How to choose the right electronics for your sailboat

Equipping your sailboat with the right electronics is crucial for a safe and enjoyable sailing adventure. This comprehensive guide will help you choose the best options for your specific needs.

How to Choose the Right Electronics for Your Sailboat

Embarking on a sailing adventure with your family is an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey, it’s essential to equip your sailboat with the right electronics. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the various types of electronics you may need for your sailboat, their functions, and how to choose the best options for your specific needs.

Table of Contents

Navigation systems, communication devices, weather monitoring, safety equipment, entertainment and connectivity, power management, final thoughts.

Navigating the open sea can be challenging, especially for those new to sailing. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to plot your course and stay on track. Here are some essential navigation electronics to consider for your sailboat:

GPS Chartplotter

A GPS chartplotter is a must-have for any sailboat. This device combines GPS data with electronic charts to display your boat’s position on a digital map. It helps you plan your route, monitor your progress, and avoid potential hazards such as shallow waters or submerged rocks.

When choosing a GPS chartplotter, consider the following factors:

  • Screen size and resolution : A larger screen with high resolution will make it easier to read charts and navigate, especially in bright sunlight.
  • Touchscreen vs. buttons : Touchscreen chartplotters are more intuitive and user-friendly, but buttons can be more reliable in wet conditions.
  • Built-in vs. external GPS antenna : Built-in antennas are more convenient, but external antennas may provide better reception in some situations.
  • Expandability : Some chartplotters can be connected to other devices, such as radar or AIS systems, for additional functionality.

An autopilot system can be a valuable addition to your sailboat, allowing you to maintain a steady course without constantly adjusting the helm. This can be particularly useful during long passages or when sailing in challenging conditions.

There are two main types of autopilot systems:

  • Wheel or tiller pilots : These are simpler and more affordable systems that attach directly to your boat’s wheel or tiller. They are suitable for smaller boats and less demanding conditions.
  • Below-deck autopilots : These systems are more powerful and reliable, with a separate control unit and drive unit installed below deck. They are suitable for larger boats and more challenging conditions.

When choosing an autopilot system, consider factors such as your boat’s size, the type of sailing you plan to do, and your budget.

Radar can be a valuable tool for navigating in low visibility conditions, such as fog or heavy rain. It uses radio waves to detect objects, such as other boats, buoys, or land, and displays their position on a screen.

When choosing a radar system, consider the following factors:

  • Power output : Higher power output will provide better range and resolution, but may also consume more energy.
  • Antenna size : Larger antennas will provide better resolution and range, but may be more challenging to install and require more space.
  • Display options : Some radar systems can be integrated with your chartplotter, while others have a separate display.

Staying connected while at sea is essential for both safety and convenience. Here are some communication devices to consider for your sailboat:

A VHF radio is a crucial piece of equipment for any sailboat, allowing you to communicate with other boats, marinas, and emergency services. It is also required by law in many countries.

When choosing a VHF radio, consider the following factors:

  • Fixed vs. handheld : Fixed VHF radios are more powerful and reliable, but handheld radios can be useful for dinghy trips or as a backup.
  • DSC capability : Digital Selective Calling (DSC) allows you to send a distress signal with your boat’s position at the push of a button. This feature is highly recommended for safety reasons.
  • AIS integration : Some VHF radios can be connected to an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which displays information about nearby boats on your chartplotter.

Satellite Phone

A satellite phone can be a valuable addition to your sailboat, allowing you to make calls and send messages from anywhere in the world. This can be particularly useful for emergencies or when sailing in remote areas.

When choosing a satellite phone, consider factors such as coverage, call quality, and data capabilities. Keep in mind that satellite phone service requires a subscription, which can be expensive.

Keeping an eye on the weather is essential for safe and enjoyable sailing. Here are some weather monitoring devices to consider for your sailboat:

Weather Station

A weather station can provide valuable information about the local conditions, such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and barometric pressure. This data can help you make informed decisions about your sailing plans and anticipate changes in the weather.

When choosing a weather station, consider factors such as accuracy, ease of installation, and compatibility with other devices, such as your chartplotter.

Weather Receiver

A weather receiver allows you to receive weather forecasts and alerts from official sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. This can be particularly useful when sailing in unfamiliar waters or during severe weather events.

When choosing a weather receiver, consider factors such as coverage, reception quality, and ease of use.

In addition to navigation and communication devices, there are several electronic safety devices that can enhance your sailboat’s safety:

An Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a valuable safety tool that allows you to see and be seen by other boats. It transmits and receives information about your boat’s position, speed, and course, as well as other nearby vessels, helping you avoid collisions and navigate crowded waters.

When choosing an AIS system, consider the following factors:

  • Class A vs. Class B : Class A AIS systems are more powerful and feature-rich, but are also more expensive and typically used on commercial vessels. Class B AIS systems are more affordable and suitable for most recreational sailboats.
  • Transponder vs. receiver : A transponder both transmits and receives AIS data, while a receiver only receives data. A transponder is recommended for enhanced safety and visibility.

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a critical piece of safety equipment that can help rescue teams locate your boat in the event of an emergency. When activated, it sends a distress signal with your boat’s position to search and rescue services via satellite.

When choosing an EPIRB, consider factors such as battery life, ease of activation, and compatibility with the international Cospas-Sarsat system.

While not essential for safety or navigation, entertainment and connectivity devices can make your sailing experience more enjoyable and comfortable:

Marine Stereo

A marine stereo can provide music and entertainment while you’re sailing, helping to create a pleasant atmosphere on board. When choosing a marine stereo, consider factors such as sound quality, durability, and compatibility with your preferred music sources (e.g., Bluetooth, USB, or satellite radio).

Wi-Fi Booster

A Wi-Fi booster can help you stay connected to the internet while at sea, allowing you to access weather forecasts, communicate with friends and family, and stream entertainment. When choosing a Wi-Fi booster, consider factors such as range, compatibility with your devices, and ease of installation.

All of these electronic devices require power, so it’s essential to have a reliable and efficient power management system on your sailboat. This may include:

  • Batteries : Choose high-quality marine batteries with sufficient capacity to power your electronics.
  • Charging system : Ensure your boat’s alternator and/or solar panels can keep your batteries charged.
  • Inverter : An inverter converts your boat’s DC power to AC power, allowing you to use household appliances and charge devices.

Equipping your sailboat with the right electronics is essential for a safe and enjoyable sailing adventure. By considering your specific needs and preferences, you can choose the best navigation, communication, weather monitoring, safety, entertainment, and power management devices for your boat. Happy sailing!

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Marine electronics: the latest new gear for 2021

Yachting World

  • March 31, 2021

Rupert Holmes takes a look at some of the lates marine electronics to hit the market in 2021.

cruising yacht electronics

It seems every year the technology available to sailors is improving and broadening and 2021 is already delivering innovative new marine electronics from radical new ideas to improvements on well-known technology.

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Extra wide 210D chartplotter has two 10in screens working together in one unit

A new Model for marine electronics?

A possible taste of the future, with the potential to fundamentally change our long-term relationship with marine electronics, is offered by Finnish company Next Four.

Historically we’ve been accustomed to new yachts being fitted with equipment from one of the big marine electronics brands – Raymarine, Navico (including B&G), Garmin and so on.

However, Next Four’s Q Experience range is intended to form a single integrated system that can be customised by boatbuilders to offer exactly what they believe will best suit each of their models.

Article continues below…

This customisation can include specific screen layouts and datasets, as well as the boat manufacturer’s own branding. In this respect the concept has more in common with cars than marine.

Other than very high-end systems, such as the Harman/Kardon or Bowers & Wilkins audio systems offered as options by BMW, we’re no longer routinely accustomed to seeing third party branded equipment in our cars.

cruising yacht electronics

Q Display 2 Series 16in MFD

The Q Experience system consists of three key elements – Q Panel touch screen displays in 10in, 16in and ultra-wide screen formats, a remote control unit, digital switching system and mobile app.

