Handheld Electronics

A Look at PLB Battery Life

While Practical Sailor editors and readers are excited about messaging features and new “smart” technologies being added to personal locator beacons (PLB) such as the AquaLink View 406-MHz GPS, we were concerned that these extras would come at the expense of the device’s primary purpose. Would the repeated use of a PLB emergency device for non-emergency functions deplete its battery and inhibit its function as an emergency locator? Testers ran the AquaLink through its paces and enlisted the help of an independent lab to determine how non-emergency use affected the PLB’s battery life and other emergency functions.

Remote VHF Mics Test

Remote microphones for fixed VHF radios are great tools for both coastal and bluewater sailors, but they can be essential for shorthanded crews. Practical Sailor rounded up and tested six units, each designed to work with two or more compatible, fixed-mount marine VHF radios. The test field included the latest wired and wireless remote mics from Icom, Standard Horizon, Raymarine, and Garmin. To select the best VHF remote mic, testers considered performance, audio systems quality, user-friendliness, features, durability, and ruggedness.

Is the SEND Device Message Loud and Clear?

Sometime around 1:30 a.m. April 28, while participating in the Newport-to-Ensenada Race, the Hunter 437 Aegean sailed directly onto the rocky cliffs of North Coronado Island off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Fellow racers came upon pieces of the boat and reported their findings to the U.S. Coast Guard. The bodies of three crew were discovered with the wreckage. The body of the captain was recovered 16 days later. Contrary to news reports stating there “was no sign of distress” aboard Aegean, an SOS distress call went out from one of the crew—but by the time the Coast Guard learned of it, it was too late. Someone sent a distress alert form the captain’s personal SPOT Connect, a portable satellite emergency notification device (SEND) that delivers SOS messages and vital information—ship’s position and user identity—via Globalstar satellites to a third-party emergency call center.

Useful and Fun Nautical Apps for iPad

In the February and March 2012 issues, we looked at navigation software that allows sailors to use the Apple iPad as a functional chartplotting device. With more than 140,000 apps available, there are hundreds more apps suitable for onboard use. Testers tried out more than 400 weather apps, knot-tying apps, several just-for-fun apps—like Trip Lingo Pirate Edition—and apps for document storage. This report covers more than two dozen of our most used and favorite sailing-related iPad apps.

PS Sea-trials the iPad and Nav Apps

With many of the 38-million-sold iPads winding up on board boats, it’s no wonder there are hundreds of iPad apps that are well suited for the sailing life. This begins Practical Sailor’s three-part series on those apps. Part 1 of the series reports on PS’s field tests of multiple navigation apps—using raster and vector charts—to see how well they perform and how they compare to traditional navigation software. They review looks at the top performers: iNavX, iPad Navionics, and Charts & Tides.

USCG Safety Alert Concerning DSC-equipped VHFs

Most of today’s fixed VHF marine radios come equipped with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capability, and many high-end handheld VHFs do as well. For years, Practical Sailor has recommended that buyers select a model with this capability—and for good reason: As the U.S. Coast Guard’s new marine radio network Rescue 21 becomes operational, rescue centers are able to receive instant distress alerts from DSC-capable VHF radios. However, spending the extra money to have a feature-loaded, DSC-capable VHF offers little benefit if you do not have the radio properly registered and set up. The Coast Guard recently issued a safety alert, warning that mariners were endangering their lives and those of their crew by having a DSC-capable VHF that lacks identifying information.

Chandlery: August 2011

Practical Sailor Chandlery: August 2011. This month reviews a tiller, tool toter, and smart-phones.

Chandlery: June 2011

Although the ease and convenience of electronic chartplotters has ensured their place aboard most every vessel these days, the punch-and-go navigation that makes them so popular has also spawned a generation of slack-jawed zombies when it comes to even the most rudimentary of navigational skills. Prudent mariners continue to carry paper charts, both as backup to chartplotters (and their “one diode away from disaster” nature) and to have the big picture view that a plotter just can’t match.

Marine Electronics: Build an Inexpensive Wireless Network

Practical Sailor contributor and bluewater cruiser Joe Minick details the benefits of an onboard Wi-Fi computer network on a cruising boat, and explains the easy DIY setup that connects multiple electronics to the Internet via a client router. Beyond the usual benefits, one that is particularly useful to sailors is that an onboard network allows networked devices to share GPS, NMEA instrument information and other navigation data using software like GPSGate from Franson Technology and Handheld for Mariners. Minick used the Engenius EOC2610 from Keenan Systems and the D-Link DWL G700AP in his setup, which has served his crew well as they cruise the Med. The ethernet-based system is similar to the the Bullit2 systems PS tested from Bitstorm and Wave Wi-Fi.

Icom GM1600 Handheld VHF Test

Although the Icom GM1600 marine VHF handheld radio is not meant for use as a recreational marine VHF, Practical Sailor was interested in determining whether the unit’s survival-oriented design might make it a good choice for inclusion in a life raft or ditch bag. We were also interested in comparing its specs to another marine electronics product, the Standard Horizon HX850S VHF handheld, one of the top picks from our most recent series of tests (April 2009, July 2009, October 2009, December 2009).