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Low Light Cameras

When running a boat at any time, nothing replaces common sense and running at a safe speed. When running in the dark, you should have crew members help spot and be on the lookout for obstacles. When in tight quarters (harbors, inlets, channels, etc) take your time! Better to arrive alive, a little later, than not at all!

A recent Fishing Trip:
It was 3:30 a.m. with no moon. While running out of Moriches Inlet in NY, over track lines I ran several times during the previous month. I noticed my bottom reading rising way too fast. I was going slowly, and my first reaction was to get the boat out of gear. As I looked to the port side, I saw I was way too close to some new shoaling on the ocean side of the inlet. As I drifted to a stop, I felt the front of the boat kiss the bottom. After assessing the conditions, I quickly ascertained that my best action was no action. As the waves came over the shoal they would and did push me towards deeper water. Soon I was able to use the inshore engine to help walk me towards deeper water. It took ten minutes before I cleared and was able to run around the new bar. As I went around it, the structure became very clear from the backside view. Two factors made this a non-event. My speed before and during the encounter enabled me to make corrections and avoid a complete grounding. Also knowing and running when the tide is optimal gave me a more forgiving track to get out of trouble. Keep your head on a swivel and your speed in check. After this event, I couldn’t help but wonder what a low-light camera would have shown, and if it would have helped. After some research a week later, I installed the Sionyx Nightwave.

Low-light cameras have become all the rage in the past couple of seasons. The Sionyx Nightwave is a clear stand out amongst its peers. It has an incredibly affordable entry point and is loaded with features. The most important features are its clarity, reliability, color viewing, view angle, and distance. At first, color doesn’t seem too important when discussing a low-light camera, after all, you are viewing what appears to be a grayscale with hints of color in it when using this in the dark. But rest assured color makes a huge difference when looking at lighted buoys and other vessel’s nav lights. These lighted colors pop and are incredibly distinguishable.
Are they a replacement for thermal imaging cameras, radar, or chart plotters?
Absolutely not. However, it is a perfect complement to all of these. Radar is the single most important tool for running on instruments (other than common sense). The radar shows your boat’s position and how and where it relates to solid objects. Objects that you want to avoid. It works in fog, dark, and daylight. Thermal imaging shows you an image of the contrast between heat signatures of objects as they pertain to one another. The sea surface temperature will appear in constant grey. Wave heights can be disseminated and viewed as there is a contrast between the air temperature and the water. An object in the water that has a different heat gradient will show up as a lighter or white object on the screen. So, a log that’s been baking in the sun will retain and display a different heat gradient signature as compared to the water and air. This can all be viewed with video-like quality in real time. This is a great technology that has a home in search and rescue, as well as obstacle avoidance. It is a nice complement to other electronics on board for mariners who can afford the hefty price associated with this technology.
Low-light cameras show you an actual image of what’s in front of you. The technology enables low light to be sufficient to illuminate objects that are actually in front of you. It’s not an interruption, it is a view of the actual object. The Sionyx camera also transmits color images to your screen. This is huge when running a channel that is marked by red and green buoys. No mistaking them. These cameras are also a great tool for running in and out of inlets and over or around sand bars. You can actually see the jetties as you transverse the inlet. Upon entering the ocean, you can view the breakers and other characteristics that identify where the shoaling of a bar is and work your way around it. When looking for bait or fish, not only can you view nervous water, and ripples, but the camera shows the bait or fish that surfaces. When fishing offshore you can also view live images to spot irregularities on the surface, nervous water, weed lines, slicks, birds, and whales, are all clearly visible. Not to mention a view of other vessels fishing in the area.

Pros and Cons
One setback is because this is a camera, it can only view what’s in front of it. If fog rolls in the camera’s view will be blocked. For safety in any conditions, radar is a must. The camera is very easy to install and is compatible with newer and older multi-function displays. They even come stocked with adapters to configure different applications. There is also an option for Bluetooth. Very simple to send the image to a tablet like an iPad. I hard-wired my camera to my running light’s power supply. So anytime I feel my running lights need to be on, my camera is fired up. The camera is fixed-mounted and doesn’t pan and tilt. However, the field of view is large (approximately 45 degrees) and shows a great distance in front of the boat. Having your radar set just outside the camera’s field of view will highlight objects that you may need to steer clear of. If these objects enter the field of view of the camera, use this screen to identify and avoid potential danger.
Occasionally, technology will be developed that changes things as we know it “Game Changer”. Unfortunately, new tech usually comes with a hefty price tag as it’s being developed. Camera technology has been constantly developing during the digital revolution, so the hefty price tag is gone. It’s the application in the marine and boating industry that needed some time to discover what the role would be, and the software needed to deliver it. This enabled companies like Sionyx to introduce an extremely affordable solution, which checks most of the required boxes for boating safety and function. Easy to install and seamless to use, these cameras will become standard equipment installed on many boats regardless of size.