There’s also integrated boat guard monitoring and antitheft functionality that connects to 4G networks, plus remote heater operation.

It therefore offers the potential for a streamlined and integrated approach covering both navigation and the operation of every element of the boat’s systems.

Traditionalists may argue that the lack of conventional 4in instrument displays is a weakness. However, these are increasingly anachronistic – if I was equipping a yacht from scratch today, whether as a new build or a refit, I’d most likely opt instead for the flexibility of small MFD displays to display instrument data.

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Q Experience Remote

Adoption has initially been from builders of motorboats, but it’s surely only a matter of time before we see this offered on new sailing yachts. CEO Niklas Ohman says pricing is “quite competitive” compared to the company’s larger competitors. He also points out that system has been designed to streamline the installation process, thus reducing labour costs for both boat builders and retro-fit customers.

Price: TBC. From: www.theqexperience.com

Big format display

Lymington based A+T Instruments has been gradually making ever-larger inroads into the market for electronics on large cruising yachts and raceboats.

A few years ago the company’s growth was spurred by the development of new products that would interface with legacy B&G systems, enabling owners to update their electronics, or replace defective elements, without an expensive whole new installation.

Since then, A+T has expanded its range to include powerful processors and its own displays.

The BFD (big format display) is a top-notch unit that embraces the ongoing trend towards super large full-colour displays for instrument data.

The 12in screen has the same format as traditional 40/40 displays, so existing mast brackets can be used, but digits are 50% larger.

It can be mounted in either landscape or portrait orientations, can be read from any angle while wearing polarising glasses, and will operate with a unit temperature of up to 70˚C.

Network connection options include Ethernet, plus B&G Fastnet and N2K for legacy systems.

The display is intended to be the toughest and brightest available. Testing included 12 months of continuous operation in a water tank.

Price: £5,310. From: www.aandtinstruments.com

High Capacity Powerpack

Pocket-sized lithium ion power packs for topping up mobile phones and even laptops are commonplace and can at times be extremely useful, but most have limited capacity.

By contrast, this larger product takes the concept to its ultimate limit, offering a very high capacity battery, plus multiple AC, DC and USB outputs, as well as provision for easy recharging via solar panel.

The battery pack is rated at 1,010Wh. For comparison, current generation MacBook Pros have 58Wh or 100Wh batteries. There are twin 240V AC outlets, with a 1kW maximum output (2kW surge), plus several USB and 12V outlets.

Recharging is via either 240V AC or 12V DC supplies. The unit also includes an MPPT solar charge regulator so it can be connected directly to a boat’s solar array.

The case, which is waterproof to IP65, also includes space for an optional 80W solar panel.

For yachts venturing long distances this promises resilience in a 12.5kg box. In the event of a catastrophic failure of the ship’s power, the pack would suffice to keep a base level of essential LED lighting, navigation and communications equipment, including satellite phones, running for extended periods.

Price: US$999. From: www.monteksolar.com

Genset alternative

Off-grid power specialist WhisperPower has launched a battery-based alternative to a conventional 240V generator.

The OctoPower 3 marries a 5kWh lithium ion battery to a built-in 3,000W inverter, 90-265V battery charger and 50-1,000W solar charge regulator.

It’s aimed at weekenders who don’t want shorepower during overnight stops, but can re-charge the unit back at their home berth.

Price: £8,480. From: www.whisperpower.com

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How to get the latest boat electronics – on a budget

  • Katy Stickland
  • April 28, 2021

Keeping up to date with the latest navigation technology can be prohibitive. Mike Reynolds shares how to get the latest electronics for your boat for a fraction of the cost

A skipper using a laptop on board of his yacht

Mike Reynold uses free software for a range of navigation tasks. Credit: Mike Reynolds

Electronics technology is constantly improving, offering ever more impressive capabilities, writes Mike Reynolds .

It is making navigation easier, quicker and more accurate, and useful information easier to access.

It’s making recording and displaying historical data possible, supplementing the real-time (now) data we’re used to.

It costs, but only if substantial replacement of hardware is necessary.

We decided we wanted the best of both worlds — standard hardware with longevity, and software with the flexibility to take advantage of emerging trends.

OpenCPN offers clear, easy-to-use chartplotting and navigation functions.

OpenCPN offers clear, easy-to-use chartplotting and navigation functions. Credit: Mike Reynolds

We are electronics enthusiasts and configuring electronics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But a little effort can deliver the very latest capabilities, tailored to your boat, for minimal additional cost.

For those not inclined to experiment, this article illustrates capabilities coming to future ‘plug and play’ systems.

Our boat Zen Again is a 1980s 34ft 3/4 tonner which we purchased 10 years ago.

She is fitted with a robust cruising navigation and communications system, with built-in redundancy.

For some years we’ve used standard NMEA-2000 sensors for position, speeds, depth and AIS .

The data is sent via WiFi to a laptop at the chart table and waterproof tablets on deck.

Zen Again is a ST10.4, a 1980s IOR three-quarter tonner designed and built in Japan.

Zen Again is a ST10.4, a 1980s IOR three-quarter tonner designed and built in Japan. Credit: Mike Reynolds

Recently we’ve added a NMEA-2000 weather station which added wind, temperature, atmospheric pressure and 3D attitude.

This required new SignalK interface technology to replace the old NMEA-0183 traditionally used over WiFi.

SignalK became a springboard into some really useful capabilities.

I will describe what we’ve done, and what it cost.

You can stop anywhere along the process but the further you go the better the capabilities, and the value of the investment!

Electronics: Gathering the Data

When contemplating upgrades we keep in mind our prioritised data list:

  • Position (from GNSS systems – GPS, Galileo, Glonass, collectively ‘GPS’)
  • Water depth n Boat speed and heading
  • Speed and course over ground (SoG and CoG)
  • Autopilot n Communication (VHF plus SSB and/or Satphone)
  • AIS transceiver
  • Wind sensor (apparent wind)
  • Environment sensor (atmospheric pressure, air temperature, attitude)

The autopilot is important enough for us to have two fully installed and calibrated units.

Radar is last since AIS pushed it down the list.

We had radar but it failed years ago.

A replacement hasn’t made the cut yet and we’ll ignore it here.

We’ll also ignore SSB and satphones.

Recognising that AIS transceivers integrate GPS we can translate the data list into a list of system elements:

  • AIS (position, time, SoG, CoG, traffic)
  • Thru-hull sensor (boat speed, water depth, water temperature, 3D attitude)
  • Autopilot (heading, rudder angle, route-related data, 3D attitude)
  • VHF (DSC messages)
  • Environment sensor (atmospheric pressure, air temperature, 3D attitude)

It’s interesting that 3D attitude is appearing in so many sensors.

The technology is now very cheap and easy to integrate into products.

A weather station for a boat

A more expensive weather station, with ultrasonic wind sensor, gave Mike the full range of data he wanted. Credit: Mike Reynolds

Our research revealed the availability of NMEA-2000 weather stations.

These integrate high-speed GPS and measure apparent wind, ground wind, air temperature, atmospheric pressure, 3D attitude and more.

No moving parts. It gave us all the environmental data we wanted and addressed a desire for GPS redundancy.

So our list became:

  • AIS transceiver (about £800)
  • Thru-hull sensor (about £300)
  • Autopilot (about £1,300 tiller, about £2,500 wheel)
  • VHF transceiver (about £300)
  • Weather station (about £1,500)

All of these system elements are readily available with NMEA-2000 interfaces.

The total cost is under £5,000 for tiller and £6,000 for wheel auto-pilots including cabling and mounting gear.

To save £1,200 the weather station could be replaced with a wind sensor (about £300).

We valued GPS redundancy and environment data highly so installed the weather station.

Displaying the Data

Marine MFDs (Multi-Function Displays) and chartplotters are nice.

Many boats have two. But they’re not cheap, and nor are charts for them.

