FLIR builds several lines of night-vision gear for boaters, including handheld units like the First Mate (which we named one of our Best New Electronics for 2010, when it was introduced) and fixed-mount cameras like the M series and the Voyager line. New for 2015 is the Ocean Scout.
I got an Ocean Scout 320 during the Miami Boat Show this year (I drew the lucky number and won it— yippie!) and have been giving it in-the-dark work-outs ever since. The Ocean Scout line has two models, the 240 and the 320. The 240 has a 240 x 180 microbolometer IR detector, while the 320 has a 336 x 256 detector. For a frame of reference, the 240 allows you to pick out a person in the water at 1,150 feet, while with the 320, you can see them at 1,800 feet. The 320 model also adds a 2X zoom and composite video output, so you can bring the image up on a MFD screen. Both Ocean Scouts have an internal rechargeable li-ion battery that provides five hours of running time. Both also have a warm-up time of 1.5 seconds. These units aren’t just marinized; they’re designed from the ground-up for on-the-water use. They’re rated IP-67 submersible, and have a rubberized armor that protects them from drops of up to a meter.
My first experience with the Ocean Scout took place on Miami’s South Channel, on the upper deck of a small cruise boat. With gobs of ambient light coming from downtown Miami it wasn’t the best (darkest) of situations for a test, but where my eyes saw moving shadows and dark blocks, peeking through the Scout I could pick out people walking down the sidewalks, palm trees, and the difference between a building and its doorway. Peering into the bay, a small red light became a 20’ center console motoring down the channel. And a flashing green light became a fixed channel marker. Back at home I found I could look clear across Whitemarsh Creek in absolute darkness, and pick out every dock piling, boats on lifts, and even ducks milling around by the shoreline. These things work, period. So why are the views so good? Because unlike the light-gathering night-vision scopes of yesteryear that magnified available light (those eerie green images), the FLIRs use infra-red to pick out minute temperature differences. Be it a wood piling, a fiberglass hull, or a human body, each has a different heat signature that the microbolometer can detect, and then turn into an image on the LCD screen. If you want to change your night vision into forward-looking infra-red vision, it’ll cost you—but not as much as you might think. The Ocean Scout 240 carries a MAP of $1,999, and the 320, a MAP of $2,999. While that may not be what you’d call cheap, they’re easily within reach of the recreational mariner—so you no longer have to be a Navy Seal or a millionaire to peek through the darkness with infra-red. For more information, visit FLIR.