THE LEVEL OF TECHNOLOGY found in modern boats is in some ways beginning to border on the absurd. The last time you blinked, your electronics became obsolete.
If you bought a new boat this past spring, it probably lacks several digital features found on the 2020 models. By the time a new boat goes through the supply chain, makes it to a dealership, and gets sold, it’s in need of a half-dozen different software updates.
This is a horrible thing – and it’s totally awesome.
It’s really, really easy for old salts to hate all this tech in their boats. First off, it raises the already-substantial cost of a new boat.
Secondly, all things techy have glitches, gremlins, and failures. When they happen in your home entertainment system or your wireless printer it’s usually not the end of the world. However, on a boat, it can be a much bigger deal.
Thirdly, delicate electronics do not always mix well with the intense vibrations, moisture, and general all-around abuse equipment gets on a boat, especially in saltwater.
Finally, it takes a lot of time to learn how all this stuff works. Sure, in the long run tech can save you time, effort, or even money. But there’s an initial investment in all of these categories, too.
Tech makes any average Joe a better boater. We now have numerous joystick control systems to choose from that allow us to spin a boat in its own length, walk it sideways, or weave it through danger-tight close quarters.
We have systems that integrate robotic cameras with the boat’s controls so you can’t slam into a dock, boat, or piling while trying to back into the slip (Raymarine’s DockSense assisted docking technology, just introduced earlier this year). We can literally press a button and “freeze” our boats in place regardless of the wind or current.
Tech also provides a huge boost to anglers. You can now effectively spot fish beneath the water’s surface hundreds of feet in any direction, look at 3-D views of the bottom or structure, and enjoy underwater chartography that provides stellar data. You can even create your own, if an area you fish hasn’t been covered.
Tech can also be used to better maintain your boat and diagnose issues with it. Suzuki now has an app that allows you to take a picture of a QR code displayed on your engine monitor. You can then email it to your dealer, so they can “plug in” to the engine’s onboard computer remotely from anywhere.
If you have a remote monitoring system such as Siren Marine installed, You can eyeball bilge pump cycles and bilge water levels, and tank levels.It also monitors interior temperatures, and just about anything else you’d like from your living room couch.
Now, with remote monitoring and control being wrapped into some MFD units (Simrad has an entire “Connected Vessel” system) it probably won’t be long before this type of functionality becomes downright common.
Tech can also be a double-edged sword. A great benefit one day can turn into a problem the next. One example: a friend of mine had a remote monitoring system installed in his boat, that communicated by sending text messages to his phone.
He felt the expense was more than vindicated when, after storm dropped several inches of rain in a few hours, he received a bilge high water alert. He drove to his boat and discovered that just before the storm hit, the marina had been replacing some boards on the docks.
A good bit of sawdust had blown into his boat, and rainwater washed it into the bilges. Then, clumps of sawdust clogged the pumps. Fortunately, he was able to get them running again and de-water the boat before any significant damage occurred.
A few months later, he was at home when the high-water alarm again went off, this time in the middle of the night. He raced down to the boat, but discovered nothing amiss. Chalking it up to a glitch, he didn’t think about it until a few nights later. Then it went off again—and again, and again, and again.
The monitoring system blew up his phone with text after text. Yet nothing was wrong.
Eventually, he figured out that the high-water sensor was becoming beaded with moisture and triggering itself intermittently. Shifting the probe solved the issue, but only after several midnight drives to the boat over the course of two weeks and more than 100 false-alarm texts.
Yes, the system had proved to be a blessing. Then it proved to be a curse.
When you boil down all the plusses and minuses, two things become clear. First, for people tech-savvy enough to understand and use it, having a high-tech boat brings a lot of significant advantages to the table. Second, having a high-tech boat is far more trouble than it’s worth for many other people.
The bottom line is that it’s a personal decision. A high-tech boat that’s great for one person may be utterly horrible for another.
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]