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Radar unbound

Apr 28, 2015
Using Wi-Fi and a free app, Furuno’s 1st Watch can send radar  data to any iOS device for display.

Using Wi-Fi and a free app, Furuno’s 1st Watch can send radar data to any iOS device for display.

Courtesy Furuno

The Furuno 1st Watch DRS4W wireless radar is a great example of the influence of smartphone and tablet use on board boats (and the need to recharge these pieces of hardware, thus charging products like Weego, see below). The 1st Watch, which has been on the market for several months now, is a real departure for Furuno. Instead of a traditional radar setup that has an antenna unit, a display screen edged with control knobs and a data cable connecting the two, the 1st Watch is only a single piece of hardware: a radome with its own power cable. 

With the 1st Watch, Furuno has dispensed with the dedicated display, instead using a Wi-Fi signal to connect the radome with a software app running on an iPad or an iPhone (no android connectivity yet). Radar images have large data requirements but Furuno is able to message the data to make all the radar data fit in the available Wi-Fi bandwidth. Jeff Kauzlaric, advertising and communications manager for Furuno, said, “Our engineers worked with the radar signals and came up with a new way to compress them, so that they do not lose resolution when being transmitted via Wi-Fi.”

Right now the 1st Watch only displays radar data on the screen, but according to Kauzlaric, “Nobeltec is working on their iOS app too, and they will soon have the capability to bring in the DRS4W radar targets onto their Nobeltec chart app and overlay the radar targets on the charts.” 

Furuno is still offering plenty of radar products with dedicated displays. And those models, depending on the antenna used, are capable of much better resolution in bearing than the DRS4W, with its 7.2° horizontal beam width. The DRS4W, however, is still a significant step into the smartphone/tablet arena. Many boat owners in smaller boats will likely want to do (and are already doing!) most of their navigation, radar, AIS and chartplotting work on a tablet. The wireless DRS4W from Furuno gives them the ability of adding radar to the mix for about $1,500. 

The 1st Watch radome has a Wi-Fi transceiver and can connect with two devices at a time.  

Courtesy Furuno

Concentrated mobile power
The increased use of smartphones and tablets on board boats has added a new level of flexibility in the way voyagers interface with marine electronics. Tablets can be used for everything from monitoring engine data, to navigating on an electronic chart to operating a radar (see above). Those smartphones and tablets mean more ways to control your boat, but they also are two more types of devices that need to be recharged from the boat’s electrical system. What if you’re in a situation where you can’t or don’t want to recharge from the boat’s electrical system? One approach is to use a compact recharging unit.

A compact recharging product called Weego was shown at the Miami Boat Show in February of this year, joining similar products on the market like the Whistler Jump&Go. As the Whistler name indicates, it and Weego also have the capability to jump-start engines — a useful benefit should your boat’s engine start battery not be charged properly. And for those not needing an engine jump-start, Weego also offers smaller battery packs designed to recharge phones, tablets and other small devices. 

Both Weego and the Whistler Jump&Go use lithium ion batteries, a type of battery that has a high energy density — allowing the overall product package to be small — and a low rate of internal self-discharge (companies cite rates of 2 percent per month, nickel-metal hydride batteries can reportedly discharge at a rate of 30 percent per month) so these recharging products retain their charge well. In the engine start mode, these devices pass a considerable level of current in a short time, a remarkable capability for so small a package. 

These units are far less stressed when they are only called on to recharge smartphones, tablets and laptop computers of course, as those units have far lower current requirements. The Weego battery pack units come in three power levels.

The BP26 Battery Pack Compact has one USB charging port and a capacity of 2,600 milliamp hours for $19.99; the BP52 Battery Pack Midsize has two USB charging ports and a capacity of 5,200 milliamp hours for $32.99 and the BP104 Battery Pack Full Size has two USB charging ports and a capacity of 10,400 milliamp hours for $54.99.

For most sailing voyagers the smaller versions of these products will likely make the most sense if used simply for recharging a phone or tablet.

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