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Marine Electronics Journal Blog

Best thermal imaging and security equipment for 2017


One of the great things about working for a marine electronics magazine is getting the opportunity to operate the latest electronics on demo boats. I remember the first time I saw what a thermal imager could do—it was that impressive. That was years ago and I’m still convinced it’s a device boaters need to have aboard, especially if they cruise unfamiliar waters after dark. That's the same scene in the split-photo below. On the right is what you see using a thermal imaging camera versus the naked eye on the left.

Important also are security systems that protect your investment and perhaps even your life and those of your family and guests by monitoring key onboard functions, including break-ins and theft, when you're not aboard.

Below are thermal imaging and security products that will serve you well. They are part of an exercise we do every year at Marine Electronics Journal that we call the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics. It works this way—we ask manufacturers to name the one model in their product line of, say, fishfinders, MFDs or radars, that they consider to be their best. 

We’re not looking for the most expensive or even the most technologically advanced piece of equipment. In some cases, manufacturers name a rock-solid product that has earned the title of Best & Brightest by simply performing as advertised year after year. In other cases, the products harness innovations that are on the cutting edge of marine technology. There are 18 categories of electronics in this year’s Best & Brightest roundup.

Last week we showed you products that monitor several onboard functions. In preceding weeks we described pick-of-the-litter wireless devices, multi-function displays, radars, audio systems, underwater LEDs, fishfinders and electronic charts, to name a few. This batch of thermal imaging and security devices finishes up our Best and Brightest theme. We invite you to check out all of the products we've described in recent weeks---browse through the archives section.

ComNav V5

ComNav’s V5 gyro-stabilized thermal & lowlight camera system supports IP control and radar tracking. Digital Pattern Enhancement (DPE) coupled with 30 Hz refresh rate provides excellent high-resolution images. The camera has a radar tracking feature with three modes available: Radar Cursor Tracking, Slew To Waypoint and Target Tracking modes (optional). Video recording and still pictures are captured using removable storage card, aiding Coast Guard and security personnel by providing real-time evidence. Features 360 degree pan and +/- 90 degree tilt using proportional joystick. Built-in heater for thermal windows with auto defrost allows camera use in adverse colder weather conditions. Up to four camera joysticks in any combination can be used in any application. Remote control using IP address, NMEA 2000® or NMEA 0183 communications protocol is available.



The FLIR M232 marine thermal camera is our smallest and most affordable pan and tilt marine thermal night vision camera. Using our latest generation Boson thermal core, the M200 lets boaters see at night in 320x240 thermal resolution and features 2x digital zoom. When the M200 is combined with a Raymarine Axiom MFD, FLIR’s new ClearCruise intelligent thermal analytics technology offer boaters an entirely new level of awareness and safety. The M200 also uses IP video technology and simplifies installation by eliminating extra video signal cables. Prices start at $3,499.



The GOST Watch HD H20 XVR next-generation all-in-one video surveillance system is designed to remotely stream and record thermal and IR-illuminated camera recordings in real time. Originally designed for police and fire boats, the GOST Watch HD H20 XVR is enclosed in a fiberglass case that offers IP67 waterproof and impact-resistant protection and also makes installation simple. Inside the case is a high-speed 4G LTE data communicator that can stream up to eight analog or IP 1080P cameras to the newly released GOST Watch HD XVR app. If the thermal camera being used is ONVIF compliant such as the FLIR M100, M200 and M400, the user can pan, tilt, and zoom the camera remotely from the app. The built-in expanded 4 TB hard drive records and stores up to 90 days of footage per camera.


Iris NightRunner 390 Solo+

With an advanced 640x480 pixel thermal core at its heart, the new Iris NightRunner 390 Solo+ sports-proven high-definition thermal imaging with an MSRP of $5,995.  The 390 Solo+ features a 25 mm lens, 8X digital zoom, wide 24.8 degree field of view and full PTZ capabilities, all housed in the streamlined, attractive NightRunner housing found on vessels worldwide.  This camera also features seven-level Image Contrast Enhancement (ICE) to further sharpen target detection and identification, six selectable color palettes and reverse hot-to-cold polarity. The 390 Solo+ is housed in a UV-stabilized, IP66 waterproof ABS cowling locked to a sturdy aluminum mounting base. This housing, designed to be mounted ball up or down, also meets Military Standard 810E for shock/vibration resistance and sand/dust intrusion.


