May 27th 2013. By Lenny Rudow.

iOS: Take Command of Your Boat

Using a mix of the latest electronics from the likes of Furuno, Simrad, or Raymarine; security systems by companies like Gost; and entertainment centers from Fusion or Savant Systems, you can now take command of your yacht with an iPad, iPhone, or iPod.

Ever since Adam took his first bite from the apple of knowledge, humans have struggled to control their own destiny. Coveted though it is, of course, complete control is a rarely fulfilled desire. Unless, that is, you have the iOS operating system at your fingertips. An iPod, iPhone, or iPad can change this calculation, at least when it comes to your yacht.

Taking full command of your destiny as you cruise from port to port becomes a whole lot easier when you can advance the throttles, navigate, flip any switch, or activate any accessory with one single remote control—a remote that you can take anywhere, requires no wires, and works with a flick of the finger. A remote that was never designed for nor intended to replace your crew, yet does the job quite well.

cell phone navigation

Who needs a crew when you have iOS in the palm of your hand?

Electro-revolution

When iThings first started taking over the free world, their initial use on boats was limited to viewers. Remember, the iPhone and iPod Touch have only been around for a bit longer than five years, and the iPad was introduced just a little over three years ago. Shocking to think about, isn’t it? So it’s just as shocking to think about how quickly the marine world adapted to them. Despite the fact that this industry usually lags five years behind most major industries, with automotive design trends providing a perfect example, both electronics manufacturers and boatbuilders have latched onto iOS functionality in the blink of an eye.

Raymarine was one of the earliest adopters, adding Bluetooth, WiFi, and apps to the things that could interact with the e7. Their Viewer app was the first major step in iOS-to-MFD (multi-function display) communications. Although it was nifty to be able to view your MFD screen on an iPad, as its name suggests the Viewer app fell short in the control department. In a matter of months, however, Raymarine would be racing against Furuno to introduce the first hands-off system that would offer hands-on control. In Raymarine’s case, it would come in the form of the RayControl and RayRemote apps (detailed on boats.com in 10 Navigation and Smartphone Hits for Power Boaters). This expanded the Viewer’s capability to include actual MFD control right on your iOS (or Android) machine. Swipe to the radar, and you could set it on stand-by even if you were standing in the bilge. Tap the chartplotter, and full nav functionality was right at your fingertips. Anything you could do while operating the MFD at the helm you could now do from anywhere on the boat—giving you an entirely new level of control.

raymarine viewer

With its Viewer app, Raymarine was one of the first marine electronics companies to link an MFD with iOS.

Furuno, meanwhile, jumped directly into the world of complete domination with their all-new TZTouch system and the TZTouch Remote app. Though they did introduce a Viewer app at the same time for those interested in a more passive use of iOS, Furuno was the first marine electronics company to offer complete integration between the helm and the pad. A wireless LAN is utilized to make the connection, and then you can bring up sub-systems like radar, chartplotter, or fishfinder, and fiddle with them as you please.

Simrad is another major player which entered this domain, thanks to their GoFree viewer and control apps introduced in 2012. Communications come via a WiFi wireless gateway, enabling iOS (and Android) devices to view data and take command of Simrad’s NSS MFDs. But Simrad also took a page out of Apple’s playbook, and opened the game up to third-party PC and Mac navigational software and iOS apps via open-source protocol. That allows the Simrad to data-share with systems like iNavX, iRegatta, and Rosepoint Coastal Explorer.

Media Management Madness

Running your nav suite is an awesome ability, but for us control freaks, it still isn’t enough. We want more—like the ability to run the boat’s peripheral systems. And one that’s now easily within reach is the entertainment system.

fusion link

Entertainment systems like those made by Fusion present a perfect opportunity for iOS operation.

