by Dom Wiseman

Thermal cameras have traditionally have come at too high a cost and too large a size to be genuinely considered suitable for small to medium trailerboats. As a result no one has really considered such a market. The reality is that modern boat owners are often fishing early in the morning before the sun is up or fishing all the way through into darkness more often than ever before. It makes for difficult navigation, in particular around busy waterways. The FLIR M132 and M232 thermal cameras aim to solve all that and add a good dose of safety too.

WHAT’S ONBOARD 

The FLIR Thermal cameras come in two types, the M132. A tilt only option that points directly ahead and can move only up or down to accommodate the change in angle of the boat. And the M232 which is a pan and tilt camera that can spin 360 degrees in addition to move up and down and it is this unit that was fitted to the T-Top of the 24 foot Cobia we were on. It’s a large centre console fishing boat owned by Barrenjoey Marine Electrics who performed the install. We arrive at 3:30pm with the afternoon sun blazing across the bay but that joy was to be short-lived.

The cost of these units are considerably less than anything previously available with the M132 priced from $3,595 and the M232, $4,995. With the recent reductions in radar, thermal cameras makes the perfect accompaniment and the FLIR units complement the Raymarine Axiom Multi Function Display with a plug and play operation with the addition of a HS-5 switch.

The cameras use infra red to see what’s ahead by separating temperature differences down to 0.1 degree to create a clear picture. They allow boaters to see and identify obstacles. Radar will show you an object but it sometimes takes a little time to establish what exactly you are looking at. With their ability to create an image, FLIR thermal cameras are useful in direct sunlight, heavy fog/sea mist and of course darkness. You can combine them with radar enabling you to identify what the radar is showing such as wharves, pylons, buoys and of course other boats.

The M232 was designed to be the smallest, lightest and least power consuming infra red thermal camera. It allows vision in 320 x 240 and both units come with a 4X digital zoom allowing fast identifications. The effective operable distance depends on the size of the object but as best we could identify the unit can see a ferry at around 1.3 kilometres while a smaller object like a person in the water is 450 metres. Interestingly as we were moored, we had the camera on looking to the side of the boat and saw a school of fish feeding on the surface. We could only hear them onboard but the camera was capable of picking up the water disturbance.

It is perhaps in the event of a night time man overboard situation where the unit can be most useful. The minute a man falls overboard, you can push the man overboard button on the Axiom unit and the camera will automatically swivel to the position and start scanning for the heat signature. We tested this ourselves when the ambient temperature was so cold and the water offered minimal respite. It opened my eyes to the usefulness of the unit if I was to fish often under darkness.

The FLIR cameras will work with a variety of Multi Function Display units, when combined specifically with the Axiom MFD, you have access to ClearCruise. This is an intelligent thermal analytics program that identifies non water objects such as buoys and provides a highlight on the screen and an audible warning. We saw it in full effect in the tranquil night time waters of the Basin in Sydney’s north and it light up like a Christmas tree as we motored into the bay which is filled with moorings.

When combined with an AIS unit the FLIR will automatically track and maintain dangerous AIS targets in the visible screen. The unit is simple to control. On the test boat we used the Axiom MFD touch screen to control the unit by swiping the screen in the direction we wanted to move the camera. It’s reasonably easy except when you are moving where movements can be exaggerated by the bumps. There is also a control joystick that can be mounted to the dash.

One thing I felt would be a great addition is a distance off measurement. I imagine a unit with lasers may be able to do work in this manner and I guess it could be in existence already but not yet in the realm of the boating consumer. In any case making out distance at night is notoriously difficult so any help I can get would be great.

OVERVIEW

For anyone who is frequently boating in conditions that make eyesight redundant, the M132 and M232 make sense. The new pricing puts them well within the budget of a small to medium trailerboat owner and the installation is relatively simple. With all the gadgets people are now drilling onto their boats, doesn’t it make sense that you put something that actually may save a life, possibly your own.