Most cruising sailors demand state-of-the-art electronic navigation systems for their vessels, but many skippers also like to preserve a traditional look in the displays they install in the cockpit.
While some meters and panels employ actual needles on their display dials, others offer digital faux needles and dials that are just as attractive as old-school meters but generally easier to read at night. Either way, there are numerous solutions for those of us who demand top navigation performance along with an eye to aesthetics.
For traditional marine navigation instruments, Signet Marine of Redondo Beach, Calif., is in a class of its own. Signet has been providing high-quality traditional gauges and meters for racing and cruising yachts for over 40 years. The simplicity of the black, round bezels of their displays offers understated elegance — along with top performance — for the skipper with discriminating tastes.
The Signet SL254 Wind Instrument features a black background with white numbers and a red needle indicating wind direction, along with a small LCD readout of apparent wind direction in 1-knot increments at the bottom of the dial. Red lighting provides readability at night while protecting your eyes from glare. The SL254 package includes an 80-foot masthead cable.
Signet’s SL11 Knot Meter, which matches the SL254’s styling, draws its data and power from the paddlewheel sensor under the hull. The generator produces enough electrical current to power itself starting at a boat speed of just 1 knot.
One great advantage for Signet customers is that if one of their navigation devices becomes inoperable after many years of use, the company is ready to rebuild the unit at a reasonable cost.
Garmin offers a choice of digital or faux analog wind indicators. The Garmin GMI 20 Marine Instrument offers a colorful picture of wind angle to vessel, employing a virtual red needle to indicate apparent wind direction and a bright black-and-white digital display to show apparent wind speed. The Garmin GMI 10 Instrument is a virtual dial compass with numeric heading indicator, depth sounder reading and speed, which is supplied by GPS input.
Raymarine’s digital instrument panels consist of an array of faux dials and faces, including the i70s Multifunction Instrument Display. This product brings a compass, depth sounder, wind direction indicator, rudder transducer and other inputs together in a 4.1-inch square display providing digital data with an appealing analog appearance. This small, unobtrusive unit also includes an AIS repeater, which couples with NMEA 2000 AIS receivers.
AC DC Marine of West Carson, Calif., occupies a unique place in the marine electronics industry, producing both stock and custom engine gauges for sailing craft. A complete engine panel, of course, includes a charge voltmeter, engine thermometer, oil pressure gauge and engine hour indicator. AC DC’s design staff can reproduce an existing panel of traditional analog meters or produce an original design drawn from a variety of layouts and color arrangements, meeting the particular needs and tastes of the vessel owner.
Ramsey Fawzy, owner and manager of AC DC Marine, delights in taking on difficult projects for demanding skippers. “Whatever type of panel you have in your boat,” explained Fawzy, “we will produce a better-looking, better-quality unit for a very reasonable price.”
With analog navigation instruments getting harder to find, it is comforting to know there are digital alternatives with easy-to-read dials and bright color enhancements for night viewing, most of which are available at prices within reach of the average cruising sailor.
Circumnavigator-author Bill Morris is the author of Sun, Wind, & Water: The Essential Guide to the Energy-Efficient Cruising Boat and is a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator.