Fuses, Float Switches and LEDs — Oh, My!

A trip overseas to the Marine Equipment Trade Show hints at the future of tech tools for life at sea.

Underwater LED lights

Underwater LED lights that blink to the beat of your favorite song and can be controlled by your smartphone were among the flashy new products at METS.Courtesy Mondo Marine

It’s hard to spot a marine industry trend before it is in full swing, but a few of the things I saw at the recent Marine Equipment Trade Show in the Netherlands have me thinking that today’s technology is just the beginning of some serious trends to come. From outright new technology to existing technology being used in new ways, there’s a lot to watch for (and consider upgrading to) in the next few years.

One of the devices that caught my eye was the easyID fuse from Blue Sea Systems. It can replace any of the ATC fuses on your boat, and if yours is a fairly new vessel, you probably have quite a few of them. The new ones come with 3- to 40-amp ratings and plug into the same spots as existing ATC-type fuses. What makes the easyIDs special is that it employs an integrated LED that lights when the fuse blows, making it easy to spot in the panel. LEDs are certainly coming into the mainstream for their power-saving nature and cool colors, but this application is all about function.

In the bilge pump arena, one of the highest failure-rate items is the float switch, which can now be replaced by a Bilge Pro sensor that uses the same technology as many touch-screen tablets. The sensor is available through a British company, Energy Solutions Ltd., and should be in the United States by the time you read this. The sensor has no moving parts, is hermetically sealed and employs waterproof push-and-lock plug connectors to wire it into an existing bilge-pump system. The device is so sensitive that it can detect whether there is oil in the bilge water, and if so, it will not pump. That little nuance could save you a potential $5,000 fine in some cruising areas. The sensor is also multistaged. As long as you have a bilge high-water alarm system (and you should if you have sleeping accommodations on board), it will sound if the water level gets high enough without the pump turning on. Another novel idea is the sensor’s automatic pump-exercise feature. It’s common for bilge-pump motors to seize when they sit idle for long periods. The Bilge Pro system periodically switches the bilge pump on for a few seconds to keep things from jamming up. With no moving parts and being sealed against water ingress, this sensor takes bilge-pump switching to the next level.

Have you ever been out on the water after a long day and tried to crank over your engine, only to hear that disarming arut ... arut ... arut ... click-click coming from the starter motor? Well, Blue Sea has another product that can save the day. The m-LVD low-voltage disconnect device recognizes battery-level voltage in real time and provides a visual warning of a low-voltage battery level prior to disconnecting the power. The cutoff point for disconnect leaves enough battery power to get your boat’s engine started and have the alternator begin recharging the battery. The m-LVD is weather-sealed to an IP67 level, which means it’s protected against dust and the effects of immersion to a little more than 3 feet, and it is ignition-protected so that it can be installed just about anywhere on a gasoline-fueled boat, inboard or outboard. Again, voltage-sensing circuitry is not necessarily new, but this practical application of the technology sure is.

Finally, the absolute showstopper for me was an entirely fresh take on underwater lighting. Yep, LEDs again, but the new part has nothing to do with the LEDs themselves. This system creates underwater lighting like most of us have never seen.

Lumishore has come up with a controller that can access up to 128 lights in a networked configuration, and that can be integrated with other third-party systems. The controller can be set up to literally paint with the lights by creating up to six custom underwater scenes, and color sweeps automatically change and go on and off in a smooth wave motion from bow to stern, side to side, or stern to bow — you decide.

The really amazing thing is this system’s wireless capability. The built-in Wi-Fi is compatible with iPad and iPhone, and the “sound-to-light” feature can flash the underwater lighting to the beat of your favorite tunes. It will also work with onboard entertainment systems. The wireless range is approximately 200 feet, so you can be docked at a waterfront restaurant and control the lighting from your iPhone, just for fun.

Some of the system’s other key functions are its 12 preset colors and the ability to custom-define up to 16,000 individual color options. You can also set up the lights as strobes and adjust the speed, or let a program run randomly and adjust the intensity. As for safety, a preset will flash the international SOS signal.

What’s the new technology here? Well, we’re in the beginning phases of employing wireless tech to control our yachts with tablets and smartphones. Expect to see this functionality in more and more technology as digital-switching systems continue to proliferate and trickle down.

Expect the same of LED lighting systems too. The 50,000-hour life expectancy of the LEDs, their low power usage and their inherently compact form are going to keep these little guys showing up in places we haven’t even thought of yet, never mind telling you that the power is off because of a blown fuse.

MORE FROM METs
1. Groco introduced its e-valve this year. The motorized seacock comes in three-quarter-inch to 5-inch inlet sizes and is controlled wirelessly from the helm or via push button in the engine room. A touch-screen display can show the operator valve status for all of the boat's seacocks. The system can be programmed to open a generator seacock automatically when starting the unit and to close the seacock when it shuts down, preventing the problem of generator flooding.

2. BEP/Marinco has a new pro installer line of DC switching products. The unique aspect of this line is that the designs feature a common interconnection height for each terminal that enables components to be clustered, reducing the amount of space required for installation.

3. Dutch vendor Holland Marine Parts is marketing a different kind of thruster system. The jet thruster sends water pressure from a centralized pump to outlets at the bow or stern (or both) to generate side-to-side thrust.