Marinized computers and you
Computers of all shapes and sizes are being installed into everything you can imagine nowadays and the marine industry is no different. Staying connected will always be a bullet point for almost everyone in the marine community. From weather file downloads to emailing friends and family, to blogging voyages and vessel tracking. All of these great passions or pastimes are centered on you having a working computer when you’re underway. So what’s the right choice for you and your vessel? What will stand your test of time and the elements? What computers will serve your needs correctly? When these questions start popping up and all of the sudden you’re being asked things like “do you want a marinized computer or is a ruggedized computer going to do the trick?” things start to blur a little. Below you will find some tips and insight into the computer world as it applies to you.
Marinized computer: this term is keyed to exactly what the industry thinks you need to hear to sell you a computer or laptop for use in the marine industry. Typically, a marinized machine comes with a large price tag. Being marinized gives it the extra protection, like being able to take a wave (but not be submerged in water). You will find rubber seals on things like USB and network connections and an accelerometer to predict falls and bangs and so on. The hard drive will be shock mounted so as it is running, if it took a bump or a fall it would be less likely to break. The case will be metal and able to take a blow. All in all they are superior machines for marine applications.
Ruggedized computer: Another term often thrown around is ruggedized, which is basically saying that it has everything that the marinized unit has but it doesn't’t cope with liquid nearly as well. With its lack of rubber seals, the unit won’t be happy if it takes a wave, but it still includes the better hard drive mounting, metal case and so on.
Laptops broken down:
Mini PCs and small-form factor computers:
Regular computers and PCs:
Applying the terminology:
For questions or comments please drop me a line at email@example.com. Finding the right computer for you is just one of the many things Marine Computer Systems and other great marine-electronic experts do.
You didn't mention the use of an integrated wireless mouse and keyboard, one of the nicest things to have on a ships computer. Then you can walk around or sit anywhere within sight of the screen and use the computer.
I enjoyed reading your article on marinized computers in Ocean Navigator.
I purchased a Panasonic Toughbook a few years ago with the intent of using it on my boat someday. Last Christmas my wife and I chartered a boat in the BVI for a week.
This was a great chance for me to see how the Toughbook would hold up. I had nautical charts and a chart program loaded so we could use it as a chart plotter in the cockpit as the boat we charted did not have a chart plotter and my old handheld GPS did not have the capability to download charts for the BVI.
I tested the Toughbook in outside in the daylight, so one problem I knew I was going to have was the screen was not really “sun proof” so I ordered a plastic shade to go around the screen. That worked out OK and allowed me to see the screen in bright sunlight. Sometimes it made it a little clumsy trying to move the computer around with the sun shade on. I’m not sure how many laptops have good screen display in bright sunlight, even my Ray Marine chart plotter on my own boat is not all that great.
We started our trip out the first day and the Toughbook worked well. I had it plugged into a remote battery system which was below deck to keep the extra power souse out of the salt spray. Every now and then we did take some salt spry in the cockpit and the Toughbook was sprayed down. I tried to keep it as dry as possible. It worked fine throughout the entire trip. Before we left on our return flight I whipped it down with fresh water to get any salt water off the exterior of the machine.
The disappointment came a month or so after we returned. I had a chance to use the Toughbook at home. When I checked it out I noticed that many of the small screws along the exterior of the case had signs of corrosion, in spite of the fact that I had completely washed the computer down with fresh water a second time when I got home.
Even with the moisture proof seals, salt spay had penetrated the interior of some of the compartments. That was a little shocking as I thought that the Toughbook was more moisture proof than that.
The good news is I bought the Toughbook on-line though a dealer that sells used machines, so I didn’t pay the price for a new one.
The machine still seems to work well, but I’m sure the first trip out to sea took its toll on its life expectancy.
I’m now more inclined to go with a normal reasonably priced laptop for below deck use and supplement it with a good hand held GPS unit for the cockpit. I bought a new Garman GPSmap 76CSx. That way I can down load charts for what ever area we plan to sailing in. Of course the screen on the Garman won’t match that of the Toughbook for size. And having the touch-screen capability of the Toughbook was really nice.
My favorite story was that when I was transiting from Brazil to Cape Town, I stupidly spilled a Coke on my keyboard. Switched to the backup and wrote in my blog (see www.SchoonerMaggieB.net) what I had done. Three days later, I got an email from Customer Service at Dell saying something like "We hear that you have had a failure with our keyboard. We see that you have a Dell XXXX. We can have a replacement keyboard shipped to you in Cape Town for $38. It will be there in four days. Please advise us if you would like one." The replacement keyboard got to Cape Town before we did! I'll never buy anything but a Dell now.
I went swimming (drowning) with the primary Dell in French Polynesia. Was able to pull the info from the hard drive with help from local computer geeks. Had a new Dell in a week, and reloaded the recovered info.
The Maggie B is now in Nova Scotia for rehab. Expect to get my hands back on her in early August. Would love to find the smartest Furuno installer in Maine to solve a few details. Would also like to install AIS for next year's trip to the Med. Any suggestions?
Would also be happy to sit down and debrief what worked and what not on a Southern Ocean lap.