By Steve Katz
Have you toured a new boat at a boat show or in your marina? Did all the bells and whistles make your current boat feel dated? It can happen fast. Technology moves so quickly these days that it can seem like your systems are outdated as soon as you take delivery of your new boat. Just as technology is moving rapidly, so is the ability to refit and refine your boat.
System upgrades are increasingly available in the form of refit packages that can make your current boat feel like the latest splash in the marina. There are plenty of boat yards and builders that will be glad to book you for a refit. I spent time at a few East Coast boat yards and there seems to be no shortage of major refits underway, mezzanines, paint, hardtops, towers, Seakeepers, electronics, water systems, re-power, etc.
As anyone with even a passing interest in boats knows, major refits are a timely and costly process. What if you do not have the time or budget for a complete refit? What upgrades can be made that are budget friendly and take
weeks instead of months? What upgrades are available to give you the best bang for the buck and make your boat feel new again?
I’m glad you asked. Here is a breakdown of a handful of trending upgrades that can bring your old boat new, without breaking the bank or keeping you on the hard during tournament season.
Digital switching describes the use of a touch screen or similar device to replace (or augment) the manual switch for electric accessories such as lighting and pumps. Common systems include the Carling Technologies’ OctoPlex® monitoring and control system, popular on larger boats, and CZone control and monitoring system often found on smaller boats. While systems like this were once only available on new high-end boats, these systems are now available for retrofit.
The CZone, in fact, is easily available in a modular system. A newly introduced line from OctoPlex®, OctoLite® is a distributed power control and monitoring system that can be easily complement a boat’s existing standard electrical system. The OctoLite® System is flexible-to-configure and includes devices such as multi-function touchscreen display, configurable keypad, multiplex switch module, solid-state power controller, bypass module, and AC distributed power module.
Digital switching systems are composed of a digital electrical junction module installed near the device to be controlled with a small data cable run to the helm or other location where data is to be displayed. The CZone can often save the time and expense of running wires where access is limited. Additionally, both of these systems integrate with multifunction displays (MFD) at the helm, allowing you to go to a digital switching page on the MFD and operate accessories without adding new switches at the helm or elsewhere. Th is functionality also travels through the MFD network, allowing control from most any networked MFD. With the system you can then switch control from the tower, cockpit, salon – wherever a MDF is installed.
One place where a CZone module can be particularly useful is when installing new underwater lights. While many of the modern lights are LED, systems are getting so bright they use a lot of power. Getting large wires from a power source to the lights and back to a switch can be difficult. This is especially true when you have limited access or when your wire chases are jam packed. A CZone module can be installed near the transom, with all the lights and power connected into the module with just a small data wire run to the NMEA2000 backbone – instead of running numerous heavy-duty wires.
These systems can also monitor and report problems with on-board electrical systems. They can, for instance, monitor the voltage and amperage to a particular circuit and signal an alarm if the electrical power is out of a pre-programmed range. This is also useful in letting you know when you have a navigation light out (the circuit is drawing too little power) or a bad fixture drawing too much power.
System Monitoring: Multiple System Data in One Place Without Spending a Fortune
Modern sportfishers and yachts often have a large computer screen reporting the status of many shipboard systems – fuel, water, electricity, temperatures, engine data, etc. While the installation of complex proprietary system
may be out of the question for an older boat, using your existing MFD and off-the-shelf sensors can create a single monitoring source for many of your boat’s systems. The Maretron Company (partly owned by Carling Technologies) offers an array of sensors and devices that can be installed individually or combined for a whole boat system. Maretron products include user interface products, NMEA2000 gateways and bridges, tank monitoring, engine monitoring, power monitoring and control, general system monitoring and recording, navigation equipment, sensors and a myriad of NMEA2000 cabling and hardware products.
On a recent project, a customer added Maretron fuel tank level sensors to the aft tanks while installing a new mezzanine. This system complements the traditional sight gauges in the engine room (or the good old stick
in the tank method). These sensors monitor the fuel tank level ultrasonically, similar to a depth sounder, and report the fuel level to the NMEA2000 network. In this case, the system then displayed the fuel level gauges on
the Garmin MFD screens on the helm. Since there are no moving parts (or sticks), these fuel tank level sensors are reliable and provide an easy way to confirm tank level while underway or transferring fuel.
While many engine manufacturers offer fuel flow data, it is often a calculated value based on engine load, RPM, temperate, etc. Maretron also offers a positive displacement fuel flow system that measures fuel flow in and out of the tank – a very accurate way to measure fuel burn. Combining the fuel flow sensors and tank level monitoring, you can be confident of the fuel burn rate and available range.
The fuel example is an easily relatable use of digital system monitoring. Applications to other boat systems are just as easy and simple. They can provide an added level of confidence and make seeing system data quite a bit easier.
Entertainment: Creating a Smart, Flexible, and Easy to Use Video and Sound System
Someone who spends down time rigging hundreds of ballyhoo might accidentally forget about the needs and desires of owners and guests. When not fishing, many boats become a hotel. As one captain recently old me, “He runs an Airbnb that fishes, too.” Many sportfish boats that follow the fish also follow nice weather. Consequently, owners, friends and relatives may request to stay on-board and enjoy the amenities while not fishing.
One interior upgrade that is sure to please all is the audio/video system. The variety of audio/video content available is as varied as the guests. Updating your audio/video system to a modern flexible system that can stream content from the internet, connect to the guests’ smart devices and also connect to on-board satellite TV systems can help provide an enjoyable experience onboard for all. As not all of us were in the A/V club in school, the audio/video system needs to be simple but inclusive.
