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March 19, 2009

High-Tech Acceleration

Marine electronics leap light years in three decades

Many of us who actively fish on recreational boats today can easily remember loran-C units and paper depth recorders. We remember them as though we used them yesterday. But when we stop to consider that we've almost finished the first decade of the 21st century, reality slaps our weather-worn faces: 1980 was almost 30 years ago!

Today's anglers see marine electronics that perform like mainstream consumer products: We have 3-D, high-definition, broadband, LCD, digital processing, networking and multifunction systems. The impressive  electronics we use in our homes and on portable devices now also reside on our vessels.

The past three decades have produced unrivaled changes in microprocessing and display technology. We don't have to look back to the '40s to find explosive growth. Let's just start with the '80s:

Editor's note: The actual dates that many products were developed may differ from their introduction in the United States, which differs from when they became affordable and fully utilized in the recreational-fishing market. We have attempted to focus on common technologies for anglers from each period and the transition from old to new ideas.



? Paper or CRT depth recorders
? Loran-C (Long-Range Navigation)
? Microprocessor-based autopilots
? "Bird" radar
? NMEA protocol

While the very first echo sounders appeared after the Titanic disaster 100 years ago, units designed to find fish really entered the commercial industry in the 1950s. The first paper (or strip-chart) depth recorders and flashing sonars came in the 1960s, but the flashing units kept no record of depth over time. The paper units, however, found great acceptance among anglers; in fact, some were produced into the 1990s and are still used today.

By the '80s, recreational anglers could choose either paper- or cathode-ray-tube displays to read fish arches and see the bottom. Most bulky CRTs, like older televisions, featured monochromatic displays - either black and white, orange/amber or phosphorescent green. But they eventually transitioned to color.

To navigate, anglers used paper NOAA charts and the miracle of loran-C. Loran units calculated the time difference between signals from a pair of ground-based radio transmitters. The resulting TDs, or time-differential lines, helped anglers pinpoint their vessel's location on those unwieldy paper maps - the ones they kept stuffed into every dry crevice.

If you knew the loran coordinates for a wreck, you could match up  your vessel's TDs to the wreck's and usually navigate to within 1/10 of a mile. You'd then use a figure-eight or spiral search pattern and your fish finder to locate the structure.