Gear and Reviews
Knowing is believing
Nobody likes the idea of breaking out the EPIRB, but if calamity strikes and you need the cavalry, wouldn’t you want to know that it’s working correctly? While most EPIRBs have a simple on/off button, ACR’s new Gobalfix iPro 406 GPS EPIRB (both Cat I or Cat II units are available) features a small digital screen that not only displays the unit’s GPS position and battery status, but also confirms whether it’s transmitting (both in test mode and while operating) and offers prompts to improve the unit’s view of the sky when necessary. The unit also features an energy-efficient, ultra-powerful LED strobe, and you can interface it with your boat’s GPS so that it always knows its position and need not locate itself when activated. From $1,300. ACR Electronics, 800-432-0227.
Featuring a compact design with Digital Selective Calling capabilities and an affordable price, Standard Horizon’s Eclipse DSC GX1000S VHF radio is waterproof, has 25 watts of transmitting power, and is easy to use. The DSC function allows one-touch distress signalling, and the Eclipse receives all NOAA weather channels. The radio’s digital display shows Position/Time or Channel name/Time when calls are made, provided the unit is hooked up to a GPS receiver. The microphone features noise-reduction technology, which is claimed to eliminate unwanted background noises (e.g., engines and wind) during transmission. NMEA input and output and a large, easy-to-read LCD display makes this an attractive upgrade for any boat. $166.64. Vertex Standard USA, 714-827-7600.
Sea and be seen
The risk of ship-to-ship collisions at sea has dropped precipitously for vessels that are AIS equipped. Raymarine’s AIS250 listen-only receiver and the newer Class-B AIS 500 transceiver (which both listens and transmits your boat’s data to other vessels) makes it easy for recreational boaters to tap into this new technology. Both the AIS250 and the AIS500 have a NMEA 0183 multiplexer and a VHF antenna splitter built in; the AIS500 also has a built-in SeaTalk Next Generation/NMEA 2000 port. From $1,120 for the AIS 250; $1,399 for the AIS 500. Raymarine, 603-881-520.
An interesting new “come-find-me” technology is emerging now that Class-B AIS has been approved. Meet the Jotron Tron SART-20 Radar Transponder (Search and Rescue Transmitter). This distress unit is used much like radar SART to let rescuers home in on its signal, but also broadcasts GPS position information to help pinpoint its location to approaching rescuers. The unit broadcasts just once per minute but it disseminates this information in eight separate bursts. This is said to compensate for the blocked signals when the unit is in a wave trough. According to Jotron, the unit’s signal can be heard by other ships even if an obstacle separates the rescue vessel from the distressed boat. $991 (includes bracket). Jotron USA, Inc., 713-268-1061.
Look Ma, it floats
Do you love the convenience of keeping a handheld VHF unit in the cockpit, but worry about it falling over the side and sinking? Check out Standard Horizon’s new HX850s handheld, floating, DSC-enabled VHF. The unit features a built-in 12-channel GPS receiver, shows volume and squelch on the display, lists channel names, and sports an SOS strobe light. The unit is powered by an 1150 mAH lithium-ion rechargeable battery and comes with a 110-volt AC charger and a 12-volt DC charger. Lat/Long positions are shown on the display, and the unit packs six watts of transmitting power. $249.99. Vertex Standard USA, 714-827-7600.
How nice is it to be able to walk into a caf, open your laptop, and immediately connect to the Internet? Many sailors now want the same sort of connectivity on their boats, but are disappointed by weak Wi-Fi signals. Meet 5MileWIFI, a Wi-Fi-booster system with a built-in 1000mW bi-directional amplifier and tuned Wi-Fi card that improves access to distant Wi-Fi hotspots (5MileWIFI claims that the kit is 30 times more powerful than an average laptop Wi-Fi card). The booster unit connects to your PC via a USB port; also included are a 9 dbi antennae, 25 feet of low-loss cable, and a CD driver disc. Note that your PC needs two free USB ports (USB hubs won’t work). $399. 5MileWIFI, TK PHONE.