One of my METS show highlights was the Starlight LED Helming Guide introduced by Autonnic Research. While the concept is somewhat hard to grasp from ashore — even with an animation — I think it’s a great example of how electronics can be fashioned into a unique and useful tool that connects intuitively with the natural world of boating. While “a star to steer by” sounds lovely, I’ve observed many a helmsman who needed lots of help and experience to make it a truly smooth and pleasurable experience, and I’m pretty sure that Starlight can substantially shorten the learning curve.
The initial A5600 Starlight is a 36-inch (910 mm) tube encapsulating a 26-inch (660 mm) LED light bar along with simple dimming and course setting buttons. The light bar is meant to install 6 to 16 feet forward of the helm and vertically close to the driver’s visual horizon, with the cable connecting to DC power and a NMEA 0183 Heading source (like one of Autonnic’s own fluxgate sensors). So the fixed on-center yellow LED marks your bow while the active blue LEDs marking the Course to Steer change to port or starboard as illustrated this Autonnic animation:
In other words, Starlight gives you a constant reference not just to your steering accuracy but also to how quickly your error or correction is taking place. And it’s not necessary to glance downward to a compass or a conventional instrument display, aside from deciphering the real meaning of changing digital numbers or a swinging card. Moreover, Starlight allows adjustment of the horizontal degree angle represented by the light bar’s red and green LED endpoints so it best integrates your helm view to real-world objects like stars or navaids, or simply to adjust how precisely your wobbly steering is displayed.
The A5600 Starlight (PDF specifications here) is available now for about $329, but note that Autonnic hopes to add steering to waypoint or wind angle options by about June. Also planned for release at about the same time is a NMEA 2000 Starlight system with all three steer-by modes possible. And while I don’t know of any concrete plans, I like to picture how slickly the Starlight technology could be built into a dodger or the after edge of a cockpit companionway, or maybe even the fully integrated “dashboards” we’re going to start seeing in many new boats this year.