A new system will be both more reliable and will offer more readily available information. Credit B&G/Navico
Nothing dates the look of a boat faster than ageing electronics, yet it’s often tempting to update instrumentation and other devices in a piecemeal fashion. Of course, in an economic sense it may appear to make sense to add what you need and nothing more. This approach certainly works well if your boat already has an installation from the past five or six years or so running on the NEMA2000 data system. However, with older systems that use NMEA0183 adding additional equipment can result in a nightmare of compatibility, networking and wiring issues. This both adds enormously to the labour cost involved and can have a huge impact on reliability, making the exercise a false economy in the longer term.
Before spending good money on updates to a system that’s already well past its use by date, it’s therefore worth analysing what a completely new system would look like. As well as the plug and play simplicity and easy networking of NMEA2000, there have been huge advances in the quality of displays over the past five years. This shows in screen size, clarity and the level of waterproofing. In addition, many multifunction displays (MFDs), have built in Wi-Fi networking that allows a tablet or smartphone to be used as a repeater. Many users find this means it’s no longer essential to have a second MFD at the navigation station below deck.
Few things date a boat faster than old electronics
Autopilots have also improved significantly over the past two or three years, thanks to the availability of more affordable 9-axis sensors. The benefits of this are three-fold: more reliable steering with less power consumption, plus no need to retune the pilot settings for different sea or wind conditions.
In addition, over the past four years MFDs have become available with sailing specific software. This shows laylines to the next waypoint, as well as graphs of historic wind strength and direction to help spot wind shifts, and calculates the tide or current affecting the boat. They also now have built in forward-looking sonars, which can be invaluable in feeling your way into a small anchorage or harbour.