeable internal battery, you can keep it on as needed and start up is just seconds anyway. We could not believe the images we got when we tried it out.
Looking like ordinary rubberized binoculars, the ATN BinoX HD 4 x 16 are in fact a high-powered computer that can see in day or night conditions.
Plus – if you are looking for that amazing holiday gift idea, the Ocean Scout TK could be the perfect thing!
Day / night binoculars – ATN BinoX HD
Working on different technology but still delivering amazing vision in the dark is the ATN BinoX HD binocular and the features and versatility are remarkable.
First, these are binoculars and the ATN BinoX HDs are usable in daylight as well as at night. Unlike optical binoculars, these are really a high-powered computer with significant processing power.
The daytime screen image on the BinoX HD features compass heading, time, magnification and more. Geotag your location and download images and video with WiFi – you can even share it live to an iPad or other screen!
The left side front objective lens is actually infrared while the right side is a separate monocular and the two sides work together to display the image on the two diopters that you look into. Magnification is 4x optical and then 16x digital.
Both front objectives are adjustable; the left for infrared and the right side for focus. Then, inside is essentially an HD camera sys6em and the ATN BinoX HD can take both still images and video, just as the Ocean Scout can.
A micro SD card inside makes it easy to download images or video but ATN takes this further and those who enjoy cruising will have a lot of fun with this. The ATN BinoX HD is equipped with GPS and WiFi so you can geotag images and using an app that ATN makes available for free, you can download without even a connector.
The eyepieces slide in and out to adjust for different faces and each has a diopter adjustment for your vision. When you turn the ATN BinoX HD on, you get an internal screen that has numerous features displayed. One of these is a way of using the ATN BinoX HD as a range finder – very handy when navigating or noting things on your charts.
Using the night vision infrared mode, you can get a surprisingly detailed image but this was shot using the tripod mount to hold it steady.
Talk about amazing technology! The ATN BinoX HD includes a suite of “environmental sensors”.There is an Ultra Low Power computing subsystem that provides continuous information about the environment and positioning of the ATN BinoX HD device in the 3 spatial axis. This subsystem works independently from the main processor and includes a microcontroller, a 3D accelerometer that measures speed, a 3D magnetometer that gives compass heading, and a 3D gyroscope.
Again, the price is equally amazing; we found the ATN BinoX HD on a Canadian online retail site for $800. Both the FLIR Ocean Scout TK and the ATN BinoX HD are boating accessories that will provide hours of interesting entertainment and then, when darkness falls, they could be life-savers.