If you haven’t become familiar with touch screen electronics interfaces, you probably either live in a cave or don’t have any fingers. Thanks to iPhones, ATM machines, and airport check-in machines, just about everyone living in the civilized world has learned how to control electronics by getting all touchy-feely. But when it comes to boats, is this a good thing?
The main problem with putting a touch screen on a relatively small boat is obvious: when the seas kick up it’s hard to hold on, much less touch a specific spot on that little LCD. Before you know it, an attempt to set a waypoint has changed your chartplotter’s zoom level, put the fishfinder into a different color palette, or switched the unit’s language from English into Swahili. When a rough sea adventure has you clinging to the grab rails, there’s no possibility of using a touch-screen to navigate. Period.
A second problem with touch screens arises thanks to the marine environment. Boats are a tough place for delicate electronics, and salt spray, gooey bait, and greasy fittings make for screen-killing contaminants. Many touch screens won’t function properly if they get too dirty, and some may be damaged if you press on them too hard with dirty fingers.
Thankfully, there are some solutions to these two problems. Back-up keypads are the way to eliminate rough sea issues, since they give you a tactile way to using the unit. Most manufacturers have realized this, and MFD units like Raymarine’s e7, the newest touch-me unit to hit the market, have hard keys as well as touch screens. What about screen contaminants? Damage can be avoided by using hardened, etched glass screens, and control can be maintained via the use of infra-red interfaces which can sense your touch through fish slime and caked-on salt.
So: should you have a touch screen on your boat? If you’re a technologically hip boater, you’ll probably love this type of navigational interface. It’s easy, it’s intuitive, and many have menus designed to match those smart phones we all carry these days. Just be sure you get a unit that features back-up buttons, a hardened etched glass screen, and infra-red sensing.