We fitted a small one soon after purchasing Zen Again , and carried a spare.

A MFD mounted in the cockpit of a boat - some of the electronics needed to receive navigation data

A cockpit-mounted tablet provides MFD functions using SignalK. Credit: Mike Reynolds

As time passed one failed and the other was relegated to data display only.

Five years ago we started chartplotting and displaying data on laptops and tablets.

This change was enabled by the WiFi access point on our AIS transceiver.

This, together with the integrated GPS, makes the AIS the heart of the system.

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It broadcasts its own data plus other data from the NMEA-2000 network.

We’ve crossed three oceans and circumnavigated the UK using only laptops and tablets for chartplotting and data display.

They’ve survived storms and a lightning near-miss which destroyed a marine-standard interface unit and damaged one of our autopilots.

With his new SignalK system for £200, Mike no longer needs an array of expensive standalone electronics at his chart table

With his new SignalK system for £200, Mike no longer needs an array of expensive standalone instruments at his chart table. Credit: Mike Reynolds

We carry fully configured spares.

With thunderstorms nearby we disconnect all their cables to minimise risk.

The apps we use are OpenCPN on the laptops and iNavX on the tablets.

OpenCPN is a free, open-source, full-featured chartplotter.

On OpenCPN we use ooSENC charts supplemented by satellite imagery.

iNavX is also an excellent chartplotter and uses Navionics charts.

We like the redundancy of multiple chart sources.

Both apps support display of real-time instrument data.

Most marine WiFi access points broadcast data as a NMEA-0183 datastream.

This limits the data to that supported by NMEA-0183. This was a serious problem in our latest upgrade which added the weather station.

Much of the new data is unsupported by NMEA-0183.

More research suggested SignalK was the answer.

SignalK is a free, open source marine data exchange format.

It provides a means of sharing marine data in a future-proof manner friendly to WiFi, mobile networks and the internet.

The heart of SignalK is a software server which inputs and outputs NMEA-0183, NMEA-2000 and other data streams.

The software translates the data streams to and from SignalK format and makes the SignalK data available to client apps.

Clients can be on the same computer or on other connected computers.

Each client gets only the data it requests.

Client apps can be on phones, tablets or laptops, aboard or elsewhere.

The only additional hardware required is a NMEA-2000 USB gateway for about £150. An example use of SignalK is the open source system OpenPlotter .

OpenPlotter uses a £50 Raspberry Pi computer to run SignalK and OpenCPN, providing a full onboard MFD solution, albeit not to ‘marine standard’.

SignalK supports more than described below, including monitoring and controlling devices, and generating alarms.

Cheaper electronics onboard, like a BeagleBone computer can help you get the latest tech on your boat at a fraction of the cost

A simple, cheap computer runs SignalK and records all NMEA2000 data. Credit: Mike Reynolds

On Zen Again we already had several BeagleBone computers aboard.

They’re less capable computers than the latest Raspberry Pis but consume less power.

We decided to try SignalK on one of them.

We purchased an Actisense NGT-1 NMEA-2000 USB gateway and set to work installing the SignalK software on the BeagleBone.

Installation wasn’t simple but it’s now documented on our blog.

OpenPlotter comes with the software pre-installed for a Raspberry Pi. Our experiment has worked out very well.

The Beaglebone now feeds SignalK over WiFi to OpenCPN on our laptops and to client apps iNavX and WilhelmSK on our laptop, tablets and phones.

A SignalK gateway opens up a whole range of real time and historic data tracking, giving a more informed picture of how conditions are changing.

A SignalK gateway opens up a whole range of real time and historic data tracking, giving a more informed picture of how conditions are changing. Credit: Mike Reynolds

It also transmits wired NMEA-0183 to our old autopilots.

We also have all the software installed and configured on a spare BeagleBone.

Both hardware and software have proven to be very reliable after several months of 24/7 operation.

WilhelmSK is a £20 SignalK client app which runs on iOS and MacOS.

It supports user-designed pages to suit your data and also your current situation.

For example we have sailing, anchoring and weather pages.

Beyond SignalK

With SignalK proven aboard we looked at what more we could do with our data.

We like to record our passages, which previously amounted to written hourly logs and electronic GPX files of our tracks.

SignalK supports output to the free database software InfluxDB .

InfluxDB was simple to set up on the BeagleBone.

This records all of our NMEA-2000 data, giving us a ‘black box’ recorder.

To view recorded data we installed the free graphing software Grafana on our navigation laptop.

The laptop accesses the BeagleBone’s InfluxDB database over WiFi.

Electronics engineer Mike Reynolds

Mike Reynolds is a consultant electronics engineer who occasionally lectures on yacht navigation and communications systems. Credit: Mike Reynolds

We created Grafana ‘dashboards’ to display our data.

While sailing we can view trends like speed, wind, current, atmospheric pressure and so on.

After passages we can capture summaries and highlights.

WilhelmSK can display web pages, including Grafana dashboards.

SignalK has given us a lot of information and enjoyment for the £200 hardware cost of a BeagleBone and an Actisense NGT-1.

Most of the software for these programmes is free.

Installing the software wasn’t trivial but it put the future of marine electronics on our boat today.

Adding recorded data display to real-time data display is certainly a plus.

Electronics gear

Actisense ngt-1 nmea-2000 usb gateway.

Actisense NGT-1 NMEA-2000 USB gateway

Buy it now on eBay (UK)

Buy it now on eBay (US)

www.actisense.com

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 2GB Quad Core 64 Bit Cortex-A72 4x USB WiFi Bluetooth 5 (2GB)

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 2GB Quad Core 64 Bit Cortex-A72 4x USB WiFi Bluetooth 5 (2GB)

Buy it now on Amazon (UK)

Buy it now on Amazon (US)

www.raspberrypi.org

BeagleBone Black

BeagleBoard Black

www.beagleboard.org

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What Marine Electronics Do I Need on My Boat?

What are the “must-have” electronics that you need on a boat? Well, that’s a great question. The best boat electronics are tools that can help you improve your time spent on the water. Figuring out what those tools are starts with thinking about how you like to spend your time on the water—whether that’s fishing, rafting up, long-distance cruising, or watersports—and factoring in what kind of boat you own.

The marine electronics package you’d use for a fishing boat is completely different from a package you might need for a kayak, personal watercraft (PWC), or pontoon, for example. Regardless of what kind of boater you are or what water-based activities you enjoy, there are a few basic electronics you’ll want to consider adding to your arsenal.

knowwake boat navigation app

Useful Boat Electronics

1. boat navigation app.

This one is a given—and luckily, a good boating app, like KnowWake , can serve multiple purposes. Not only is KnowWake great for GPS destination routing, location sharing, and navigation , but it comes with a long list of complimentary features that decrease your need for many other types of electronics all together.

App users can take advantage of tools like:

  • Wake Zone Identifier
  • Anchor Alarm
  • Virtual Dive Flag
  • Local and Remote Depth
  • Pre-Departure Safety Checklists
  • Easy-Submit Float Plan Tool
  • Augmented Reality (AR) Capabilities
  • Social Features, like Group Chat and Friends List
  • Crowdsourced Point of Interests (POIs), like Raft Ups, Saved Spots, Hazards, Patrols
  • And so much more…

The best part is, KnowWake is free! No purchase or subscription fees are necessary.

fish finder depth sounder on a boat in the water

2. Fish Finder and/or Depth Finder

Fish finders or depth finders (also sometimes referred to as depth sounders) use sound, or SONAR, to locate fish underneath the water. As you can probably guess, these tools are an avid angler’s best friend—and believe it or not, they can help you catch more fish if used in the right way.

Every fish finder is different, so you’ll want to get very familiar with your unit’s user interface and settings, which can include everything from zoom and range, to color pallets, scanning vs. traditional views, sensitivity, and screen brightness

vhf radio on a boat

3. VHF Radio

A VHF radio isn’t just a “nice-to-have,” it’s without a doubt a “must-have” piece of safety equipment you should always keep onboard. Whether you’re inshore or offshore boating, you never know when your cell phone may lose service or lose battery completely.

