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Bumps in the night

Jan 7, 2011

For a mariner I suppose that the ultimate "bump in the night" was when RMS Titanic collided with that infamous iceberg way back on April 14, 1912 with the ensuing loss of 1,500 souls. This was especially tragic because it could have been prevented by a good pair of binoculars that would have allowed the lookouts to spot the berg sooner, thus enabling Titanic to steer clear of its deadly encounter that night. For the want of a 1912 piece of contemporary technology — a pair of binoculars that was later reported still secured in its locker, but with a missing key — a major maritime tragedy ensued! This must be food for thought for all of us current sailors because there are even more bumps in the night to worry about then ever before. Things such as floating debris, outcroppings of land, bridge abutments, inbound vessels, channel markers, semi-submerged containers, vessels in distress, people in the water, and pirates to name but a few.

Any maritime electronic device/system should make a sailors life easier in some way and also make life much safer for crew and passengers. Today’s necessary piece of technology that every yacht should carry is a good night-vision device that can also be used to see through fog and for detecting fires. These amazing instruments come in all sizes and price ranges from a $200 night-vision monocular, $400 night-vision binoculars, $3,000 thermal night-vision camera, on up to fixed and full pan/tilt forward looking infrared video cameras that can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.

Of course, the more expensive devices are complete systems that include positioning joystick control units and black-and-white or color displays. Also they come with enhanced performance and special features such as automatic window defrosting, 36-degree field of vision and zoom functions as well as pan/tilt. Also you should know that there are basically two types of night-vision devices known as thermal imaging and light amplification. Thermal imaging uses infrared technology and gathers the surrounding infrared light to create a picture based on temperature patterns. The resulting thermogram is then converted into a clear, recognizable image and this device can see in total darkness, without any ambient light present at all.

Light amplification takes the ambient light, such as starlight, moonlight, and infrared light, and converts it into electrical energy and then back into light, allowing you to see in near-total darkness. Most of the monocular and binocular night-vision devices use light amplification or a combination of light amplification and infrared. The more capable and expensive devices are usually thermal imagers that detect infrared.

No matter what socio-economic category you inhabit, I would recommend procuring one of these night-vision devices and the best one that you can afford, because it could save your boat and maybe even your life.

In closing I would like to invite the reader to visit the following website to help you choose the proper sized system for your yacht: www.FLIR.com. If you prefer hand held night-vision binoculars then go to: www.nightvisionbinoculars.org.

Until next time: Clear skies and following seas, but if not then break out the night vision!

If you have a marine electronics question you'd like Gary to answer, send it to
editor@oceannavigator.com and Gary will address it in a future newsletter.

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Fredrick Gary Hareland holds an AAS degree in rescue and survival operations and in avionic systems technology and is a certified marine electronics technician and NARTE certified telecommunications technician. He has served in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command-Pacific and has worked for Maersk Line Limited and Norwegian Cruise Line. Hareland currently works at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Station as a microwave-communications technician. He lives in Ridgecrest, Calif.

More articles by Fredrick Gary Hareland:
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