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Your Computer and the Elements – Water Will Get the Chips Down

Alex navigating with the Toughbook. The main CPU is safely tucked away below decks. Shown here is the military spec tablet PC "repeater."
Route Planning with a Toughbook

Given the availability of free raster and vector charts for US coastal waters from NOAA, along with very reasonably priced software to display these, computer aided GPS navigation is something many people are discovering and implementing. However, if you do not happen to have a trawler or a motor sailor with an enclosed pilothouse, you have a problem with where to put your valuable computer. Though the actual computer may not cost that much, the time you spent configuring it and loading it with software and data makes it very valuable indeed.

Toughbooks in operation.
Panasonic Toughbook

For the longest time, we kept our laptop under the dodger. If it rained, we put a seat cushion under it, as the coach roof section under the dodger tends to get a ‘little’ moist. This was a real problem, and we were toying with getting a monitor on an arm and swinging it out into the companionway while underway. A friend can swing his radar display out in this way, and it looked to be a great idea.

But along comes perhaps the coolest of all the wireless devices we will be covering here: the Panasonic Toughbook CF-08 Wireless Display. It is water resistant, daylight viewable, and will connect to your computer via a standard wi-fi card. As they say in the literature it is versatile, rugged and ultra-portable. And that it is. Having targeted the military (yes, these displays are built to military specs and are the real deal), healthcare and industrial markets, Panasonic has not gone after the boating market - yet, so it is not yet widely used here.

The Toughbook connects with your securely and hopefully dryly stowed computer via its wireless card. It is basically a dumb terminal, though that may sound a mite derogatory, as what you can do with it is simply brilliant. In short, you can control your computer from the Toughbook touch screen. From anywhere you please on your boat you can now pan and zoom your charts, check your radar display, do split screens – you name it – anything your software package enables you to do. No longer do you need to have any of the expensive dedicated navigation devices. You can integrate it all in your computer, and work on it out in the pouring rain or bright sunshine, while your precious computer is down below where it is safe and dry. Does it get any better than this?

Daria navigating with Toughbook in hand. "I love this unit. It's reasonably light weight, I can carry it wherever I need it, I can angle it away from the sun, and it's intuitive to use. What's not to like?", says THE Captain.
Navigating with a Toughbook

The display has no moving parts, no drive, nothing that will get upset if it goes ‘bump’ in the night. Yes, I suppose my nephew, dubbed ‘el destructo’, might find a way to break it, but it may pose a challenge even to him. For us mere mortals with two left thumbs it means we can bring the display of our precious computer out in the wet and wild world we so love. Panasonic also makes a notebook PC that coverts into a tablet PC, is waterproof, wireless and rugged. We’ll be reviewing that one shortly, so stay tuned, and safe navigating.

Actually wirelessly connecting up the Panasonic Toughbook CF-08 display to our laptop proved a little more challenging than expected. Our first problem was that it requires Microsoft XP Pro to be running on the remote primary computer, and not the ‘home edition’ I had on my navigation laptop. We got past that hurdle by installing our Fugawi software and charts on a Toughbook CF-18 water etc proof laptop computer (more about this later). After that it took couple of calls to Panasonic Tech support and one to Selig Berman president yachtSOFT in Great Neck, NY, and we were off sailing at the rate of knots using this truly remarkable hardware.

Going Wireless

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