In case of an emergency, your VHF radio serves as your most reliable form of communication between you and local law enforcement or the U.S. Coast Guard.

man at the main controls of a boat

4. GPS/Chartplotter

While a lot of basic navigation actions can be done right in the KnowWake app, some boaters do find it useful to have a separate standalone marine GPS units or chartplotters that are satellite-based systems.

These kinds of tools can help you identify your position, speed and direction while underway, as well as point out any nearby aids or hazards to navigation.

critical alert/battery voltage logo image on a boat with siren marine app

5. Boat Monitoring System

What many like to refer to as “connected boat technology” has gained popularity in the last few years. Boat owners love the idea that they can know where their boat is at all times, plus it’s current condition or status by utilizing onboard sensors that monitor bilge water levels, security and entry alarms, battery charge levels, and more.

Most of these boat monitoring and control systems come standard with their own smartphone application, so owners can literally control their boat from the palm of their hand.

Start building your onboard electronics arsenal with a quick download of the KnowWake app today!

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Nav equipment and electronics: how to set up your boat on a budget

  • Rupert Holmes
  • October 28, 2020

What’s essential when updating your nav station? Rupert Holmes looks at everything from AIS to radar, sonar and MFDs

cruising yacht electronics

Marine electronics have come a long way since the days when a log, depth sounder , VHF and GPS, or even Decca, were the norm for many boats. It’s now possible to spend the entire value of an older 25-30ft yacht on electronics and still not have a totally comprehensive system. So what are the best options for those who don’t want to splash large amounts of cash on gizmos?

What’s the least that you need to stay safe? My boat in Greece (pictured above), which I keep to a very basic specification (as much as anything to reduce unnecessary time spent on maintenance) has only fixed and handheld VHFs, plus an EPIRB as dedicated equipment. Both the depth sounder and speed/distance log that I fitted when I bought the boat in 2001 gave up long ago and haven’t been replaced.

Of course it’s important to know the depth when anchoring, but if you approach reasonably slowly it can be fathomed with a lead line. I rarely anchor in more than 10-12m, so this doesn’t need to be particularly long and is therefore easy to use after a bit of practice.

Navigation is done on phone and tablet apps, with the hardware protected by waterproof and shockproof cases. As backup I still have steering and hand-bearing compasses, as well as paper charts. I recently also bought an elderly tiller pilot, which does a much better job, other than when close-hauled, than the length of stout shock cord I’d used for the previous 14 years. More on that later.

In other parts of the world, and especially much of our home waters, a depth sounder is a more fundamental item that few people would want to be without.

The same is true for a speed and distance log when sailing in tidal areas. Beyond these items, with the exception of AIS (and arguably radar for some), there’s a sense in which everything else is merely a matter of convenience or efficiency. Of course, the latter can lead to faster passage making, which naturally some will welcome.

At the other end of the scale are yachts with sensors for a wider range of parameters, including gyro compasses or 9-axis motion sensors, wind speed and angle, AIS transponders, radar, plus on-deck multifunction displays (MFDs) that are enormously more powerful in what they can display than even the very best of old-school chartplotters.

For many, much of this kit is by no means essential, but it makes life much easier, especially approaching an unfamiliar port at night and in the rain. It also aids efficient sailing, whether you’re racing or simply want to knock an hour or two off passage times for longer trips.

Relatively recent software developments that include lay lines to waypoints when tacking towards them and wind graphs that help to spots trends in changes to strength or direction are very helpful in this respect.

How to upgrade my existing navigation instruments?

cruising yacht electronics

My preference is to mount an MFD on deck and use a tablet as a repeater at the chart table below

If existing systems are working well it’s often feasible to replace a single component that fails, rather than renewing the entire system. There’s therefore a brisk trade in second-hand displays, sensors and other essential items on ebay.

cruising yacht electronics

Another example of instruments fitted in the cockpit

These often change hands at surprisingly high prices for items that may be 15 or more years old, but it can make sense for the buyer if replacing one element postpones renewing an entire system that could cost several thousand pounds to replace.

On the other hand, in many cases paying a high price for second-hand equipment may make little long-term sense for someone wanting to install a system from scratch, unless they are on the tightest of budgets.

In both cases it’s well worth making a realistic assessment of what you actually need. For instance, is a wind instrument absolutely necessary?

Historically wind sensors have been one of the most unreliable elements of marine electronics, which also means working ones are particularly sought after on the second-hand market.

Arguably, the only sense in which wind data is essential is to enable an autopilot to steer to the wind angle. The ability to do this is very important for sailing close hauled (or indeed downwind angles) for any length of time.

In Greece I don’t have wind data for the pilot to use, which is why my length of shock cord works well when close hauled in a consistent breeze, providing the sails are carefully trimmed to make the boat properly balanced.

How resilient is electronic nav equipment? Today’s electronics are far more reliable than in the past, but they’re still by no means infallible. The greater the extent to which you can run the boat without sophisticated electronics, the smaller the chance of being caught out by a big repair bill, or having a weekend or summer cruise spoiled. This applies just as much to a boat with basic electronics as to one with comprehensive systems. Given the number of GPS-enabled devices we now own it’s fairly easy to carry backups, but they do need to have suitable protection against the elements and being accidentally dropped down the companionway or catapulted across the cabin in rough seas.

Should I upgrade to NMEA2000 from NMEA0183?

cruising yacht electronics

Few things date the appearance of a boat more than old electronics.

To my mind there’s no contest between the two industry standard protocols for instrument data networks. I’d have to be very skint to contemplate fitting a network from scratch based on the older NMEA0183 standard, which has arrays of tiny wires, along with a limit to the number of devices that can talk or listen on the network. This makes installation of anything beyond a simple log and depth sounder a laborious and fiddly process.

cruising yacht electronics

Neat plug-and-play connections on a NMEA2000 system

On the other hand, if you’ve inherited instruments that don’t work with a recently bought boat, time invested in tracing the wiring and making good any problems might be rewarded with working electronics.

The plug and play simplicity of NMEA2000 (sometimes referred to as N2K) makes installation a relative breeze, reliability is greatly improved and when something does go wrong fault-finding is enormously simplified. This system also makes it easier to add additional functionality or displays of all types at a later date.

On the downside, the cables can be eyewateringly expensive.

N2K systems (and the proprietary protocols that work on the same basis) enable individual displays to be used for multiple purposes, rather than being a dedicated depth sounder, log, wind instrument and so on. For instance, a display might be used to show wind data in open water, but changed at the touch of a button to a colour depth graph, plus big numeric read out, when approaching more confined waters.

What is the best autopilot system for my boat?

This is an area in which it’s all but impossible for budget-conscious sailors to avoid big compromises in performance. There have been enormous changes in this field over the past six to eight years and today’s pilots are easier to set up, easier to use and hugely better at holding a course than their predecessors. If properly commissioned, even mid-range systems can be relied on to hold course in challenging conditions, providing you’re not attempting to sail dead downwind.

This is particularly true for wheel-steered boats, with a pilot that drives a below-deck quadrant. These systems are now in general very reliable (though I’d certainly want to take a spare if crossing an ocean), while a growing range of inputs, including those from 9-axis sensors that measure rate of yaw and changes in heel angle, have helped to transform course keeping. A rudder angle sensor is also an important element for these systems, as knowledge of the helm angle helps the course computer’s algorithms steer more accurately.

Tiller-steered boats that don’t have a quadrant below deck are therefore at a significant disadvantage in this respect, although the Canadian-produced Octopus cable drive can offer a solution that’s almost as good as the best below-deck wheel pilots. Pelagic, a relatively recently developed Californian brand, may also be worth considering.

