Before we plunge headfirst (again) into the world of multiplexers with this test report, heres a quick review of what exactly were talking about. If you have older instruments or a GPS networked to send information to other devices (a multi-function display, laptop, etc.), the information is likely in NMEA 0183 format and is sent in sentences in a set order. For example, the NMEA sentence $GPAAM,A,A,0.10,N,WPTNME*32 is an arrival alarm sentence sent by a GPS to various networked devices upon arrival at a waypoint.
NMEA 2000 (aka NMEA 2K or N2K) is the communication standard replacing NMEA 0183. It is a technical standard (IEC 61162-3) used for connecting marine sensors and display units within a boat. The major differences from NMEA 0183: NMEA 2K operates at 250 kilobits-per-second, about 100 times faster than the 4,800 baud of NMEA 0183.
Since we last looked at onboard Wi-Fi antennas/boosters (PS, April 2010), there have been no notable newcomers to the field, but there have been some technological advancements, particularly by the Canadian company Bitstorm. In 2010, we favorably reviewed the Bitstorm unit, so we decided to check out the latest version of the device to evaluate the improvements. Testers put the 2014 Bitstorm Bad Boy into long-term testing during an extended cruise along the Florida Gulf Coast.
In November 2010, Practical Sailor posted a Reader Workbench article written by subscriber Ed Mini of Mystic, Conn., on a do-it-yourself Wi-Fi booster/antenna assembled from parts ordered primarily from Data Alliance and Home Depot. The system did a good job of boosting the distance users could connect with onshore hotspots, and the cost was under $100, not counting labor. About a year later, PS tester Ron Dwelle decided to put together a similar system, but he used the components that commercial vendors use. Heres a rundown of his system, which has stood up well for three years.
Two racing sailors from Charleston, S.C., got together last spring to develop an economical alternative to electronic compass devices like the $340 to $500 Velocitek (PS, May and September 2011), the $460 to $735 Tacktick (PS, November 2009), and the $600 Sailcomp. The result? The Regatta Recon performance sailing app for Android and iOS devices.
Looking to add GPS functions to WiFi Apple devices or increase the GPS accuracy of a Bluetooth device? U.S. company Bad Elf created the GPS Pro, an external Bluetooth wireless GPS receiver and data logger, to simultaneously share GPS data with Bluetooth-capable i-devices, including the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. It also can serve as a standalone data logger that allows you to record up to 100 hours of trip location data.
Nobeltec, a marine-navigation software developer based in the U.S., recently released a new chartplotting app for the iPad: Nobeltec TZ. We took it for a weeklong test cruise and found it to be a good basic nav program with some significant strengths, and some notable shortcomings.
As a followup to our April 2012 report on useful iPad apps for sailors, we recently sea-trialed the new Weather4D app, comparing it to the older WeatherTrack app. Both enable users to view GRIB weather files, but which one does it the best and which one offers the best value?
There are still not as many marine navigation programs for Mac computers as for there are for PCs, but their quality often matches that of PC software, and their cost tends to be lower. The Mac software programs we tested were MacEnc, GPSNavX, Polar View, and OpenCPN. Testers have used MacEnc and GPSNavX extensively while cruising, and we evaluated OpenCPN during two three-month cruises and Polar View for a little over a month during another cruise. Prices range from $180 for MacEnc, to free for OpenCPN, an open-source, non-commercial software created by volunteers.
A few issues ago, you had a short article on deck hardware (blocks, traveler, cars, etc.) that included Garhauer, and you mentioned that the manufacturer offered individual parts and complete systems that allow conversion from on deck to cockpit adjustment of the car position. We recently installed the EZ adjustable genoa car system from Garhauer and are very pleased with the results. This equipment fits on existing traveler tracks, is easy to install, and performs as advertised.