Faster, Brighter and Smarter
It’s been an interesting year for everyone interested in the future of GPS. Last year, the Government Accountability Office published a report saying that it was “uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption.” The reason, said the GAO, was that almost half the existing GPS satellites—all designed with a seven-year life expectancy—were already more than 14 years old.
Assuming the launch of replacement satellites would be delayed by two years, the GAO concluded that there was only a 10 percent chance of maintaining a 24-satellite constellation during the next decade, and only a 50:50 chance of maintaining a 21-satellite constellation, an assumption that is starting to look a bit optimistic. When the first of the new generation “Block 2F” satellites went into orbit at the end of May, it was almost four years behind schedule.
This news has given more ammunition to those who are trying to keep the Loran–C system. But the argument is more political than practical. Yes, it would be nice to have Loran–C but what’s the point of having a back-up system that transmits signals no one has the equipment to receive?
There’s no need for panic though because even if the GAO’s calculations are right, the crisis won’t hit until 2017. And even then marine users aren’t likely to notice anything wrong. The principal reason there are so many satellites is that many land-bound GPS receivers work in difficult locations, like deep valleys or urban canyons, where tall buildings block most of the sky. Sailors, however, can get reliable reception from far fewer satellites. Remember that GPS worked well at sea in the early nineties even though the system was several satellites short of the number needed to become fully operational.
Rather than add to its line of multifunction display units, Furuno is introducing three stand-alone radars, with the 4kW 24in radome scanner and 10.4in display on the Furuno 1835 perhaps the most interesting. There are dedicated rotary controls for gain and clutter clearance and other features include True Motion, an AIS overlay, and a full-blown ARPA capability equal to those required for a commercial vessel. It’s priced at $5,895.
Furuno is also the first to produce a charting system that can display either NOAA or Jeppesen (C-Map) charts. Although rivals have for years been promising that their plotters will have this feature, Furuno is the first to have actually done it—they’ve done it not by adapting software or operating systems capable of running several chart formats, but by having MapMedia convert all the chart data to make it compatible with the MaxSea software that powers the Furuno Navnet 3 hardware
This creative electronics manufacturer has introduced two new multifunction displays, the NSE8 and NSE12; the unit number indicates the size of the screen and NSE is an acronym for the Northstar Edition. Both models are very user-friendly with rotary controls that make it easy to zoom in or out, adjust settings such as radar gain and screen brightness, or scroll up and down through the menus. Push buttons below the screen provide instant access to the main operating modes: radar, chart, sonar and instruments. $3,295 for the NSE8, and $4,595 for the NSE12.
Raymarine, now a division of the thermal imaging giant FLIR Systems, continues to develop and launch new products that include a new range of multifunction displays and a radome version of its impressive HD digital radar. These new multifunction displays are called the E-series Widescreen, but the name is slightly misleading because the products are far more than just a face-lift of the original E series. Yes, the displays do use the wide screen that’s now almost the standard on TV sets and computers, but a far more significant feature is that now there’s a choice between a touch screen and a conventional keypad with flexible knob controls.
All three Widescreen models come with both control systems and the design protocol is simple, quick and intuitive. You can plan a route into a harbor by touching the screen at each waypoint and then, an hour later when you are trying to fine tune a radar target and the boat is moving around, you can use the keypad for direct and positive control. You can also lock out the touch screen function entirely. Widescreen units are now being shipped with Navionics cartography but Raymarine plans to have both Navionics and Jeppesen cartography as options. Other options available now include digital radar scanners up to 12kW, CCTV, AIS B transponder and a Sirius weather receiver. Prices start at $4,000 for the 9in E90W, to $7,000 for the 14in E140W.
This powerhouse company is introducing two new lines with large-format multifunction displays (MFDs) that it is calling the GPSMAP 6000 and 7000 series. As with the existing 4000 and 5000 lines, these units provide a choice between touch-screen control, in the case of the 7000 series, and conventional soft key and cursor operation with the 6000 series.
Both lines use dual processors, which gives them faster and smoother panning and scrolling than the 4000 and 5000 series, and the screens have higher resolution. There is also increased networking capability through NMEA 2000, NMEA 0183, Garmin networks and a PC monitor video output. The 6208 has an 8.4in 640 x 480 (VGA) screen and soft key controls for $3,000. The 12in version for $4,000 has a 1024 x 768 (XGA) display. The smallest display in the 7000 series is the 7212 with a 12in XGA screen for $5,000. A 15in XGA, the 7215, comes in at $7,000.
Garmin is also introducing the 700 series of touch screen plotters, and their size and price puts them neatly between the 5in GPSMAP 600 series and the 8.4in screen on the 5208. At $1,500, the GPSMAP 740 comes with navigation quality charts for all American coastlines, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Bahamas. The new 740S has a built-in 1kW sonar with a maximum range of 2000 feet; a nice feature for just an additional $200.
Although they’re not supposed to be able to network, both the 740 and 740S can receive and display XM weather data and provide full NMEA 2000 connectivity. This means that with the necessary NMEA2000 sensors and cabling, these units can monitor and display data from onboard sensors such as engine instruments, tank sensors, and speed, depth and wind instruments.
These plotters also have a standard radar port that allows them to display images produced by any Garmin radar scanner, a feature that makes them among the smallest radar displays on the market. The plotters also take advantage of Garmin’s BlueChart G2 and BlueChart G2 Vision cartography, first introduced two years ago. Garmin had to recall all the cartography packages after getting reports about depth problems in certain geographical areas. With everything now checked and rechecked to make sure it is correct, Garmin has relaunched the G2 series and the cartography is included with every new plotter. These new displays include dedicated fishing charts, animated tide and current data and perspective views. One nice feature is that these plotters automatically highlight areas that are less than a safe depth established by the user.
All G2 Vision cards include high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial photographs and even three-dimensional graphic imaging of the landscape above and below the water. Cards cover areas such as New York to the Chesapeake and most of them are priced at about $321. A further development of the G2 safety contour feature is that all these plotters and MFDs have what is called “auto” guidance. You tell the plotter where you want to go and it automatically plans a route that keeps you away from water that is shallower than either the minimum depth or the safety contour you have established.