Beyond this, there has been little development of tiller pilots for more than 20 years and the all-in-one type is difficult to waterproof effectively. Raymarine’s EV100 tiller pilot, in which the drive is separate from the course computer and sensor inputs, is the best option, though it lacks a clutch, so has to be manually moved on and off the tiller, and rudder angle feedback is not available.

Brief buyer’s guide to multifunction displays and chartplotters

cruising yacht electronics

B&G Zeus 3: the latest systems are hugely powerful and flexible, but can be expensive

The humble standalone chartplotter has morphed into more powerful and sophisticated networked devices that combine a computer processor and software with a display.

As a result, as well as showing charts, all other system data can be displayed, while output from networked AIS and radar units can be overlaid on the chart to make this information easier to interpret. This is perhaps the biggest single difference between a system that might have been installed 15 years ago and today’s marine electronics.

Many MFDs of the last five years have a built-in wifi hub so that the screen can be mirrored onto a tablet or iPad.

Alternatively a separate wifi hub can be added to most NMEA2000 systems to achieve the same result. A common question is whether it’s better to mount the MFD at the chart table and use the tablet on deck, or vice versa?

There’s a good reason why I’d always opt to fit the MFD on deck. Firstly they tend to have good sunlight readable displays, with the latest models particularly good in this respect. By contrast, with the exception of a handful of ruggedised (and relatively expensive) devices, smartphone and tablet screens are notoriously difficult to read in bright sun, although later high-spec models are certainly better in this respect.

The same applies at night, where many apps fail to dim the screen sufficiently to prevent night vision being eliminated. Phones and tablets are also difficult to operate in properly wet conditions when on deck, while the screens of MFDs, particularly more recent models, are significantly better.

cruising yacht electronics

An active radar reflector will ensure your boat shows as a clear target on radar

Do I need AIS and radar for my boat?

These two technologies can be extremely useful for avoiding collision in poor visibility and if decisions need to be made at a long range, such as when crossing the English Channel’s busy shipping lanes. Historically, radar was also heavily used as a navigation aid.

Radar has the benefit of equipping your boat to directly detect other vessels and hazards, whereas you can only see AIS targets from craft that are actively transmitting their own signal. Given that only commercial craft over 300 tons, and in the EU fishing vessels of more than 15m length, are required to carry AIS transponders you may encounter many craft without.

If budget only allows you to fit one system there are strong arguments in favour of radar. However, it’s vital to appreciate the downsides before making a decision. Getting the most out of radar is a skilled and time-consuming task, while skimping this role risks adding to the already long list of radar assisted collisions.

Fitting radar without AIS therefore only makes sense for vessels that are crewed by a number of people who have the benefit of proper training in the use of radar and plenty of experience, including at night and in restricted visibility. However, that’s not how most of us sail – even those with the knowledge to use radar effectively may be standing watch alone, or managing a crew that’s at risk of becoming cold, tired and seasick.

This is when AIS scores highly. Key data, including Closest Point of Approach (CPA) and time to CPA, are calculated and accessed easily for every target. In addition, if your boat is fitted with an AIS transponder, other vessels will be able to see your location, course and speed.

Of course, if you have the budget, buy both radar and an AIS transponder. Today’s radar systems are particularly good – they are easier to use and there’s far less chance of over-zealous manual application of rain and wave clutter controls completely tuning out important targets. Having said that, before fitting radar I’d add a radar target enhancer. This device amplifies the reflection of radar signals from other vessels and therefore means your boat is far more likely to show as a clear target.

Do I need sonar for my boat?

This is very much an optional extra, but could be of interest to those keen on fishing, or scoping out new anchorages. There’s been a lot of recent development in this area, both in standalone products and those that can be interfaced with an MFD, thanks to the enormous fishing market in North America.

Low cost systems, with prices starting from as little as £200, tend to have a transducer mounted on the stern of the boat that shows targets out to each side. The very best systems now have sufficient resolution to show patches of sea grass in an anchorage.

Forward-looking sonar tends to be more limited in its scope and is not a budget buy, with typical prices upwards of £700. It can scan a 15° arc to show depths up to 90m ahead of the boat, although gently shelving mud may bring the viable range in shallow water down to as little as 25m.

This article was originally published in PBO Summer 2020 – Subscribe or buy a single issue from www.magazinesdirect.com

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17 Jul 2024

New flagship Sea Tel TVRO antenna improves program choice and service quality on cruise ships and mega yachts

Copenhagen, Denmark, 17 July 2024 – Cobham Satcom has unveiled its most advanced maritime satellite TV antenna yet. Designed primarily for use on cruise ships and mega yachts, the 3.7 meter Sea Tel 370s TV is a groundbreaking solution designed to expand onboard access to the highest quality programming anywhere in the world, while significantly reducing lifetime technical costs.

The Sea Tel 370s TV leverages the newest generation Sea Tel Integrated Marine Electronics (IMA) platform, which is already proven in the world’s most flexible and powerful marine VSAT antenna systems. New technology helps unlock several advantages for cruise and yacht charter companies by automating the manual processes that have until now been needed to make some of the most popular television channels available globally at sea.

Cobham Satcom’s new flagship TVRO antenna features automatic C-band switching between circular and linear polarization, ensuring uninterrupted viewing and continuous availability of live television such as ESPN, which is one of the most popular cruise ship channels especially when major sporting tournaments are playing.

The introduction of the Sea Tel 370s TV advanced automatic switching alleviates the shipowner of having to undergo the costly and time-consuming work previously required when an engineer had to board the ship and manually convert antennas between circular and linear polarization when entering a new region served by incompatible satellites.

Further advances come from an innovative new technology that mitigates the recent phenomenon of 5G interference with satellite TV on board, when getting closer to land. Cobham Satcom has applied its decades of radio frequency engineering expertise to ensure that the Sea Tel 370s TV provides the best viewing experience under extreme atmospheric conditions as well as 5G signal interference.

Additionally, Cobham Satcom will be offering a feed upgrade which will be compatible with many of the existing Sea Tel 2.4 meter and 3.7 meter TVRO antennas already operating on cruise ships and mega yachts globally. The ability to upgrade these existing systems to the new Circular/Linear 5G filtered feed will save the customer considerable capital and operational expenditure.

Henrik Fyhn, VP & Product Line Director, Maritime, Cobham Satcom said: “ While the ability to deliver high quality television on board is a key factor in guest satisfaction scores in the cruise sector, removing the need for regular engineer visits to manually modify an antenna for ships traversing between incompatible satellite regions, can deliver at least six figure savings over the lifetime of a vessel. ”

The Sea Tel 370s TV is Cobham Satcom’s second new TVRO launch in as many months. The company also released its all-new SAILOR XTR TVRO antennas in May this year. Consisting of 1 meter and 1.2 meter antenna systems, the focus is on a smaller onboard footprint, while offering class-leading global programming and interference free reception for improved viewing on a wide range of vessel types.

Further information: Cobham Satcom Henrietta Jessen Marketing Director T: +45 5175 6300 [email protected]

About Cobham Satcom Cobham Satcom is a market-leading provider of radio and satellite communications solutions and services for the maritime and land segments, delivering business- and mission-critical connectivity to a broad range of service providers, enterprises, and government customers.

By exploring new technologies, partnerships, and spaces, Cobham Satcom continues to deliver on tracking and pointing innovation, and designs and manufactures high-performance radio and communication terminals, gateways, and systems solutions under the SAILOR, Sea Tel, EXPLORER, and TRACKER brands.

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The most boats ever will compete in the 100th Bayview Yacht Club race to Mackinac Island

Billed on its website as the “world’s longest continuously run long-distance freshwater yacht race,” the 100th Bayview Mackinac Race is set to start Saturday.

A record-setting 334 boats have registered for the 100th year of the race, shattering the record of 316 in 1985 and a huge contrast compared with the 200 boats that raced last year, said David Stoyka, spokesman for the Bayview Yacht Club, which puts on the race.

