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Digital Boat Switching Systems

Advances in digitals switching systems offer a host of advantages for anglers and their boats.

April 4, 2020
Accessing digital switching on a touchscreen MFD
Digital switching can be accessed on the touchscreen of a multifunction display via NMEA 2000 networking. Courtesy CZone

Capt. Arik Bergerman faced 6- to 8-foot seas at the wheel of his Yellowfin Carbon 39 as it rocketed across the wave tops from Key West, Florida, toward a wreck near the Dry Tortugas, 88 miles away, in a no-holds-barred effort to win the Stock Island Village Marina King Mackerel Tournament in January 2016. But suddenly, the run came to a halt as Bergerman pulled back the throttles in response to an alert on one of the multifunction displays. The digital-switching window on the touchscreen indicated that an automatic bilge pump was running nonstop.

The alert prompted Bergerman and crew to open the bilge hatch, where they discovered a livewell hose had jarred loose, pouring water below decks and triggering the bilge pump. They got the hose reattached and clamped tight, and were on their way in five minutes.

Later that same day, Bergerman and his team placed second overall and first in the pro division, in part thanks to an alert on the digital-switching system that helped keep the bait alive and prevent a possible sinking.

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Digital Age

Keeping skippers posted about onboard systems is just one benefit of digital switching. CZone has led the drive into this area and is one of the most common brands on boats today. But there are others companies, including Blink, Dometic, Empire Bus and Naviops, with digital-switching systems.

In a digital system, accessories connect to a powered control module rather than directly to a switch, as with conventional systems. The module, in turn, is networked via NMEA 2000 with one or more user-interface systems, such as a multifunction display.

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Digital switching is offered almost exclusively as a factory installation on new boats. “The amount of work in converting a boat to digital switching doesn’t lend itself to aftermarket installations,” says David Marynov, marketing manager for Power Products, parent company of the CZone brand.

That said, digital switching does not fall solely within the purview of large boats. Today you will find these systems on new boats 25 feet in length or less. Here are some key advantages of digital switching.

Configurable

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A single switch can be configured to do anything with a digital system. It can be assigned to a livewell pump, macerator pump, cabin light or stereo system through programming and without the need to rewire anything.

“In addition, a switch can be programmed to activate a wide variety of accessories, all at once,” Marynov says. For example, a switch for night-boating can activate functions such as navigation lights, courtesy lights, underwater lights, radar and FLIR thermal imaging, all simultaneously.

Digital switching also makes it easy to add new equipment and accessories by connecting them to the module rather than having to snake a new wire loop to the helm. Once the accessory is connected to the module, a digital switch can be assigned and programmed to turn it on and off.

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These systems are also easier to service and troubleshoot, Marynov adds, since accessory circuits converge to a single point. This saves the trouble of tracing wires throughout their entire runs to find an electrical glitch.

Control Choice

Another big advantage of digital-switching systems lies in the ability to control functions with a touchscreen MFD from virtually any major marine electronics brand, including Furuno, Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine and Simrad.

CZone offers its own displays—the Touch 5 and Touch 10—for controlling and monitoring its digital-switching systems via touchscreen. Connecting the digital-switching module with an MFD via the NMEA 2000 network enables this benefit.

To access the system, use the digital-switching window on an MFD, which will show the buttons for each function or group of functions. You simply press the touchscreen to turn them on or off.

“Controlling systems from an MFD simplifies the whole experience,” Marynov says. “Monitoring and control of accessories and systems is right in front of you.”

Many boats with digital switching augment MFD controls with physical switch panels from brands such as Bocatech or CZone. The redundancy affords you the ability to maintain control over onboard systems in case one or more MFDs malfunction.

Some systems allow control over Wi-Fi using a mobile app on a tablet. CZone’s Wireless Interface module, for instance, provides onboard Wi-Fi control of systems with the use of an iPad.

Two-Way System

As alluded to earlier, digital system displays can send alerts when critical systems show errors, such as the bilge pump cycling repeatedly. The CZone system also monitors voltage levels and can alert you to turn off noncritical circuits, such as the stereo system, when the battery begins to run low, Marynov says.

In addition, a load-shedding feature can be programmed to automatically shut down noncritical circuits to preserve battery capacity for more important onboard systems, such as to start the engine or, in the mindset of a saltwater angler, keep the livewell pump running. Critical and noncritical circuits are defined and assigned by the boat owner, Marynov says.

Old-school mariners who cast a skeptical eye on such new technology will find assurance in the fail-safe measure built into CZone. In this system, each circuit is equipped with an ATC blade fuse in the control module that allows you to manually activate an accessory by inserting the fuse into an “override” slot. You just pull the fuse out to turn it off.

Telematics

Remote control of onboard systems from a distance represents the latest advantage of digital switching. Siren Marine has worked for over a year to interface its MTC mobile-connectivity module with CZone’s digital-switching system.

Siren Marine app for CZone switching
Siren Marine’s app lets you control CZone switching from afar. Courtesy siren marin

As a result, boaters can control a wide range of onboard systems using the Siren Marine mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. “Once connected via cellular service, the app auto-populates with the same CZone digital-switching screen you see on an MFD,” says Daniel Harper, founder and CEO of Siren Marine.

“This system, for example, can turn on the fridge, and cabin and spreader lights before you arrive at the dock,” Harper explains. While it currently uses cellular connectivity for such control, Harper envisions satellite connectivity in the future, allowing boat owners to control and monitor onboard systems from virtually anywhere on Earth.

New Electronics

Furuno NavNet TZtouch3 screen
Furuno NavNet TZtouch3 Courtesy Furuno

Furuno’s third-generation NavNet multifunction displays—the TZtouch3 series—come in 12-inch hybrid IPS touch displays, and 16- and 19-inch glass IPS touch displays. Each features a quad-core processor, built-in, dual-channel 1 kW TruEcho Chirp, and a 50/200 kHz fish finder. TZtouch3 displays also have a pin-code feature that helps guard your data and deter theft of the hardware. Price has not been set; furunousa.com

Veratron Go antenna
Veratron Go Courtesy Veratron

The affordable Veratron Go is a GPS/GLONASS/Galileo antenna that offers 72-channel reception and a 10 Hz refresh rate. It connects to NMEA 2000 networks for supplying position and navigation data to compatible onboard equipment. It fits Veratron OceanLink bezels for mounting on hardtops. The white housing is made of a rugged thermoplastic engineered for continual outdoor exposure. $149.99; veratron.com

Simrad NSO Evo3S Glass Bridge Display screen
Simrad NSO Evo3S Glass Bridge Display Courtesy Simrad

Simrad NSO Evo3S Glass Bridge displays are available in 16-, 19- and 24-inch touchscreens, and feature faster page loading, smoother screen movements and six-way splits. They can be purchased as a system or stand-alone displays. System packs include a display, GPS, keypad and accessories. The displays can also connect smartphones, tablets and internet hotspots. Starting at $6,099 for displays only; simrad-yachting.com

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