Security Devices

Maretron SIM100

Maretron’s SIM100 monitors switch closure devices including security systems (e.g., motion, door and port hole magnetic switches), safety equipment (e.g., heat, smoke, carbon monoxide), and vessel monitoring equipment (e.g., valve closed/open, high water bilge). The SIM100 continually monitors switch closure devices and broadcasts information over the NMEA 2000 network so everyone onboard can be alerted to potential conditions or problems that warrant further investigation. The SIM100 even includes the ability to detect whether or not power has been disconnected from the monitored device or if the signal wires have been disconnected due to corrosion or tampering. With the SIM100, you can rest assured that critical sensors are receiving power, signal wires are connected, and all the security, safety, and vessel functions are under constant supervision.


GOST Apparition

The GOST Apparition Unit is the ultimate vessel security, monitoring, and crew management system. The Apparition includes a five-inch touchscreen GOST Apparition Interactive display and main control panel and is capable of controlling up to 192 sensors, 250 relays, 999 users, eight partitions, 999 remote controls and provides access control for up to 32 doors and hatches. The system has a wireless expansion module and a full battery back-up built in. For simple remote control, the water resistant GOST GP-KF25 Key Fob Remote Control comes standard. The GOST Apparition LTE 4G Cellular Communications Module for SMS/Text Message Notification and control, the Internet access module and the Inmarsat-based Nav-Tracker GPS Tracking System are also included.


Iris 1066 iHD

This ruggedized micro-dome camera provides broadcast-quality 1080p high-definition video in real-time, making it tailor-made for marine applications ranging from engine room and companionway monitoring to cockpit surveillance to back-up docking assistance. The new Iris 1066 iHD outputs both analog composite video and iHD digital video.  Resolution of iHD video exceeds 1920x1080 at 30 frames per second, providing boaters with the sharpest possible video images without the troublesome network lag of IP cameras. A built-in ring of infrared LEDs is controlled automatically by a photodiode sensor, providing effective illumination out to 10 meters in pitch darkness. The 1066 iHD draws less than 200 mA, even when LEDs are operational, and measures just 58 mm in diameter by 57 mm in height for discreet installation anywhere onboard.



The mount-anywhere C55 mini dome camera is packed with features not found in other analog marine cameras. About the size of a golf ball, the C55 fits easily on the bridge, back deck or engine room and with 12 infrared LEDs, it provides night vision up to 50 feet. Crystal clear 1000TVL video performance makes monitoring ideal on compatible GPS, MFD or monitors. The C55 can be customized using on-screen menu features, which include NTSC or PAL selections, black and white or color night viewing, plus image and color adjustments.




How thermal imagers work

A few years ago, Marine Electronics Journal ran a two-part article written by FLIR Systems that dug into various aspects of thermal imaging technology as well as the differences between how that equipment operates versus traditional low-light night vision systems. Much has evolved since then but the basics are still the same. Here are excerpts:

Technologies using thermal energy have been around for quite a while. Thermal sensing technology was used over 100 years ago as an automated tool for turning gas lighthouse and buoy lights on and off depending on the amount of daylight present. 

The development of thermal imaging, also called Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR–the terms are used interchangeably), began after World War II. Scientists mounted a thermal imager inside a large plane and pointed it (the imager) straight down. As the aircraft flew over its target area, the camera scanned back and forth, creating a mosaic of images that were stitched together later. 

At some point, an enterprising engineer got the idea, “Let’s point this thing forward so we can see where we’re going,” and Forward Looking Infrared was born. (There were also Side Looking Infrared (SLIRs), and Backward Looking Infrared (BLIRs) imagers, but they didn’t stick.)

Further developed for military applications, thermal imagers entered tactical use in the 1960s and never looked back. Today, FLIR cameras get mounted on airplanes, helicopters, ships, and unmanned vehicles for missions as varied as missile guidance, and search and rescue.

Just like GPS receivers, FLIRs have made the transition from “military-only” to the civilian marketplace. Thanks to recent advances in infrared detector technologies and volume production breakthroughs, FLIR imagers are now widely available consumer products. Once going for as much as $35,000, today marine thermal imagers cost less than $5,000, making them an affordable safety feature for almost any vessel.


Thermal imaging vs night vision

In an informal survey of dealers, this came up as the most common question by far. Let’s start with a little background. Our eyes see reflected light. Daylight cameras, night vision devices, and the human eye all work on the same basic principle: visible light energy hits something and bounces off it, a detector then receives it and turns it into an image. 

Whether an eyeball, or in a camera, these detectors must have enough light or they can’t make an image. Obviously, there isn’t any sunlight to bounce off anything at night, so they’re limited to the light provided by starlight, moonlight and artificial lights. If there isn’t enough, it’s hard to see. 


