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Night vision gear. What real. What's reasonable for marine use.


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My crew (captain?) and I have been trying to figure out what to get in the way of night vision gear before we belatedly set off on our next year or two of cruising.  Searches online have delivered a chaos of conflicting claims, overlapping goals, and everything posted seems to be many years old.  Heck, search for "night vision" on SA.  Useless responses.

I now plead with the cumulative Oracle of SA Wisdom for input as to which technology and what configuration is actually useful for mere sailors wanting to find their way into the channel at night, or take a quick look at whoever is circling the boat in the dead of night with no running or other lights showing (yes, we've had that experience).  Monocular, binocular (trinocular?), color, false color, infrared, strong magnification, no magnification, power eating, power miser-ing, etc.

Oh, and without having to mortgage the boat.  Hundreds OK, Thousands not.

The crew/captain and I thank you!

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I have to check what model I have onboard and I’ll get back to the thread, it’s an older monocular and infrared. I take the battery out when not in use but it can see anything in complete darkness. If you aim it at a bright light it will burn the unit up, so you don’t generally want to use night vision units anywhere a light source might affect it.  Finding an unlit channel is a good use and seeing who is checking you out in the dark is a big bonus. 

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Bit of a backgrounder here:  https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/outdoors/buying-guide/night-vision-101-seeing-dark

You want Gen II or better based on your budget. I think Gen III is in the thousands. If the specs don't say what style they are, be a little suspicious. This is for "image intensifiers" - just multiply visible and near infrared light.

Thermal image cameras (FLIR and others) work deeper into the infra-red spectrum and are probably better at spotting something in the water, but stuff that is all the same temperature doesn't give maybe as much detail.

Cheapish one: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1546429-REG/luna_optics_ln_g2_b50_6_30x50_gen_2_digital.html/overview

But do you have a good pair of 7x50 binoculars? They are very useful on all but the darkest of nights.

 

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What about export restrictions? I couldn’t find much clarity as to whether you need an export license for equipment on a vessel that intends to return to the US. Penalties are steep for violations though.

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5 hours ago, Salona said:

What about export restrictions? I couldn’t find much clarity as to whether you need an export license for equipment on a vessel that intends to return to the US. Penalties are steep for violations though.

IME, export restrictions on low light devices were only related to nitrogen cooled sensors. The worry was that theoretically you could remove the cooled senor head and make your own Sidewinder missile.  

A good example is a police chopper thermal camera. That uses nitrogen cooling, so exporting/importing these requires a ton of end user registration information and licenses as to who owns it and where these cameras are. 

 

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5 hours ago, shaggybaxter said:

IME, export restrictions on low light devices were only related to nitrogen cooled sensors. The worry was that theoretically you could remove the cooled senor head and make your own Sidewinder missile.  

A good example is a police chopper thermal camera. That uses nitrogen cooling, so exporting/importing these requires a ton of end user registration information and licenses as to who owns it and where these cameras are. 

 

I'm not sure that's accurate. The higher end handheld FLIRs (like the Ocean Scout 640) are uncooled and subject to export restrictions.

But all the big / expensive motor yachts in Florida seem to have FLIR ball-turrets, that are definitely in that resolution range for export restrictions. So what are they doing to meet (or not meet) the regulations?

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Sionix hands down. 

Quite literally like seeing 30 min before the sun goes down in pitch black. Hooks up to tablet or an existing garmin B&G display

 

https://www.sionyx.com/

 

I've used both systems, and the FLIR doesn't hold a candle. You can't see channel markers or anything that doesn't give off a good amount of heat... 

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and as an added bonus you can attach it to your M4. Eat that pirates 

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3 hours ago, Salona said:

But all the big / expensive motor yachts in Florida seem to have FLIR ball-turrets, that are definitely in that resolution range for export restrictions. So what are they doing to meet (or not meet) the regulations?

Are they US flag vessels?  If so, they probably are not "exporting" in the sense of the law.

If they are flagged Cayman Islands etc. probably nobody cares about the export restrictions - there is no night vision FBI task force out there.

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16 hours ago, Sail4beer said:

If you aim it at a bright light it will burn the unit up. 

That sounds odd. Really? Permanent damage? Would seem a fatal flaw.

Seems there are three distinct products being discussed, right?

1. Infrared (emitted heat sensing) cameras. Like FLIR.

2. Infrared cameras with infrared illuminators. Like game cameras.

3. Classical sensitive night vision cameras (or goggles) with photomultiplier tubes or the like.

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17 hours ago, Blue Crab said:

is this a thing?

 

17 hours ago, 44forty said:

3rd world problem 

Not just 3'rd World... (or I may not understand what is 3'rd World).  I was returning from Catalina, rainy, nasty night... and.. was circled just outside of San Diego Harbor entrance several times... By fast, yet strangely not loud RIB's, no lights.. managed to light one up with a searchlight... All dressed in black and guns...

