Handheld Electronics

Multiplexing Marine Electronics

In an effort to find an inexpensive, reliable way to connect a PC (or Mac) to our onboard electronic navigation system, Practical Sailor testers scouted basic NMEA 0183 multiplexers with good track records. We zeroed in on the easy-to-install MiniPlex Lite from Holland-based ShipModul. This multiplexer was one of the first high-speed NMEA 0183 multiplexers capable of handling the data rates required for some of the newer electronics like AIS receivers. With very little effort, the Mini Plex Lite allowed us to network our Dell Latitude D620 laptop, AIS, GPS, and chartplotter, and it handled the data transfer without a glitch. Our chief gripe: This entry-level model uses the laptop for its power source.

GPS Receivers for Smart Phone Navigators

During our testing of pocket navigators for the December 2009 issue, we examined other approaches to propagating a GPS signal around the boat and found some viable alternatives. Several aftermarket options can turn smart phones or PDAs into handheld navigation tools by supplying or sharing reliable GPS data. Practical Sailor looked at a Bluetooth-enabled Globalsat BT-338 GPS receiver with the SiRFStarIII chipset and Franson Technology’s GPSGate software for Windows and Windows Mobile, which was designed specifically for the task of sharing GPS data. Testers found both utilities to be good choices for the job, however, we still caution against relying solely on a PC-based navigation network onboard.

Testing Smart Phones at Sea

Practical Sailor tests a cross-section of PDAs, pocket PCs, and smart phones between $100 and $800. Palm OS and Windows Mobile software were included. Readability, functionality and practical application were foremost considerations. Reliability, weather resistance, and batteries were also considered. We evaluated Palm Phones Palm Treo, Hewlett Packard iPAQ, Palm PDA Palm TX, Active Captain MobileSource, Memory Map Navigator, and Ozi Explorer CE. Testers compared the mobile devices to a handheld GPS specifically designed for navigation, the Garmin Oregon 400C.

New Waterproof Handheld VHFs Enter Crowded Market

Electronics is the most rapidly changing category of marine products, and the steady stream of VHF radios is an example of how fast the market changes. Since our reports on VHF radios earlier this year, two new waterproof handheld VHF radios have entered the market. Practical Sailor compares the new, inexpensive Standard Horizon HX28OS to the 2009 Best Choice, the Cobra HH325VP. Testers compared the new floating handheld from Icom, the M36, to the high-end Best Choice, the Standard Horizon HX85OS, a floating VHF that also offers full DSC capability and has a built-in GPS.

Stocking Stuffers For Sailors

Its hard to believe, but the 2009 holiday season is upon us. As is custom, Practical Sailor editors have put together a varied roundup of gifts to stuff those stockings more likely to hang from a bulkhead than the mantle. For the racing or small-boat sailor whos making the leap from wire rope to high-tech fiber, Colligo Marines Softies offer a lightweight alternative to traditional steel shackles and headsail hanks. Made of extra strong and chafe-resistant Dyneema, the "soft" hardware is the perfect solution for use with synthetic forestays, and unlike metal hanks, theyll never leave rust stains on sails. Using the Softies is as easy as pulling the shake-resistant knot through the expandable spliced loop, then sliding the slip ring (rubber O-rings) up to the knot. A lanyard ensures easy opening, but the self-tightening O-rings offer added security against accidental opening or shaking loose.

Top-of-the-Line VHFs Packed with Multi-function Features

The fixed-mount marine VHF radios tested for this review go beyond the basic capabilities of moderately priced VHFs. The waterproof VHFs include features such as integral high-wattage hailers, multiple remote microphone connections, and the capability to store MMSI numbers. They also meet Class D standards for DSC functions, with two separate receivers-one for voice communications and a second to continuously monitor channel 70 for DSC calls. The five VHF radios tested were the Icom M504, Icom M604, Standard Horizon GX5000S, Standard Horizon GX5500S, and the Raymarine 218.

Practical Sailors Gear of the Year 2009

Practical Sailor editors pored over the dozens of products reviewed in the previous months to find the best of the best sailing gear, products that are worthy of the designation Gear of the Year. This years editors choice list includes a rugged rope clutch (Spinlock), a grippy ratchet block (Ronstan), feature-filled VHF handheld radios (Standard Horizon and Cobra), high-quality nesting cookware (Magma), a proven paste wax (Collinite), an ocean-ready first-aid kit (Adventure Medical Kits), a reliable LED bulb for cabin lighting (Imtra), an economical ice box conversion kit (Frigoboat), an innovative ultrasonic tank sensor (BEP Marine), cold-weather gloves (Gill), and an easy-to-install Wi-Fi booster (5mileWiFi).

Practical Sailor Tests AIS Class B Transceivers from West Marine and Navico

Practical Sailor last looked at Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, in November 2008, reviewing the Raymarine AIS250, a receive-only device. Since that report, the pool of AIS products has grown to include several affordable transceiver options for recreational sailors. In this head-to-head test, we review two AIS-Class B devices capable of sending and receiving AIS data: the Navico NAIS-300 and the West Marine AIS1000. AIS transceivers are split into Class A (commercial) and Class B (recreational). AIS devices improve safety at sea by receiving and broadcasting a wide variety of information about a ship, including its name, latitude and longitude, course over ground, speed over ground, heading, status, and Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number.

Crossing Over

When it comes to gear for the outdoor enthusiast, there are a lot of crossover products. Hikers, bikers, boaters, backpackers, and climbers share a need for lightweight, durable, and practical equipment. So as Practical Sailor editors geared up for our summer adventures, we looked for products that could serve double-duty on the boat and on the trail.

Feature-loaded High-end Marine Handheld VHF Radios

Practical Sailor tested eight high-end marine handheld VHFs from three manufacturers: Cobra, Standard Horizon, and Uniden. Among those tested were two updated Standard Horizon VHFs, the HX500S-LI and HX600S-LI, and three of the companys latest floating VHF radios, the HX750S, HX760S, and HX850S. From Uniden, testers evaluated the MHS450 and MHS550. They also tested the Cobra HH425 LI. These feature-rich handheld marine radios, priced from $130 to $350, were tested for transmitter power, frequency accuracy, frequency stability, receiver sensitivity, audio output, and audio quality. They also were submerged in fresh water, dropped from 4 feet onto concrete and batteries were left on for 15 hours to test battery life.