Bayview Yacht Club says boats start leaving the Black River in Port Huron around 8 a.m. on race day and will continue leaving until around noon. From the Black River, they will proceed up the St. Clair River, under the Blue Water Bridge, into Lake Huron.

The first scheduled start time in Lake Huron is 11:30 a.m., with starts every 10 minutes until approximately 1:30 p.m. The starts may be delayed due to weather conditions.

This year, for the 100th running, the race will follow the original 1925 route and span 204 nautical miles. From the starting point, the boats will head north along the Michigan shoreline, passing south of Bois Blanc Island, sailing west to east at the finish line between Round Island and Mackinac Island, organizers said.

The range of boats are expected to finish in between 30 and 60 hours.

The sailors

Teams at all skill levels have entered the race, which draws competitors from around the world.  The highly skilled racers know they will cross the bow of competitors within inches. Still, there's always risk of a crash with the slightest miscalculation.

"Everybody recognizes this is super intense," said champion sailor  Tim Prophit , 65, of St. Clair Shores, past commodore of Bayview Yacht Club and owner of Fast Tango, a North American 40 sailboat.

The teams are vying for trophies and flags to show their accomplishments.

The J.L. Hudson Trophy is awarded to the boat with the best corrected time in Division I, and the Canadian Club Classic Trophy is awarded to the boat with the best corrected time in Division II.

How can spectators follow the race?

Spectators can go to bycmack.com during the race and click on “RaceTracking” link to watch real-time GPS positioning of all the race boats, or, on your mobile device, download the free app YB Races and select the current race.

Boats will start arriving at Mackinac Island on Sunday afternoon and continue until Monday evening, all dependent upon the wind.

Finishes can be seen from Windermere Point on Mackinac Island at the south end of Main Street.

Sailors who have completed 25 Bayview Mackinac races are called “Old Goats,” according to the club, while those who have completed 50 are called “Grand Rams.” 

"Double Goats" are sailors who have completed 25 Bayview Mackinac races and 25 Chicago Yacht Club race to Mackinac races. This year’s Chicago to Mackinac race encountered strong winds in Lake Michigan , snapping some boats’ masts and tossing one sailor overboard. No one was hurt.

Volunteers who have served for 15 years on the Race Committee are honored with the title “Old Forts,” as designated by the Race Committee.

This story includes material from a staff report by former Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard and from the Bayview Yacht Club.

Southbridge Boat House

Hours updated 1 month ago

Photo of Southbridge Boat House - Concord, MA, US. How can you not be excited about getting on the water in this spot?

Review Highlights

southbridge-boat-house-concord-2 photo gQTJLJYec0FoQgQK4MDAnw

“ Now that Spring is here, I'd heartily suggest coming out here, and spending the day paddling up or down the River . ” in 21 reviews

Juliet N.

“ We headed toward the Old North Bridge , which is part of the Minute Man historic park. ” in 5 reviews

Rob G.

“ Good prices, equipment is ok, but the best is the excursion to the minute man historic monument and house. ” in 3 reviews

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496 Main St

Concord, MA 01742

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About the Business

The South Bridge Boathouse offers canoe and kayak rentals to the general public with waterfront access to the historic waterways of the Assabet, Concord and Sudbury rivers. We are committed to making your experience safe and enjoyable. Please call us if you have any questions, we’re happy to assist you. Happy paddling! …

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Photo of John L.

Perfect spot for some weekend activity! Friendly staff and great location! Cameron did an excellent job in getting my party ready for some enjoyable kayaking experience.

Photo of Diana R.

Cash only!! (Only reason it's not a 5!) Plan ahead.... Solid service by Bri, and the young men who launch you and help you back in. Thanks for such an affordable, reliable kayaking opportunity. Part of my summer rituals now.... Know that the website is not current, either.... But what they do, they do well!

On the River

On the River

One of our sightings

One of our sightings

Photo of Divyashree R.

Reasonable prices but cash only. Equipments are fine and easy renting. The old man and the young guy both were helpful. 1.5-2 hrs kayak/ canoe is totally worth it. Social distancing and masks are requiredat the dock at these convos times but later can be removed in the boats.

cruising yacht electronics

Had lot of geese accompany us!!

Photo of Laurent S.

This goes back some time, but had the same experience as other reviewers here with the "older man" and felt compelled to write this review. Brought extended family (with young kids) to rent some canoes. Found the front desk empty during regular hours. Stepped onto the deck in front of the river to see if anyone was around. Eventually we noticed the "older man" by himself with some canoes. He ignored us. We asked if he worked here and he went ballistic. Started yelling at us and punching canoes. Getting violent and unpredictable. We retreated quickly to our car. Absolutely confused by the incident. We reached out to the owner by phone to report the incident and she basically told us "what do you want me to do about it?" As I understand it, he is related to the owner and she is well aware of this ongoing problem. Read the other reviews, this is not an isolated incident.

Photo of William G.

I really enjoyed Canoeing here, the concord river is huge so we canoed for 3+ hours but only covered a fraction of the river. The boat house has double kayaks, canoes, and single kayaks. Be aware that this place is CASH ONLY. They had someone help us get in and out of the boat which was nice. The price I believe is changed by hour then after 3 hours, the price no longer goes up. The facilities are on the older side but did not impact our experience. I would make five stars if they accepted credit card and/or could book from their website.

cruising yacht electronics

Good prices, equipment is ok, but the best is the excursion to the minute man historic monument and house. Make sure you pick a good, clear, and warm day for your excursion. The rental was quick and efficient. Not much training or "friendliness", just to business and off you go on the water.

Fun expeditions to minute man historical monument

Fun expeditions to minute man historical monument

Photo of Katie P.

David was great. He provided us with maps of the river, advised us on some hidden gems and shallow areas to watch out for, and was generally speaking just a really kind person. I was glad we ended up here - David's warm welcome was a great way to begin a lovely afternoon paddling trip. Will definitely be back.

How can you not be excited about getting on the water in this spot?

How can you not be excited about getting on the water in this spot?

Photo of Briana K.

Love this beautiful spot! The new 3rd generation owner is amazing! She is so kind, professional, and hardworking. The customer service is top notch and the views on the river are stunning. Can't recommend this place enough!

Photo of Miss C.

What a great place this is. The prices could be a little less, but it's still worth it. The Sudbury River water isn't the cleanest but it's all good...the boathouse has nothing to do with that. They don't take debit or credit cards like the website says. They should update the site. I know that the boathouse may have survived some massive water damage throughout the years with floods...but it still upholds its charm. My experiences have been pretty fair when it comes to the staff. There's a lot of wild life which is a plus!

Photo of Delilah A.

This is a lovely little spot to come to and have an 1 1/2 canoe or kayak down river through Concord. It's very pretty and we had the opportunity to take some wonderful pictures. The boat house has a working bathroom and lots of boats, the staff are young but helpful. There is an easiness to renting (cash only). They offer a lunch and dinner cruise that could be nice but the menu wasn't of interest. We would recommend this and do it again!

cruising yacht electronics

See all photos from Delilah A. for Southbridge Boat House

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River Angler

River Angler

We bring a river raft; you bring a smile. Escape the hustle and bustle and join us on the river! We provide 2-3 hour walk and wade guided fly fishing outings on the Swift River in Massachusetts. We have an inflatable raft to get you… read more

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Best Marine Electronics and Technology Awards 2023

  • By Chris Woodward
  • February 17, 2023

Best Marine Electronics Awards 2023

Welcome to the third-annual Best Elex Awards , which honor innovative marine electronics and technology products that have been reviewed and approved by the editorial team behind the four leading titles in marine media: Boating , Yachting , Cruising World and Salt Water Sportsman . At the first of the year, the nominees were evaluated by our team of eight judges, including the editors-in-chief and electronics editors of the aforementioned brands. In the end, seven products set themselves apart. And the winners are:

  • Editors’ Choice: KVH TracNet

Leading Edge Technology: Simrad Halo 2000/3000

Best in navigation: garmin navionics+.