Now some may claim that San Diego, Ca, USA is a part of the 3'rd world... yet... it happened...

I suspect it was part of a SEAL exercise...

 

and no, it did not happen during the tic tac shadowing the guided-missile cruisers.. I was not there for that.

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3 hours ago, Bowchow said:

Sionix hands down. 

Quite literally like seeing 30 min before the sun goes down in pitch black. Hooks up to tablet or an existing garmin B&G display

 

https://www.sionyx.com/

 

I've used both systems, and the FLIR doesn't hold a candle. You can't see channel markers or anything that doesn't give off a good amount of heat... 

Have you seen the sionix in use in a nighttime  MOB search and recovery?

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18 hours ago, SVArcturus said:

My crew (captain?) and I have been trying to figure out what to get in the way of night vision gear before we belatedly set off on our next year or two of cruising.  Searches online have delivered a chaos of conflicting claims, overlapping goals, and everything posted seems to be many years old.  Heck, search for "night vision" on SA.  Useless responses.

I now plead with the cumulative Oracle of SA Wisdom for input as to which technology and what configuration is actually useful for mere sailors wanting to find their way into the channel at night, or take a quick look at whoever is circling the boat in the dead of night with no running or other lights showing (yes, we've had that experience).  Monocular, binocular (trinocular?), color, false color, infrared, strong magnification, no magnification, power eating, power miser-ing, etc.

Oh, and without having to mortgage the boat.  Hundreds OK, Thousands not.

The crew/captain and I thank you!

Really good 7x50 binoculars are better IMHO than most cheap night vision scopes.

Here are your choices:

1. FLIR type gear: These scopes use the actual heat from the object, not any kind of visible light. Very big $$$ for good gear. I was not impressed with the cheapest marine unit FLIR sells, the resolution and refresh rate seem very low.

2. Image intensifier tubes: This is the oldest tech and has been shown for real and CGI generated in 1001 movies, the tubes use green phosphors and have a very distinctive look. The tubes are also sensitive to IR light. They come in Gen1, Gen2, and Gen3. Only Gen1 tubes are cheap and usually can't see much without an IR light to help them. Think Gen1 as a "moonlight scope" and 2/3 as "starlight".

3. Solid state cameras: Think a handheld version of an IR security camera. I have one of these, it is cheap but is a fun toy. The stronger the IR light, the further you can see. IR spotlights are available from Amazon.

Here is it looking out from the beach at a jetty and then a few miles across the river. This is way outside the range of the IR, so it is using the camera gain to the max.

image.png.7f9741f81da17876a2f5051c00b95c4d.png

 

Keep in mind that you can just shine a white spotlight and avoid all the IR stuff, but IR won't blind the crew and also no one else that also doesn't have night vision gear knows you are doing it ;)

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The best widely available image intensifier is the PVS-14.  You also would want the 3x lens that is made for it.  ITT was the initial manufacturer for the US and Nato military.  It is export controlled at the level that you can keep it on your boat while travelling overseas but you can't sell it or lose it overseas, have to take responsibility for it, and you have to bring it back to the US.  These are Gen III and expensive, but if you can afford it they are the right tool for the job.

The IR units like those made by FLIR work great if you're looking for people in the water or icebergs, or anything of a different temperature from the surroundings, but the image intensifiers work better if you want to see things at the same temperature as the surroundings like boats, shoreline, or buoys.

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23 minutes ago, JoeBiff said:

The best widely available image intensifier is the PVS-14.  You also would want the 3x lens that is made for it.  ITT was the initial manufacturer for the US and Nato military.  It is export controlled at the level that you can keep it on your boat while travelling overseas but you can't sell it or lose it overseas, have to take responsibility for it, and you have to bring it back to the US.  These are Gen III and expensive, but if you can afford it they are the right tool for the job.

The IR units like those made by FLIR work great if you're looking for people in the water or icebergs, or anything of a different temperature from the surroundings, but the image intensifiers work better if you want to see things at the same temperature as the surroundings like boats, shoreline, or buoys.

That is called thermal crossover. During the day a metal can buoy might be hotter than the water and it might be colder at night. There will be a time when it is the same and becomes invisible.

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3 hours ago, h20man said:

Have you seen the sionix in use in a nighttime  MOB search and recovery?

I have not. I can imagine this is where the FLIR would come in handy. 

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11 hours ago, Salona said:

I'm not sure that's accurate. The higher end handheld FLIRs (like the Ocean Scout 640) are uncooled and subject to export restrictions.

But all the big / expensive motor yachts in Florida seem to have FLIR ball-turrets, that are definitely in that resolution range for export restrictions. So what are they doing to meet (or not meet) the regulations?

