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March 19, 2009

High-Tech Acceleration

Marine electronics leap light years in three decades

 
 
1990s

Highlights
? GPS
? Vector charts and chart plotters
? Monochrome LCDs
? Digital Selective Calling

As the decade turned, we clicked onto the World Wide Web, and life as we know it ratcheted up one notch on the techno-evolutionary scale.

On the water, GPS came of age in non-military markets, and navigation would never be the same.

"To me, that has to be the single most important technological improvement of the past 20 years," says Louis Chemi, executive vice president for product management over the Navico brands (Lowrance, Eagle, B&G, Northstar and Simrad). "Now you can get exactly to the wreck, to the bottom feature, to wherever you found fish yesterday ? and you can do it all more safely."

GPS took what had always been earth-bound signaling to the skies. In the 1970s and early '80s, the federal government launched a constellation of satellites for strategic military purposes. But in 1983, the Soviets shot down a civilian Korean airliner that had mistakenly entered Soviet   air space. President Ronald Reagan decreed that GPS - when fully   available - should be freely offered to non-military markets, according to www.america.gov, a Department of State information website.

In 1991, Garmin introduced the first portable GPS unit to boaters, and Lowrance integrated GPS receivers into its location devices. But the early technology often proved too expensive for most anglers.

"As I look back, there were initially no fixed-mount GPSs, and the handhelds were big and not easy to use," says Greg DeVries, Garmin's director of marine sales. "But GPS offered a huge advantage over loran. It updated once a second. Basically, when Garmin miniaturized GPS and broke the $500 price barrier, GPS was born."