This boating season is off to a good start, the marinas are busy and many boaters have started cruising a little earlier than last year. We talked to many people at the boat show and there was a general consensus that boaters are making a bigger commitment to this season. More than ever, we are starting to see all of the creature comforts of home, that were typically found on only large yachts, are now available for modest boat budgets.
Solar Our favourite product for boaters this summer is the flexible solar panel. After the Vancouver Boat Show, we installed about 30 different flexible solar panel arrays. Many clients were considering adding batteries for extra capacity or changing out the alternator to recharge faster so they could stay at anchor longer. By simply installing a couple of panels they achieved their goals without the added weight of batteries and without the noise and exhaust of running an engine just to recharge their batteries. The panels are now available in numerous shapes and sizes so they can be discreetly attached to the hard-top, bimini or dodger.
AGM There is a new AGM battery on the market called the Firefly Oasis, in terms of capacity it is like an affordable Lithium Battery with unprecedented depth of discharge of 80 to 100 percent. Developed by the heavy equipment giant, Caterpillar, this technology imbeds carbon foam into the lead grid structure found in conventional batteries. The foam allows the battery to operate or be stored at a partial state of charge for long periods without the risk of sulfation. This is the number one reason batteries fail on boats, because the batteries are not regularly charged to completion. The Firefly Oasis is currently only available in Group 31 and retails for about $725.
Jump Starter If you have ever encountered a dead battery on your boat or dinghy, you know how awkward it can be to get a jump-start, not to mention the hazards. There is a new pocket-size, battery jump starter on the market called Weego. It comes in three sizes JS6 (6,000 mAh), JS12 (12,000 mAh) and JS18 (18,000 mAh). It has a long-lasting 12-volt lithium-ion battery that recharges in about 1.5 to five hours (depending on the model) and only loses two percent charge per month. It comes with jumper cables, LED flashlight, strobe light, SOS functions and a wall and car charger. It retails for about $150.
LEDs One of the most popular ways to update your boat is to add LED lighting. We have been recommending this to our clients for the past few years because the products that are on the market now are so much better than even a few years ago. Not only that, there are numerous manufacturers, such as Imtra and Rigid, that are now carrying retrofit light kits that allow you to keep your existing fixtures. LED lights draw far less electricity, last longer, burn cooler and are available in a number of different colours from cool to warm.
A relatively new product on the market is the wireless LED bulb. Products such as Easybulb, LIFX and Philips Hue allow you to control your lighting through a bridge connected to your boat’s wifi network. There are also a number of Bluetooth light bulbs and LED strips, such as BlueBulb, LumenBulb or Flux that are also controlled through your smartphone without the need for internet access. These bulbs come with a palette of different colours, a wake-up mode and can even be synced to your music. If you have a tendency to fall asleep reading in bed, you may want to try a Drift-Light. It functions as a normal light-bulb until you flip the switch twice then it softly fades out in 37 minutes, about the time of the average sunset. For now, the downside is that these LED bulbs are powered by AC and not DC power.
If you would rather use an existing lamp, Belkin has come out with a new motion sensor plug called WeMo. The sensor plugs into an outlet and detects motion up to three metres away, which sends a wireless signal to the switch. If you have a habit of getting up in the middle of the night, this will automatically light a path for you.
Bluetooth Stereo Another very popular Bluetooth product is the Fusion BT100, it allows you to add Bluetooth functionality to your existing stereo. Unlike other Bluetooth modules, the BT100 includes integrated marine voltage protection to protect against voltage spikes. The BT100 works with most stereos that have auxiliary inputs, whereas the BT200 works with Fusion only.
Cameras Over the past two years, video cameras have become very popular on boats. If you have wifi on your boat, you can access the cameras from your smartphone or at home and always know what is happening. You can also install cameras to see what is to your stern or, a side view while docking. Iris even offers a thru-hull camera that allows you to see what is going on below your boat. Most multi-function displays and chartplotters now come with at least one or more video input(s) so you can access your cameras from your helm. When purchasing a camera, make sure that it is at least water resistant if not waterproof and made with marine grade housing.
Whether you boat to get away or just enjoy the creature comforts of home on the water, there really is something for everyone this year.
About the author: Jeff Cote is a systems design engineer and owner of Pacific Yacht Systems, a full service shop delivering marine electrical and navigation solutions for recreational boats. Visit their website and blog for info and articles on marine electrical systems, projects and more: www.pysystems.ca.