Thermal imagers

Thermal imagers are altogether different. In fact, we call them “cameras” but they are really sensors. To understand how they work, the first thing you have to do is forget everything you thought you knew about how cameras make pictures.  

FLIRs make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also called infrared, or “thermal,” radiation) and light are both parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that will detect visible light won’t see heat, and vice versa. 

Thermal imagers detect more than just heat though; they detect tiny differences in heat–as small as 0.01°C–and display them as shades of grey in black and white TV video. This can be a tricky idea to get across. As one dealer said, “Most people just don’t understand this concept.”

Everything we encounter in our day-to-day lives gives off thermal energy, even ice. The hotter something is the more thermal energy it emits. This emitted thermal energy is called a “heat signature.” When two objects next to one another have even subtly different heat signatures, they show up quite clearly to a FLIR regardless of lighting conditions. This is the basic reason why thermal imagers are perfect for use on boats: they help you see clearly – during the day, or in total darkness.

Thermal energy comes from a combination of sources, depending on what you are viewing at the time. Some things–warm-blooded animals (including people!), engines, and machinery, for example–create their own heat, either biologically or mechanically. Other things–land, rocks, buoys, logs, etc.–absorb heat from the sun during the day and radiate it at night.

Because different materials absorb and radiate thermal energy at different rates, an area that we think of as being one temperature is actually a mosaic of subtly different temperatures. This is why a log that’s been in the water for days will appear to be a different temperature than the water, and is therefore visible to a thermal imager. FLIRs detect these temperature differences and translate them into image detail.


Night vision

Those greenish pictures we see in the movies and on TV come from night vision goggles (NVGs). NVGs take in small amounts of visible light, magnify it greatly, and project that onto a display or an eyepiece. 

Cameras made from NVG technology have the same limitations as the naked eye: if there isn’t enough visible light available, they can’t see well. The imaging performance of anything that relies on reflected light is limited by the amount and strength of the light being reflected. At sea after the sun goes down, they become light starved quickly, leaving their users in the dark. Conversely, when approaching brightly lit areas like marinas or harbor entrances, NVG cameras are overwhelmed and “bloom,” creating a useless image.

NVG and other lowlight cameras are not very useful during twilight hours either, when there is too much light for them to work effectively, but not enough light for you to see with the naked eye. Thermal imagers aren’t affected by visible light, so they can give you clear pictures even when you are cruising into the setting sun. In fact, you can aim a spotlight at a FLIR and still get a perfect picture; try that with an NVG or lowlight camera sometime and see what happens.




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Comments | Leave a Comment
Page 1 of 2 ( 9 comments)

Darryl:(3/27/2017 10:17:15 PM) "Putting the MSRP with each unit reviewed would have been helpful. If each unit was actually tested, the reports on each unit would have been helpful too.

Thanks Darryl---we generally don't mention prices due to confusion over so many variations---MSRP (mfg. suggested retail price), MAP (min. advertised price), MRP (min. resale price) and then there are internet prices on some websites that go their own way. But your point is well taken--buyers need to know if something is in their price range. We'll work on it.
There is independent testing of some of these products on sites like but the information we receive from manufacturers rarely cites the results of any shootouts they may conduct against the competition's products. "
Laurie Seibert:(2/16/2017 2:00:20 AM) "Thanks EV Collier for sharing this informative blog. It is important to know the causes of EMI filters. We use these parts in our daily life in the electronic products so we should know that what are the causes are cures of EMI Filters.

Great job and keep updating!

Laurie Seibert"
Yes:(2/10/2017 7:22:40 AM) "EMI/RFI filter causes and cure. There are very few people who share such information with everyone. I was looking to read such informative blog!

Great job!

Lisa Wilson
hugo:(1/30/2016 2:00:32 AM) "Why is no integrated ais transceiver available? Only recivers.


Each AIS system consists of one VHF transmitter, two VHF TDMA receivers, one VHF DSC receiver, and standard marine electronic communications links (IEC 61162/NMEA 0183) to shipboard display and sensor systems (AIS Schematic). Position and timing information is normally derived from an integral or external global navigation satellite system (e.g. GPS) receiver, including a medium frequency differential GNSS receiver for precise position in coastal and inland waters. Other information broadcast by the AIS, if available, is electronically obtained from shipboard equipment through standard marine data connections. Heading information and course and speed over ground would normally be provided by all AIS-equipped ships. Other information, such as rate of turn, angle of heel, pitch and roll, and destination and ETA could also be provided. Check out:"
Islander Sailboat Info:(12/4/2015 9:49:32 AM) "Great post!! This is the missing introduction I've been looking for. Thank you for taking a complicated subject and making it very easy to understand."
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