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Smartphone Apps for Electric Outboards

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I declared my love for the Torqeedo 1003 electric outboard in 2011, and the feeling has only deepened after two seasons of extensive testing. Despite a glitch or two, the motor has run like a top. Recently, the system also gained a very cool new accessory that has only made it all the better. The TorqTrac Bluetooth module and apps were announced some time ago, but apparently the $149 kit is only becoming available now. The version 1.0 app does not look like what was originally announced, or even what’s shown at Torqeedo USA’s website right now (torqeedo.com). But my first underway tests suggest that TorqTrac is going to add some nice spice and utility to my Torqeedo 1003 relationship.

First, I did a dry run in Gizmo’s saloon. It’s always been possible to connect the tiller to the battery to see its state of charge, but I was pleasantly surprised that the TorqTrac app found the Bluetooth module without any pairing hassles whatsoever. It just worked–and has every time since. This may be because the wireless module uses Bluetooth 4.0, which may also be why TorqTrac for Android isn’t compatible with my 3-year-old Samsung Galaxy phone.

Note that the photo at the bottom left makes the tiller screen look harder to read than it really is. In fact, during some sunny testing conditions, the tiller LCD was easier to see than my oldish iPad Mini. Still, the tiller screen is often not where I want it to be, especially as I often drive solo with an extension tiller. Therefore, while most of the data on the middle image below is already on the tiller display, my first TorqTrac run was also the first time I got to see that when wide open the 1003’s throttle can push my latest tender at 4.6 knots (which seems pretty good for a non-planing 9ft Fatty Knees that’s 4ft 6in wide). If I had stepped back to the tiller at that speed, it would have knocked the boat way out of trim, or worse. It’s also nice to see the live battery range shown as a graphic circle on a map, though a chart would be better, and the device must be online to get these maps.

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In fact, I did a lot of “testing” during some recent balmy days in New Bern, North Carolina. As I was doing so I learned that simply tapping on the units of speed/distance cycles through kilometers, miles and nautical miles. I also discovered that one tap into the “range” screen makes the map zoomable and lets you long-tap waypoints, including one designated as “home.” This feature could be especially useful for kids or guests. I wonder how long it will be before a drunken sailor uses this feature to find his boat at night in a crowded anchorage.

Note in the image below right how much lower the power draw is at just over 3 knots and how much the range increased even though the battery is down from what’s shown to its left. I’ve never felt the need for a second battery, and I generally use the boat many times between charges.

Apple iOS TorqTrac is like the Android version. In the third main screen you can swipe and it will allow you to start and stop tracking, which could be useful for harbor navigation, not to mention electric-quiet gunkholing. It took me a while to figure out that it uses the mobile device’s GPS instead of the one built into the Torqeedo tiller—which may have something to do with the long time it took to get the app through the Apple approval process. At any rate, once I fired up the Bad Elf Pro, the tracking became very accurate.

I ended up using three wireless devices plus the TorqTrac module for this testing and was impressed that they all got along. I imagine that Torqeedo will eventually start building the Bluetooth right into the tillers, plus perhaps the controls for their ever-larger systems. (Deep Blue Hybrid is on its way.)

Images courtesy of Ben Ellison

For more of Ben Ellison's insight on marine electronics, go to panbo.com

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