FAREHAM, England — As I completed my four-day visit to Raymarine's global headquarters in England, it became clear that the company believes in the value of research and development and real-world testing.
"Nothing can replace the experience of using the products so the end users can see and we can see how they actually operate," director of engineering Gordon Pope said. "We do that in two ways; we have our own test boats, one here and one in California, that we use every day. We install full systems on our boats that can be swapped out for other systems. It's a big investment, but it is an important one that pays back."
Raymarine invited 20 journalists to Fareham to meet company executives, engineers and marketing representatives, tour the R&D facility and test the manufacturer’s latest GPS, radar, sonar, autopilot and other electronics on the water.
On Tuesday at the R&D center, we watched testers shake, bake, freeze, smash and submerge the equipment. On Wednesday, I checked out the electronics company's test boat, the Hardy 42 trawler Raymariner, which has twin 470-hp MAN diesels. The English-built pilothouse semidisplacement vessel tops out at 27 knots.
The pilothouse holds six testing stations and each includes a large flat panel where at least two displays or instrument modules are mounted. When I was aboard, the Hardy had no fewer than 25 GPS units installed. She also was fitted with six radar antennas; a few dozen multifunction displays from 5.7 to 19 inches; five autopilots; four AIS units; three fixed-mount VHF radios; and 20 through-hull transducers.
The transducers are mounted athwartships in four rows and the boat also has what Raymarine calls moonpool panels, which are essentially sections of the hull bottom that can be removed while the boat is floating in a marina to allow additional through-hull transducers to be fitted without lifting the boat. This allows Raymarine to test multiple transducers at the same time and provides maximum flexibility.
Manned with a crew of nine testers, the boat logs at least 1,000 hours on the water annually for its product trials off the southern coast of England, Raymarine product support manager Derek Gilbert told me.
"She's a very good sea boat with good bow flare," Gilbert said. "She has a designed displacement of 12 tons, but carries a lot of extra electrical gear, including generators, inverters and a massive bank of additional batteries to support all the test gear and the engineer’s laptops."