HI Salona,

I was speaking with Flir this morning on another matter and I asked about the Ocean Scout 640. They are readily available locally and no restrictions or additional licensing is required. 

A lot of very capable thermal solutions are available through the CCTV market now, and aside from the cooled sensor yuppie end of the market, none of them attract any restrictions that I have seen.

We were doing low light and thermal camera testing for nearly 2 years for a big international sports event, the difference in quality from even a few years ago is amazing. We tested a bunch of IR transmitters as well, in the absence of any light a IR transmitter makes a world of difference but normally only out to 10 odd mtrs at a pinch.

So you could bang an IR illuminator at the top of the mast and use it to light up the boat for example. A good IR illuminator that would be sufficient to light up navigation marks around the boat needs a lot of power, you'd need something like 12V @ 40amp. Too much to make it really viable IMO.  

Edit: sorry that was a bit generous, you could get it down to 12V/20 amps at a pinch.  I'd have to do the calcs, but a setup like this would give you daytime like IR imagery out to 80mtrs or so. 

Cheers,

SB

 

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7 hours ago, h20man said:

 

Not just 3'rd World... (or I may not understand what is 3'rd World).  I was returning from Catalina, rainy, nasty night... and.. was circled just outside of San Diego Harbor entrance several times... By fast, yet strangely not loud RIB's, no lights.. managed to light one up with a searchlight... All dressed in black and guns...

Now some may claim that San Diego, Ca, USA is a part of the 3'rd world... yet... it happened...

I suspect it was part of a SEAL exercise...

...otherwise you'd be dead.

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On 5/3/2021 at 8:14 PM, Blue Crab said:

is this a thing?

Not sure its as big a thing nowadays.  We used to have this occur every now and then (Florida/Bahamas).  We assumed it was drug runners either checking if we were there to transfer something to them, or to encourage us to leave because they were expecting the same to arrive at our location.  Spooky any way you look at it.

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On 5/3/2021 at 8:46 PM, Zonker said:

Bit of a backgrounder here:  https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/outdoors/buying-guide/night-vision-101-seeing-dark

You want Gen II or better based on your budget. I think Gen III is in the thousands. If the specs don't say what style they are, be a little suspicious. This is for "image intensifiers" - just multiply visible and near infrared light.

Thermal image cameras (FLIR and others) work deeper into the infra-red spectrum and are probably better at spotting something in the water, but stuff that is all the same temperature doesn't give maybe as much detail.

Cheapish one: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1546429-REG/luna_optics_ln_g2_b50_6_30x50_gen_2_digital.html/overview

But do you have a good pair of 7x50 binoculars? They are very useful on all but the darkest of nights.

 

Thanks for the info, Zonker.  Much appreciated.  Didn't think to check B&H.  Good stuff.

We do have good binocs, but 7x35.  Holding those 7x50s steady enough to actually see what you are seeing is always a problem if one isn't on one of those eerily-stable catamarans. :)

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Took this pic of AJ Oliver's back yard through my new night scope the other night. 

 

Hoax Buster: 'US Drone Captures ISIS Militant Having Intercourse with  Donkey' Video Fake - IBTimes India

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11 hours ago, SVArcturus said:

Thanks for the info, Zonker.  Much appreciated.  Didn't think to check B&H.  Good stuff.

We do have good binocs, but 7x35.  Holding those 7x50s steady enough to actually see what you are seeing is always a problem if one isn't on one of those eerily-stable catamarans. :)

I am not sure why 7x50s are harder to hold than 7x35s, but my 7x50s are really good at night.

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4 hours ago, kent_island_sailor said:

I am not sure why 7x50s are harder to hold than 7x35s, but my 7x50s are really good at night.

Whoops, right you are.  Got my binocs crossed.  I have 7x50s and 8x35s.  The 8s are hard to keep steady.

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I bought a pair of so-called russian surplus night vision goggles back in late 90s maybe 2000 or 01... 3 or 4 hundred I seem to recall.. they were kinda crappy. I think they were still Gen I stuff... even a dim flashlight shined your way at night from another boat would blind you for quite a while. I really got better results with good pair of fuji binos... the big mommas... had an illuminating compass built in.  I've used newer NV stuff since then but for sailing I dont think the juice is worth the squeeze. 

ymmv

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We use FLIR cameras on the large yachts I manage. There is no export restriction on the units we use (not sure model) but they are the large turret type cameras. I believe even the highest tech Gen 3 units do not come under ITAR restriction however there may be Department of Commerce paperwork and registration requirements. You'll need to check with an attorney who works in these areas to check specific model for notification requirements/restriction if used on foreign flagged vessels or transported out of the states.  Usually that consists of getting approval from the Department of Commerce or Department of State listing individual countries you intend to visit.

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