Fusion broke new ground when it introduced the FUSION-Link system just a few years ago. This system interfaces the stereo with a wireless DHCP Ethernet router, and auto-configures itself to the network. Then it communicates with a smart phone or tablet, either Apple or Android, through the FUSION-Link app. Whether you want to turn down the volume in a specific zone, change the tunes, or go from shuffle to a specific artist, the app gives you full control.

More heavy-hitting media systems, with full-blown AV servers found on megayachts and the like, can get into the act with Savant’s SmartSystems automation system and TrueControl app. The system and its app turn your iOS apparatus into a remote control that can issue commands to every component in the entertainment system, which you’d usually control with Savant’s regular remotes.

But that’s still not enough to satisfy our thirst for power. And fortunately, the Savant system goes well beyond AV. You can also use it to command lighting, security systems, climate-control, and other sub-systems aboard your boat. You can lock and unlock doors or hatches, check occupancy monitors or video cameras, and even talk through the intercom system or send an IM to a crewmember. The brains behind this brawny system are in the Savant Host Controller. Unlike most systems this one’s actually built on the OS X system so it isn’t merely inter-operating—its true integration with your Apple device. The advantage is seamless operation and a much faster and more stable interconnection, thanks to a system designed specifically for one platform.

savant systems

Savant gives you a serious control boost, enabling your device to tap into a huge range of systems.

Even without a dominant single iOS operator like the Savant, you can put a few more bits and pieces of the control puzzle together with security and monitoring systems produced by the likes of GOST. These began purely as security systems, which use GSM cell and/or satellite communications to allow you to monitor your boat’s location, systems status, and security cameras, on your pocket communicator via their apps. But they’ve since expanded their capabilities and today, you can operate basic systems anywhere you have cell or email service; turning pumps on and off, adjusting lighting, and starting or stopping climate control systems are a few examples of what you can do with the swipe of a finger. And although they aren’t really intended to enhance your control as you cruise, they most certainly arm you with the power to give your boat basic commands from afar.

gost systems

A mix of GSM cell and satellite communications helps you stay in touch with your yacht – and in control – from virtually anywhere.

Assuming Command

The final—and possibly the most important—piece to assuming total command of your boat is, of course, actually shifting into gear and driving it. Hand-held remotes designed specifically for this purpose, like the Yacht Controller, allow you to operate the powerplants and/or thrusters wirelessly. But that’s the full extent of their ability. They don’t integrate with iOS, nor with the other systems we’ve talked about thus far.

Alas, you can’t assume full control with any one item. Not yet, and probably not ever, due to the obvious safety issues that arise.

When Raymarine first developed RayControl, autopilot operation was a part of its functionality. But in the end, they decided to remove it. “You just don’t want to depend on WiFi to steer your boat,” explained Jim Hands, Raymarine’s Director of Marketing. “Reliability is too important. We can build that reliability into our wireless autopilot remote because we can use a much more robust system. And you need that added reliability for safety.”

With a little digging, however, we uncovered two apps on the open market which you can use, today, to steer your boat. But we’re not going to name them, or give you a link. If you want to find them you’ll have to do the legwork yourself, and at your own risk—because Jim is absolutely right. The actual physical operation of a power vessel is simply too important and potentially dangerous to trust to a system that—no matter how impressive we all agree it is—falls victim to glitches and gremlins. Just picture someone playing Angry Birds down in the cabin, accidentally usurping control and steering your yacht into a jetty while they try to exact revenge on some egg-stealing pigs.

Sorry folks. Thanks to safety issues like this, it may be a while before you can take truly total control with iOS. Don’t worry, though. Considering how fast this technology has been moving forward over the past few years, chances are they’ll soon find a way to do it safely. Actually, when you consider the rate of technological development it wouldn’t be surprising if they soon figured out a way for you to do all this stuff merely by thinking. Brain implant, anyone?

In the meantime, you can enjoy the expansive opportunities these systems already provide. And while your desire for absolute control may not be fulfilled quite yet, a bite from today’s Apple can get you 90 percent of the way there.



Lenny Rudow
Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including boats.com and YachtWorld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.