Besides, if the system upgrades are not simple and user friendly, the captain and crew will have to add “tech support” to their job descriptions. I have noticed a trend towards individual audio/video systems in each stateroom and main areas in lieu of a complex ship wide system. This provides simple total control for each area of the boat. Residential style audio video receivers can be used in the salon. These units have many desirable, modern features.
These home theater style receivers can switch between multiple HDMI, or even analog, sources. They often include front mounted inputs that permit easy connection of devices to the TV, without having to access the back of
the TV. The newest home theater receivers can connect to multiple sources of entertainment, including streaming content from the internet and also provide Bluetooth and or Apple Airplay connections. This allows your guests to use their own smart device for entertainment.
Replacing existing TVs with Smart TVs is a popular upgrade. The cost of high-end TVs has come down and the features they include have gone up. A Smart TV is a modern flat screen television that has built in applications (apps) and the ability to connect to the internet. This allows the TV stream content from popular services such as Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and dozens more. In order for these TVs to stream content, they need an internet connection from a wireless access point or a wired network.
Pro Tip – Outside Spaces: When it comes to areas exposed to the weather, residential audio/video equipment should not be used. As it is not designed for the outdoor marine environment, residential hardware won’t last very
long. Using a marine rated stereo, amplifier and speakers is the best way to ensure lasting outdoor performance. The newest marine stereos are very similar to home audio systems. They have many independent output channels (zones) and have many different input sources, including Bluetooth SiriusXM, and Apple Airplay. TV Tech Note 1: DirecTV is expected to make system changes in 2019 that will require subscribers to use the newest HD receivers.
This may render older KVH TV antenna systems (such as M1, M1DX, M3, M3DX, G4, G6, G8, 4, 6) incompatible – requiring antenna updates. Additionally, subscribers with late model hardware may find some changes in the channel lineup, since DirecTV is planning to eliminate SD (standard definition) transmission broadcasts from 101W and 119W satellites and only broadcast HD programing.
TV Tech Note 2: Modern TVs and audio/video receivers pass information in both directions through a single HDMI cable. Be sure you have cables that meet the latest standards to ensure proper operation. ARC (audio return channel) is a popular feature with modern
HDMI communications. ARC allows sound from the TV to pass back to the receiver/amplifier using a single cable to produce amplified sound from the system speakers in lieu of just the TV speakers – useful when using
Smart TV apps.
Security and Video: Keeping Track of the Boat (and its Systems)
Keeping the boat safe and secure is one thing everyone can agree on. After all, captains are responsible for the boats they command 24/7. Owners are interested in protecting their assets. Crew and guests like to be notified as quickly as possible if there is an issue out of the ordinary. Automated remote monitoring systems are the best way to provide all interested parties real time information on the boat and its systems. Not only are these systems great, but competition in this market segment has resulted in a variety of reasonably priced systems to choose from.
GOST is one of the most popular and all-encompassing systems. GOST offers many modules and components, allowing you to build a system that meets your needs. Besides security and monitoring, GOST offers a camera system with a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and streaming remote access. With the streaming access you can use your smartphone to connect to the on-board cameras to see live or recorded video anywhere you have an internet connection.
These video system can also be used to capture fishing action, especially since the cameras are recording 24/7. This is a great feature, since you’ll no longer need to remember to turn on the camera or charge
the batteries. If you don’t have a full DVR video system, a simple engine room camera system should be on the top of everyone’s list. This is often configured with multiple small cameras that send live image to monitors on the helm.
This is a great way for the crew to monitor the engine room in between routine checks. Some crew also like to have a unobtrusive camera in the salon. A salon cam is perfect way for the captain to ensure that guests are seated safely before getting underway. A salon cam is also a great way for watching for a guest or crew to signal the captain to slow down while they need to move around the cabin.
These systems are reasonably priced. Running the wires is often the most complex part of the system. Other companies, such as BoatCommand, Siren Marine and Yacht Protector offer security and monitoring systems. These systems are not just for tracking stolen boats or to act as a burglar alarm.
They provide remote access to the status of critical boat systems (such as battery voltage, shore power, temperature, bilge pump activity and high water to name a few). A monitoring system, for example, can notify the captain about the loss of shore power within seconds. Receiving a text message or push notification on a smart phone is a much better way to learn of lost shore power than what could be the alternative.
Maybe the shore power circuit breaker tripped, maybe the power cord pulled out of the receptacle. Either way, an unnoticed loss of shore power can lead to thawed bait, dead batteries, interior temperature rise, live well pumps shutting down and bilge pumps losing power. Tech Note – Wired vs Wireless Cameras: While wireless cameras are available, they often need a power source – therefore requiring some wires.
Since a wired system is more reliable on a boat, I currently recommend a wired camera system. There are some new battery powered residential camera systems that are fully wireless. These may prove to be acceptable on a boat, though many require an internet connection to operate.
What Does it All Mean?
Even if your boat is only a few years old, there may be new technology that can be easily tied into existing systems. Digital switching, system monitoring, entertainment and security/video upgrades can provide a satisfying upgrade for an older boat. These upgrades can often be completed within a reasonable budget and schedule.
Captain Steve Katz is the owner of Steve’s Marine Service Inc in Ocean City, Maryland. He is the Vice President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and holds ABYC Master Technician certification, NMEA AMEI, NMEA2000 certificates along with factory training from many manufacturers. To contact Steve, email firstname.lastname@example.org.