  • Best Integrated System: Lowrance HDS Pro w/ Active Imaging/ActiveTarget 2
  • Most Innovative for Fishing: Furuno TZtouch3 w/ CHIRP Side-Scan Technology

Best in Sonar: Garmin LiveScope XR

Best in entertainment: kicker kmxl, editors’ choice: kvh tracnet hybrid antennas.

KVH TracNet Hybrid Antennas

What the Judges Said: “The most impressive feature is the antennas’ ability to seamlessly jump between cellular, Wi-Fi and VSAT networks, all with the lowest-cost routing and user experience in mind.” —David Schmidt, electronics editor, Yachting

Two of our eight judges gave KVH’s TracNet system perfect scores. And what’s not to like? This new system for onboard connectivity just might be as seamless as the internet setup in your home. And it doesn’t require an assortment of disparate parts, complicated connections and multiple bills. TracNet combines satellite, cellular and Wi-Fi under one dome. The system features automatic switching to keep boats connected using the best communication option at all times—without the need for hands-on tuning. The H30 ($18,995), H60 ($27,995) and H90 ($44,995) antennas match boats of 30, 60 and 90 feet, respectively. Paired to a belowdecks unit using an Ethernet power-over-coaxial cable, the H90 can deliver VSAT download speeds as fast as 40 Mbps (with Elite service). Boaters can also expect support for 5G/LTE cellular service where available, as well as the ability to add user-supplied SIM cards for local service. TracNet connects to shore-based Wi-Fi using an integrated bridge for additional speed.

Simrad Halo 2000/3000

What the Judges Said: “Veteran anglers have long sworn by power-hungry magnetron radars, scorning the advent of pulse-compression radars, for finding flocks of seabirds. But now there’s a pulse-compression radar that may change some minds.” —Jim Hendricks, electronics editor, Salt Water Sportsman and Boating

All the judges commented on the Simrad Halo 3000 Bird+ mode, labeling it innovative and a problem solver. In that mode, the open-array radar focuses all its juice toward finding birds for fishermen. It can reach out to 8 nautical miles, while other pulse-compression units might see flyers at 3 miles. Halo 3000 is available in 4- and 6-foot arrays, and delivers 130 watts for seeing out to 96 nautical miles. Its smaller sister, Halo 2000, is available in 3-, 4- and 6-foot arrays, and offers 50 watts of power for visibility to 72 nautical miles. Both arrays are equipped with ZoneTrack, which allows captains to track up to 50 vessels. Dangerous Target Alerts highlight the range, bearing and heading of other vessels. VelocityTrack shows color-coded targets to help identify threats. Halo 2000 starts at $6,399; the 3000 starts at $8,499.

Garmin Navionics+

What the Judges Said: “The big excitement for me is that Garmin has finally combined two excellent products into a single, intuitive interface. Throw in automatic daily updates, and the end user is the real winner here.” —Andrew Parkinson, editor-in-chief, Cruising World

When Garmin purchased marine-chart powerhouse Navionics about six years ago, boaters loved the idea of the two joining forces and the prospect of new navigational tools. And while the evolution took a little time, the process has come full circle with Garmin Navionics+. The all-in-one mapping solution features advanced autorouting, depth-range shading, vibrant colors, a streamlined interface, combined coastal and inland content plus a one-year subscription to daily chart updates through the ActiveCaptain app. Boaters can upgrade to Garmin Navionics Vision+ to add high-resolution relief shading, high-res satellite imagery, aerial photos and more. The charts come preloaded on a variety of new Garmin chart plotters and can be purchased online. Starting prices range from $149.99 to $249.99.

Best Integrated System: Lowrance HDS Pro w/Active Imaging/ActiveTarget 2

Lowrance HDS Pro w/Active Imaging/ActiveTarget 2

What the Judges Said: “HDS Pro delivers full ­networking with bow-to-stern boat control as well as compatibility with Lowrance’s latest live sonar—ActiveTarget 2—and the second generation of Active Imaging. That’s a lot of capability in one package.” —Chris Woodward, editor, Best Marine Electronics and Technology

How many features can you fit into one new multifunction display? If you ask Lowrance , the list appears to be near endless. With its latest system, Lowrance launches the HDS Pro line of multifunction displays, as well as increases the functionality of its side- and down-scan imaging and live sonar. The 1 kW-capable HDS Pro units also deliver full control of trolling motors, autopilots, engines, radar, communications and Power-Pole shallow-water anchors. The MFDs are available with 9-, 10-, 12- or 16-inch SolarMAX IPS HD touchscreens and cost $2,199 to $4,999. The ActiveTarget 2 Live Sonar module and transducer cost $1,649; the module alone costs $799, and the transducer alone costs $1,099. Active Imaging 3-in-1 transducers for Lowrance Ghost trolling motors or transoms cost $399 to $449.

Most Innovative for Fishing: Furuno TZtouch3 w/Chirp Side-Scan Technology

Furuno TZtouch 3 w/Chirp Side-Scan Technology

What the Judges Said: “Low-frequency side-scan sonar opens this more-traditional freshwater and inshore-­saltwater product category to offshore fishermen, enabling them to spot fish hundreds of feet away.” —Randy Vance, editor-at-large, Fishing and Marine Group

Side-scan sonar helps anglers see under docks and into submerged trees and weeds, right? Yes, but that’s not all it can do, and offshore fishermen have long wanted a piece of the action. With Furuno ’s latest software update, TZtouch3 users can see structure and fish 750 feet or more off each side of their vessels. Cruisers too can leverage that to find a safe path through coral reefs. To reach that distance, Furuno scans the water at a lower frequency (220 to 240 kHz) than other side-scan sonar brands. While lower-frequency chirps don’t deliver the same crisp returns as higher-frequency transmissions, this new technology aids anglers hoping to find new bottom structure, and yachtsman and sailors hoping to avoid hazards. The software update is free; the transducer costs $900.

Gamin LiveScope XR

What the Judges Said: “Everyone likes a product that can address multiple tasks well, and Garmin’s LiveScope XR does just that. With a single transducer, the user has the ability to adjust the system to see forward, out to the sides or directly beneath a vessel’s hull.” —Patrick Sciacca, editor-in-chief, Yachting

Like side-scan sonar, live sonar initially catered to freshwater and inshore boaters and anglers. But with LiveScope XR, Garmin delivers real-time videolike sonar from lakes out to blue water. In fresh water, LiveScope XR can see up to 500 feet in front of or below the boat; in salt water, that range is 350 feet. The system offers image clarity at close and long ranges simultaneously. The LVS62 transducer can be pointed forward or down manually or turned sideways with the included Perspective Mode Mount. The system includes a GLS 10 black box that mounts beneath a console. With a free software update, the transducer (sold separately) can be added to an existing LiveScope black box. The full system costs $2,999.99; the LVS62 alone costs $2,499.99.

Kicker KMXL

What the Judges Said: “Kicker is truly working hard to deliver great sound in the audio-unfriendly environment that is a boat.” —Kevin Falvey, editor-in-chief, Boating

Innovative was the adjective most commonly used by our judges to describe Kicker ’s latest speakers. The company’s tangential center-cone geometry—also dubbed horn-loaded technology—makes waves among wakeboarders who use uber-powerful tower speakers to push sound to the cockpit and to the rider. But the new Kicker KMXL speakers deliver that same technology to every boater. Kicker says the new coaxials—in 6 ½- and 8-inch sizes as well as 6 by 9 inches—deliver increased performance with optimal sensitivity, power handling and sonic accuracy. The speakers cost $649.99 to $869.99 per pair

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8 Experiences That Make A Windstar Cruise Worth The Price

I n December, I had my first cruise with Windstar. Boarding the Star Legend in St. Maarten, my husband and I set sail on a romantic and adventurous itinerary with a cruise brand known for offering exceptional vacations and a reputation to back that claim. We had a week of sailing through the Caribbean, soaking up the sights in Antigua, the BVI, and St. Bart’s to create memories that will last for a lifetime and really get to know the Windstar brand. As an avid cruiser, this cruise’s price tag was a bit higher than my previous cruises. But, let me tell you how that extra bit more than makes up for it with these eight experiences that make a Windstar cruise worth the price tag.

