I look forward to the boat shows, and all the new products. And after missing last year, I expect most companies will showcase all kinds of new technology. It is all very exciting. I love when companies bring the promise of tomorrow into products for today.

Yet, on another level, I sometimes get weary from everything new. Didn’t I just upgrade the chart plotter from the original Garmin plotter that came with the boat? Oh right, guess it has been a few years, as Garmin discontinued the black 1040xs several years ago. Nice unit, still works great, but how long will they continue to support it?

We live in a world of never-ending improvements and advances in electronics, connectivity, and manufacturing. So, we’ve come to expect at boat shows to see next generation products in every category, from boats to propulsion systems, battery and charging systems, navigation and communications systems, even stereo systems. They will convince you that you absolutely must control your boat’s stereo from your smartphone. Do they even call it a stereo anymore?

So, here’s the question: Is newer always better? As I get older, I find it easier to resist the urge to make that pilgrimage to Upgrade Utopia. I know these companies try to make me feel bad, that my life will be less satisfying, without the new equipment and gear? Your boat still has an inboard diesel engine? Come on, man, get with the program. You need outboards out back. That’s the way everyone does it these days!

There was a time when one could approach change from a purely objective perspective. When I was an Assembler language programmer in the early ‘70s, it was standard IBM practice to rewrite a system from scratch if the total percentage of patches and changes to the original system exceeded 15 percent. That was the benchmark threshold we used. It was all very logical and Vulcanesque.

Today it is infinitely more trendy to just toss the stuff out and replace it with newer, better, more efficient, brighter color, sunlight readable, more sustainable, more compact, more whatever… It can be exhausting, and expensive.

Several of my friends have recently bought new-to-them cruising boats (Read Boat Buying Done Right), and the situation is the same for each of them. The boats already have electronics and radios, all work just fine. But this one doesn’t overlay radar onto the chart, and that radio already has its assigned MMSI number from the previous owner. Or it works fine, but doesn’t have an embedded GPS.

(Seen below: The helm of a Back Cove just purchased by some friends.)

helm of back cove yacht

Each of my friends goes through the same thought process, just change the name of the manufacturer. One loves his family of Garmin equipment, but the boat he just bought is loaded with Raymarine gear. Another swears by the Simrad/Robertson autopilot. How happy will he be if he keeps the one that came with the boat? It works but it is not a Simrad. Like I said, it is emotionally draining.

Will my life feel better if I remove the existing radar that came with the boat, a Furuno NavNet unit, so I can install the latest digital Garmin radar, even though the Furuno works just fine, and can be found on commercial fishing boats around the world? How about forward-looking sonar, or an electric outboard to replace the Tohatsu two-stroke that came with the boat?

Okay, take a deep breath. Now here’s the deal. Ultimately, none of it matters, really it does not. We grow accustomed to using certain products and brands. If the expense of replacing perfectly fine and operating equipment with what you know and love (or think you will love) is not a problem for you financially, then go ahead I suppose. But it should be a conscious decision, and be perfectly clear that you really don’t need to do it.

(Seen below: A newly redone helm of an East Bay yacht recently purchased by some cruising friends.)

helm of east bay yacht

We’re all guilty of this. I installed a Lavac manual toilet on my last sailboat and, to me, it was hands-down the finest marine manual toilet in the world. When the Tecma electric head came out, it too caught my eye, and my toilet lust continued until I could justify ripping out a perfectly good marine head to get what I wanted. No fooling.

But at the end of the day, did it really matter? Of course not.

I find one element of this new technology to be as addictive as a narcotic. And that is the number of new features that come with every new generation of any product line. Anchor watch alarms, Bluetooth connectivity, auto route planning…on and on. The latest release of Apple’s OS 15 is a perfect example. I started watching a YouTube video that would explain all the new and exciting features this operating system brings to my iPhone.

As the presenter went on, drilling down into how you can now have folders inside of folders to micro organize every element of your life, from schedules to lists to share with friends, and files and dates and photos and everything else one could possibly dream up. I felt like my head was going to explode. I stopped the video even though it was only a quarter of the way through. Whew. I need to go outside and get some air!

As I get older, my stuff gets old with me, and that’s fine. Perhaps it is the early onset of wisdom, but I am okay as long as it works, and I get pleasure from it. When I look around, I see things that I own that make me feel good, to touch, to use. It has nothing to do with the latest anything. I have a 1983 Fatty Knees 9-foot rowing dinghy (seen below), and I can’t imagine parting with it.

row boat

I look around at other things that bring me pleasure, and they certainly don’t qualify as the latest and greatest of anything. I drive a 2008 Porsche 911S, one of the last truly mechanical Porsches, six speed manual transmission and all. When I got a tour of the local Annapolis dealer, as part of a tech session to show off their new service center, I realized none of the mechanics were old enough to know what to do if it couldn’t be plugged into a computer. They would be totally unfamiliar with the mechanical nature of my car. There is nothing in this car that is fly-by-wire.

I went shooting at the indoor range near Fort Meade recently and got to see all the latest polymer-framed pistols, all double stack magazines in 9mm or 10mm. I don’t know, are they better? Personally, I prefer the look and feel of a full-size 1911 in .45ACP, a lovely piece of history whose design dates back well over 100 years. It is heavy, shoots heavy bullets, is utterly reliable and accurate, and is brilliantly designed. Mine is a superb Springfield Armory 1911 TRP. It is a work of art that will outlive most anything and is magnificent in ways the Glocks of the world are not.

Back to the smartphone for a minute. In addition to its ability to assist navigating one’s boat, it also takes great photos. These days you would be hard pressed to find travelers using anything else. It is new technology that people embrace, preferring its convenience. However, when I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain a few years ago, I was the only one in any crowd who carried a real camera. But I was able to capture images inside cathedrals (seen below) that were simply impossible to get with a smartphone. The right tool for the job, and decidedly old fashioned.

Doctor Bernardus

To a large extent, what defines my affinity to the Porsche and camera and rowing boat is that they put me in manual mode, and require a very personal connection to make them work. They force me to get into the “Zone,” a place where I become one with the process. Shooting a camera in fully manual mode engages me, and I am one with the camera. Coming into a corner and smoothly downshifting using heel & toe shifting feels great. I learned that on a race track. The connection with one’s boat brings out similar feelings. While joystick control on a cruiser may be fun and easy, properly executing a back-and-fill maneuver to move a heavy trawler backwards in a straight line totally puts you in the Zone.

And it is decidedly old technology. Or perhaps no technology at all.

So, if any of my friends ask my opinion about what to do about all this new stuff when walking the boat show, my advice is simple. Live with the boat you just bought as it is for awhile, maybe an entire season. Learn to use what is already on the boat and avoid tearing it apart to reinstall equipment you had good luck with on some previous boat. Maybe Garmin would be your choice for outfitting a new boat, but live with the Raymarine suite as it is already there, is hopefully calibrated correctly, and works. Take a deep breath and just enjoy the new boat as is. Furuno is great stuff.

You might find that it all works well enough to win you over. And save a ton of cash that you can spend on something else, like a new Bullfrog dinghy to replace that leaky inflatable RIB which should have been retired years ago.


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