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How do I deal with my too-bright screen?

2012 July 2

Dear Boat Doctor,
I just a bought a 2007 Beneteau 49 and I have a rather odd problem. The previous owner installed a Furuno chartplotter/radar and while the system works great, I don't always like it. The plotter is fabulous and the radar can pick out the smallest target, but I don't like the brightness of the screen or how much power it consumes. When I sail offshore, I can't get the display to a low enough level to not light up the cockpit, and even with the radar off it seems to consume a lot of power. I have resorted to throwing a towel over the display at night, but I am looking for a better solution.
Gary Hebein,
Bolingbrook, Illinois

Dear Gary,
You have stumbled onto one of the dirty little secrets of today's large multifunction displays: they consume quite a bit of power and put out a lot of distracting light. The data on them is great when you're coastal sailing, but offshore the screen is largely blank and most folks don't run their radar continuously. In most cases, once far offshore, speed-over-ground, course-over-ground and position are the bits of data you need. The displays supply this data, but there is a more efficient way.

In today's networks, the sensors themselves process the data and just place it onto the network. The GPS sensor knows all the navigational data and supplies it to the network, similarly the depth transducer processes the depth signal and places the actual water depth onto the network. The large multifunction display just displays the data.

You could add a smaller simple data display somewhere in your cockpit, like a Furuno RD33. This 4-inch device will display virtually any data that is available on the network. The smaller display will not give off as much light pollution and will consume a lot less power. When you are offshore you can turn off the large display and just run with the smaller one. Any competent marine installer should be able to handle the installation.

Another alternative is to install a Wi-Fi data gateway on your network. This gateway can get at that same navigation data and can share it out to a mobile device that you can use anywhere on the boat. There are multiple mobile devices you could use like the iPad and iPhone. If you are only interested in GPS data you could actually even just use the data from the mobile device's internal GPS or any portable GPS, but I prefer to gather data from the more robust onboard data sources.

As you get closer to land or want to use the radar you just need to power up the multifunction display. You need to be careful because these devices take some time to power-up, but there is usually plenty of time to allow for this.