Skipper's Seat

Skipper's Seat: July 2009

July 28, 2009 — Sydney International Boat Show opening July 30 is defying the doomsayers, with all available undercover space sold out, resulting in a full 25,000m² packed to the rafters with the latest cool kit.

The marina will be home to about 190 boats, down about 20 per cent on the previous year, but that’s in keeping with the marine industry and to be expected.

However, the quality of the boats hasn’t slipped one iota and, judging by the number of new releases, Sydney remains a key launch platform for boatbuilders and a market for keen buyers. We can’t wait to see the Maritimo 73 Motoryacht, the biggest production boat ever built in Australia.

Turn to tomorrow’s Trade-a-Boat for all the good oil on the new boats at the Sydney International Boat Show. And check back regularly at for our show updates.

We’ll be on-site with a videographer and yours truly filing live articles about what’s hot from the Sydney International Boat Show. Although you can enjoy the marine event from the comforts of your lounge chair, you will gain much greater inspiration by attending in person and listening to the special team of boating adventurers share their incredible stories.

Trade-a-Boat’s Don McIntyre will be talking about his past, present and future plans. You can also read about what inspires Don in tomorrow’s Trade-a-Boat. As he says, boat shows are a great place to start an adventure. And you don’t need to have the best of everything but, rather, to make the most of what you’ve got.

That said, I’m agog at the ever-expanding world of electronics. Today’s dash is looking more like the cockpit of a modern fighter jet than a boat. The bright sparks from the electronics world have invaded, turning traditional seafaring ways on their head. It’s all about pushing buttons and letting virtual brains take greater control of your ship.

The transformation begins from the moment you settle into the electric helm chair, adjust the lumber support, and turn the keys. Actually, even that is becoming a thing of the past. You can now start your engines with the scan of your fingerprint. The Australian-designed Finscan Bio eStart is a terrific example of latest plug-and-play technology that interfaces with your engines, allowing only authorised persons to start them by placing their finger on a pad. But a keyless remote can be used in emergencies, thank heavens.

As the engines idle, you engage the boat’s electrical systems. Formerly, this was done by flicking a long bank of toggle switches on the control panel or upon a dash reminiscent of a light aircraft. Now, the latest luxury private liners are more streamlined, fitting CAN-bus boat-management technology instead. A whole new world of microcontrollers and other devices talk among themselves and let you command everything from lighting to entertainment gear at the touch of an LCD screen mounted on the dash. At night, you might hit a pre-programmed mode to engage the mood lighting, LED navigation and decklights, underwater swimming lights (another must-have), the Bose Lifestyle system and the 240V outlet for the cocktail maker, for example.

Some boats are now fitting night-vision cameras and, during a test on Sydney Harbour, the albeit costly gear made the dark waterways glow as if it were daylight. Concerned skippers are also buying man-overboard devices that sound an alarm should the wearer range too far from the mothership. Peace of mind for parents.

Meantime, the latest electronic boat-management systems are reducing the tangle of wires. You can see exactly what lighting, bilges and other gear is running after a mere cursory glance of a screen or boat diagram on the dash. On some boats, it’s even possible for a factory in a faraway land to dial into the diagnostics and perform system fixes from afar.

Now that your fully electronic diesel engines, which tend to be enhanced by common rail fuel injection these days, and your electronics are warmed up, it’s time to cast the lines. Enter your invisible crew, the bow and sternthrusters. With a press of a button or push of a toggle you can hold your boat against a marina while easing the mooring lines. Better still, a docking remote on a long lead lets you decamp while roaming the decks.

Going a step further, the latest pod drives from Volvo Penta and Cummins MerCruiser Diesel provide exceptional manoeuvrability with the push or twist of a joystick. Anyone can park with aplomb. Bigger boats, meanwhile, fit hydraulic thrusters with even more boat-shunting grunt. You can lean on these thrusters without fear of the breaker tripping out, as happens on the more common battery-powered thrusters.

Docking cameras are the next big thing, either by way of closed-circuit television or a simple lens overlooking the transom that reveals the boat’s aft-most extremities. Secondary cameras are often mounted in the engineroom to keep watch on the engineering and the saloon to monitor the crew.

Clear of the marina, it’s time to call your navigational aids to arms. The latest multifunction glass screens have got broader, taller, and more capable of displaying a variety of data simultaneously. Typically, you would have displayed depthsounder, GPS satellite data, and radar, as well as video input from, say, the Foxtel satellite television, another device increasingly found aboard serious cruising boats these days.

Add an autopilot and, with the press of a button, you can steer hands-free to your predetermined course with satellite-tracking accuracy. With a remote control on a lanyard, you can alter course while making lunch in the galley.

Sailors are turning to powered winches to take the toil out of setting and trimming sail. But those in the know make the most of their electronics and tap into hidden functions such as auto-tack on their autopilots. Add a self-tacking headsail and you range up the coast while doing little more than extending your finger. Only yesterday, such feats required a half-dozen crew.

While yachts and motorboats are fitted with generators to power, among other things, air-conditioning, silent inverters are gaining popularity as a means of producing 240V power from the latest deep-cycle batteries. Get a 2000W inverter and you can run a cappuccino machine without waking the crew with the thump of a generator at dawn.

Satellite communications, more affordable sat phones, and tracking devices are popular with the well-heeled cruising set. Some couples take their work with them, turning a cabin into a floating office, while others delight in knowing their family is tracking their movements online.

Although more of an engineering marvel, the affordable watermaker has made pleasure boating more self-reliant than ever before. Couples can cruise for a month or more without having to ration. And the pure water provides a spot-free wash of your boat. Add a pressure pump and outlet fore and aft and cleaning is no longer a drag.

Little wonder the halls at the Sydney International Boat Show opening July 30 will be brimming to capacity with smart new gear. If you can’t afford a new boat, fear not, renovate your existing craft with the latest electronics. See you at the Trade-a-Boat stand. Show details at

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David Lockwood,