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One off the wrist: Garmin's new autopilot watch

Ben Ellison at reports on the new Garmin Quatix, a watch you can steer by, among (many) other things::

If you oversteered, would you cling to the strap?
Hmm. Just as I prefer APs to steer to a course and not to a waypoint, which encourages a process of observation and corrections for set, drift and other variables, I'm not sure this is a great idea. I like the concept of some kind of COB integration with a watch: imagine the "traditional" lookout pointing at a COB who is periodically vanishing behind a swell. The lookout could point with some kind of verification of bearing based on some sort of Lifetag PLB  My wife and I were discussing this in the context of losing dinghies on flat seas, never mind crew: Objects behind the boat vanish with amazing rapidity even in good conditions. Local (10 NM or less) beacons make sense in the same way as GPS-based anti-theft devices make sense for burglars dumb enough not to stash a car in an underground parking lot.

But AP through a wristtop thingie, plus GPS, plus baro, plus anchor watch function, plus tide calculator, plus time? Too many eggs, not enough basket, I think. The COG/SOG functions are nice, but not really necessary for the cruiser. Maybe for a small boat racer, sure. I just find the idea of so many functions packed into something that gets banged around so easily to be problematic, along with the fact that any transceiver, such as a GPS, is going to eat battery power rapidly (see GPS-equipped VHFs left on with the GPS working versus "just a radio"...big difference in working life off the charger). Also, this is one more gadget that demands eyeball time perhaps better spent observing the water and things in it, rather than digits representative of reality.

A helm station redesign for Alchemy? Not bloody likely. Well, maybe the comfy chair.

Maybe I'm wrong on this, however. I'm no Luddite: I have a venerable Suunto Vector that I consult regularly for its compass and particularly baro features, but its battery lasts 9-12 months, not days to mere hours. I also think it would be a special kind of connector to charge every day at sea and not turn into green slush.

I would, however, like to hear more when more is known. Price, obviously, is a factor (I'm guessing "not cheap, plus add in all the black boxes, etc.), but so are the degree and limits of both integration and functionality (it's probably not going to work as well on a steel boat, for instance).

Why, yes, according to these apps, I am enjoying my sail.
Yes, I know we are entering a world where tricked-out iPads can act as plotters, APs, and places from which you can update your blog whilst tacking, but I think the jury's still out on whether this is a better world. There's some question in my mind as to whether the average sailing human may be the weakest link in the fabulous possibilities of integrated, multi-function gadgets pumping streams of data at baffled brains.


John NYC said...

Thank you, Rhys, a fascinating post as always.

On the Garmin watch, at first glance, it seems useful for solo sailors "if you fall overboard the lost wireless connection will set off an MOB alarm on a Garmin MFD and the AP will try to steer back to you."

But, thinking about it some more, what if I were to fall overboard whilst I'm on my own wearing the watch. The watch will steer the boat right back to me, fine but the AP controls neither the engine throttle nor the sheets. Seems I’ll be guaranteed to get run over by my own boat...

Rhys said...

You're right, John. For the solo sailor, this sort of remote control might only increase the irony of the situation, like getting backed over by your own remote controlled car because you left it in gear.

The best fail-safe I ever heard of was the sailor who ran a string from his PFD to a release pin on his wind vane. He unclipped to take a leak over the side, fell off, tripped the release, and his boat immediately rounded up. With his PFD inflated, he managed to reboard because he had a little line trailing from his boarding ladder. I think the worse thing he suffered was a cut from a barnacle on his line and of course the embarrassment of living to tell a tale part-clever and part-incautious!