Is it time to upgrade your electronics?
Cloudy display screens, buggy software, chipped or missing knobs—these are blatant signals that it’s time to upgrade your electronics. Some boat owners may live with broken equipment and just figure out a workaround. Think powering down and restarting your chart plotter when it gets “stuck”. These kinds of fixes only last so long.
Eventually, you upgrade your electronics and wonder why you procrastinated for so long. Not only are today’s hardware and software lightning fast, but they are often cheaper. Ever-faster electronics were predicted in the 1960s with Moore’s Law. (Computer processing power doubles every 18 months to two years.) Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel in the 1960s, came up with this “law”, but it’s more like two and a half to three years for future doubling. When you consider the possibility of artificial intelligence, you realize that supercomputers are only going to get more super.
Need to Know
For boat owners, knowing when to upgrade your electronics is based on both need and want according to Ron Muller, co-owner of Electronics Unlimited with Jim Bakatselos in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “There are those tech guys that need to have the latest and greatest equipment,” explains Muller, whose team of employees take on refit and new installation electronics projects on boats ranging in size from small center consoles to megayachts.
“If you are one of those guys, I would say that would make it about every two years. We have seen some real changes in the way navigation is being integrated with multi-function displays (MFD); however, it’s not just regarding navigation. It’s also the ability to control other things on board with your MFD, such as the Seakeeper stabilizer system, underwater lighting and CZone digital switching, cell phone integration, and even flying drones.”
Often, the equipment just wears out. Poor screen visibility is common because of weather, age and outdated technology. “The biggest thing we see is customers living with old screens,” Muller says. “This would include displays losing brightness, the inability to interface with newer equipment, damaged screens due to salt and sun exposure, and the cost of upgrades, and there are carpentry costs to consider. Also, with most new equipment, you end up changing radar and sounder modules when you are changing brands so everything will match up and work well together.”
Processor speed and screen size is another huge issue boat owners must consider. The screens range in size from 7 inches up to 24 inches. “Just like computers at home, when you want to do stuff that involves video and multi-function displays, then things really slow down,” says Muller. “This is an area where, recently, manufacturers are making changes to the actual hardware they sell instead of just doing software enhancements, and it’s another reason to upgrade. The processor speed is most evident when running multiple sources on one display.”
Like anything else, the price is a big consideration when you upgrade your electronics. Balancing cost versus safety is something every boat owner must consider. “Determining what brand is the best these days is a real challenge, as there are similar features everyone offers and features that come with only that brand,” Muller says. “Consumers want to know if the new equipment will fit in the old hole in the dash, and can they use the old cabling, or do we need to pull new wires? When using a company like Electronics Unlimited, we can provide all those answers and if needed, schedule a boat visit and inspection of what is present and what new material is needed for the project.”
Computer-driven products are the items most commonly switched out and where you’ll get the most bang for your buck, notes Muller. “The biggest changes recently have been with radars, fish finders, and MFDs,” he says. “Radars are now digital and provide a much better picture. Sounders using CHIRP technology do the same for fishermen by showing more detail and also have improved interfacing capabilities with the MFDs—the best time to get a deal is during the summer months. This is our slowest time. Most of the yacht refits happen from October through April.”
For boat owners whose equipment is getting older—five years old or more—the time to upgrade your electronics is at hand. The features in today’s products are far better than in the past. There’s also been an improvement in performance in all areas of marine electronics, especially with Wi-Fi connectivity, and there are better satellite airtime usage rates.
Need for (processing) Speed
It’s not enough to just turn on your computer and tap into a signal. Today’s boat owners want powerful coverage for not only their laptops but also for their guests’ devices, including mobile phones and iPads. In addition, today’s Smart TVs need Wi-Fi to use streaming services like Netflix. “This is the area where we are seeing many changes—communications via satellite, Wi-Fi, and cellular networks,” says Muller. “This has been a costly expense and is still somewhat expensive, but the cost has been slowly coming down.”
By Doug Thompson, Southern Boating September 2018