Windstar hosted me as a guest to familiarize myself with this brand. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent my own and unbiased. 

1. Smaller Crowds

It might surprise you that the Windstar yachts only hold about 200–310 passengers. Not only is this a big difference in the mega cruise ships that often make you feel like a herd of cattle going through long buffet lines and waiting to disembark the ship at port, but it allows you to get to know the other cruisers. It also allows the crew to know you — your cruise preferences and your name. While I have met friendly cruise staff on each of the 50+ cruises I’ve taken, this was more like we were all just guests of Windstar, not crew and cruisers.

I especially think that, in the craziest of times we have faced since 2020, this is one of the most appealing cruise offerings possible. The Windstar team has assumed extra sanitation measures and are held to the highest standard of safety practices. This was apparent from the personalized service of staff members making up our buffet plates to the onboard doctor that was a seamless and pleasant transaction for the guests.

2. Windstar’s Stylish Yacht & Rooms

There are no cruise boats or ships with Windstar, only yachts and sailboats. I took the Star Legend , a small, incredibly picturesque yacht. The Legend was small enough to learn my way around in a short time, without wasting precious vacation time. Still, it was big enough to cuddle up for a warm-weather nap, read a good book, have an intimate conversation, or watch as we sailed through the mesmerizing blue waters.

Speaking only for the Star Legend , this yacht offers all-suite rooms. We even had a full-size closet, perfect for storing suitcases, hanging our clothes, and keeping our main room straight. Features in our stateroom that rated highest were L’Occitane en Provence toiletries, cozy robes, a comfortable couch, a heavenly bed, premium Egyptian cotton sheets, and a fully-stocked mini-fridge.

3. Lesser-Known Ports Of Call

I’ve studied cruise itineraries for over 20 years, and the ports of call for large cruise ships rarely change. I was shocked to see the remote destinations that Windstar Cruises travel to. My husband and I took the St. Maarten cruise that went to the British Virgin Islands, and though we had been to Virgin Gorda with others, Tortola and Jost Van Dyke were two places I’ve seldom seen on other itineraries. And we also had the chance to go to Gustavia (St. Bart’s), the island of all things luxury and exuberant.

If you are jonesing for a one-of-a-kind cruise, I’ll let you know that Windstar Cruises visits Tahiti , Kobe, Bordeaux , and Honfleur , not your typical cruise ports. 

Pro Tip: Cruise lines can change the itinerary for the passenger’s safety and best experiences. This is common practice, so please roll with the punches should it happen. Often the passengers are unaware of the entire situation unfolding that causes these decisions.

4. Windstar’s Exceptional Food

When the general public talks about cruises, they tend to think of huge, overflowing buffets with mediocre food, but lots of it. And that makes many cruisers perfectly happy. I tend to lean toward quality over quantity, so the high-end food choices — many locally sourced — on Windstar Cruises made me a happy girl. Our meals were terrific!

Indulge in delightful breakfasts with an array of made-to-order eggs, fluffy pancakes, and decadent eggs Benedict. The buffet caters to all tastes, featuring a variety of Indian delights, smoked meats, comforting food favorites, soups, and sandwiches for lunch. With 24-hour room service, unlimited ice cream, and a charming coffee shop serving tempting mini-sandwiches and sweets, your culinary desires will be satisfied.

I was shocked (mic-drop here) that the main dining room — the basic one for those of you new to the cruise world — is the only cruise line at sea endorsed by and is the Official Cruise Line of the James Beard Foundation . Yes, you read that right. The foundation was created in part to recognize the efforts of those putting America’s culinary skills a cut above the rest, and that is apparent with the chef-inspired dishes on these ships. Windstar Cruises brings people to plates on the high seas that are “180 degrees from ordinary.”

5. Star Legend’s Specialty Restaurants

As if the food wasn’t remarkable enough, there are specialty restaurants on a Windstar cruise. The Star Legend had the lovely Spanish restaurant, Cuadro 44, and Candles, a classic steakhouse. Cuadro 44 offers coastal Spanish tapas, wines, and exotic seafood in a vibrant, energetic setting, while Candles is a more romantic restaurant with white table cloths, candlelight, and al fresco dining. 

Now get this… they are included in your cruise fare. You pay no additional fees to dine in these restaurants that serve high-end items like Ibérico ham, lamb chops, Galician-style octopus, and jumbo prawns.

Fun Fact: Cuadro 44 only holds 38 passengers, so this small-scale dining experience is highly desirable.

6. Adventurous Cruise Excursions

I’ve been told that Windstar caters to a more active group of travelers. The website boasts 2,500 one-of-a-kind tours, and that is mind-boggling. I found many of the Windstar cruise excursions to be on the moderate to strenuous side of the scale, but there was still plenty for others to enjoy, too. From scuba diving to visiting private islands, there was a wide range of activities and experiences.

Windstar also offers many custom tours, including a carefully-curated excursion for your family and friends, or even a solo trip, to see the sights you wish to visit with an English-speaking guide in a private car or van. These guides are also fully bonded, insured, and licensed.

Check into the culinary shore excursions onboard Windstar Cruises, as well. These opportunities take cruise passengers to local wineries, breweries, and even hands-on cooking classes to learn from the locals and eat and drink with goods from the region you are visiting.

7. Ratio Of Cruise Staff To Cruise Guests

My cruise ship could potentially hold 312 passengers. On this particular sailing, there were only around 158 passengers, which meant running at half capacity for guests. This meant no lines, no packed swimming pools or hot tubs, and nearly 1.25 cruise staff per passenger. 

I swear, I don’t know how the Windstar staff does it, but they would remember every name, drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) choice, favorite things, and where we were from. Often, we didn’t have time to think we needed something before a smiling face showed up with said item in hand. I kept thinking of the Ritz Carlton tagline, “My pleasure Mrs. Pittman.”

Fun Fact: For even more excellent cruise concierge service, allow Windstar to help you book your air travel, pre and post hotel and tour reservations, and even your itinerary for a fantastic vacation.

8. A Unique Beach Barbecue Dining Experience

Something new to my cruising experiences happened on the Windstar Star Legend . It was supposed to be two things, but one got postponed and then canceled due to inclement weather. But, the one that did take place was incredible, and I think you will agree.

In a port where we had to tender (take small boats) to the shore, Windstar set up a beach barbecue for all of its guests to enjoy for lunch. Virgin Gorda was the perfect setting for the festive tables, steel-drum musicians, paella and bbq meats buffet, and tropical backdrop. The amount of effort that went into shuttling all things necessary (plates, glassware, utensils, food, beverages, linens, etc.) to the shore for us to have a memorable lunch honestly brings tears to my eyes. What a fantastic brand and staff that braves, in our case, extreme waves and weather conditions for a quick dining experience that creates such a heartwarming memory. It was well-appreciated.

Windstar, if you made that macaroni and cheese because I mentioned it, thank you. They canceled the deck barbecue mentioned above due to the weather, but I heard from repeat passengers that this is one of their favorite Windstar offerings.

Pro Tip: I like to bring a few cards from home and leave a tip for my favorite cruise staff, along with a personalized message to thank them for enriching my vacation.

For more premiere cruising options , check out our recent coverage:

  • Epic 3-Year World Cruise Sets Sail This November — What You Need To Know
  • 6 Tips For Choosing The Best Yacht Charter Experience
  • 6 Best Antarctica Expedition Cruises To Add To Your Bucket List

This article originally appeared on TravelAwaits

Macklin Holloway / Shutterstock.com

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