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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Miami Boat Show Introduces New Green Gadgets

Fort Meyers News Press

St. Paddy’s Day is just a flip of the calendar page away, and in the spirit of the holiday’s color, I offer up a few green gadgets introduced at the Miami International Boat Show.

The show still claims to be the world’s largest, despite a visible difference in bustling activity this year compared with prior years. Regardless, it remains famous for debuting products that boaters crave and announcing awards for gizmos that are the most applicable, helpful and high-tech.

This year’s theme for the new products and award winners appeared to be — you guessed it — eco-friendly.

Take Mercury’s MercMonitor, for example. It snagged the coveted, first-ever West Marine Green Product of the Year contest, which featured a panel of old-salt and tech-savvy judges known internationally in the boating world.

Not only is the device something that will help you and the environment, but it also is the color of an Irish shamrock.

It’s that color only if you’re doing everything right, though.

The gadget is a $300 vessel-monitoring system that allows you to pick three pieces of data to be displayed at once. You set up the screen, which naturally is called an “ECO-Screen,” for cruising by selecting RPM, gallons per hour and miles per gallon. You can customize it beyond that, too, for various data reporting to show what you use the most.

But it won the award because it computes calculations and displays information simply, helping boaters optimize the efficiency of their engines. (Of course, skippers have to read the thing and take corrective action, but Mercury and West Marine are assuming boat drivers will do that.) It glows green when you’re driving well.

The idea is the device helps lower fuel consumption, thus burning less fossil fuel and decreasing a boat engine’s environmental impact. The boaters benefit, too. The device helps them maximize miles per gallon. Mercury claims — and West Marine judges touted this, too — that boaters will save an average of 10 to 20 percent in fuel costs.

Talk around the show among boating writers was that the gadget seemed closely aligned to gauges being found already in vehicles. But industry types touted the MercMonitor as innovative, intuitive and original.

At least it’s not expensive, relatively speaking in the boating world. But it’s probably better designed for new boats that can be built with the device. Another problem is presented when you retrofit your boat to accommodate a gizmo that does lots of the functions of your existing gauges: leftover dash holes.

“This is for the new-boat customer or the guy who is a gadgeteer,” said Donnie Carter, a Fort Myers Merc man with Offshore Performance Specialties in south Fort Myers.

So go green and green-screened, you gadgeteers.

Another green product being talked up is the Torqeedo.

It sounds like a yummy Mexican-food appetizer, but really it’s an engine for your kayak. As if paddlesports weren’t green enough, now you can put a motor on your kayak and not increase your carbon Teva-print.

The Torqeedo engine folks won an Innovation Award from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The contest is judged by Boating Writers International, a well-known skeptical group of longtime, “been there, done that” journalists. They praised it for “alternate propulsion” in the environmental award category.

The $1,900 engine weighs less than 18 pounds and has an 80-pound trolling-motor thrust. If your kayak tilts 90 degrees, the safety shutoff stops the engine. Its lunchbox-sized marine battery floats and is waterproof, plus the kayak company Hobie showed it off in Miami mounted so it's in no one's way. The engine's price includes a removed throttle with a display showing range and speed data that's generated using onboard GPS.

If you're a powerboater, you may be scoffing. Why would a kayaker want an engine? How 'bout for navigating a current-rippled bay? A longer-than-expected coastal tour? A quicker run to a fishing shoal?

Sometimes a boost of power makes kayaking more fun. And when you're doing it in a clean way, it's a guilt-free boost for you and Mother Earth.

Too bad the tiny engine is black instead of green.