Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's too damn hot!

I'm sure when this boat trailer spare tire exploded it was heard. That's one bodacious rupture and it happened where you see it in a dealer's lot. There is plenty of tread left, although it's clearly not a new tire. So what caused this? I know exactly what happened. It's just too damn hot in Florida.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dealing with the ORBS and trying to follow the rules

If installing autopilots was an occasional thing for me, this wouldn't be a big deal, just a minor pain in the ass. But I'm still not very happy about Teleflex's change to ORB (O Ring Boss) fittings. I don't really have a problem with the fittings themselves excluding the difficulty of getting them, and their price. It's the overall design approach that I'm struggling with. These fittings are perfect for the boat builder. Screw them in, twist them to where you want them, tighten the nut, and your done. No pipe thread goo, or Teflon tape and Teleflex avers they will have lower warranty costs. This is very likely true. But what about me? I have needs too!

Kickstarting NMEA to Signal K gateways

I would have never thought you would see a NMEA certified gateway product on Kickstarter, but Digital Yacht is funding a Signal K gateway, and very successfully to boot. In the first five days they are past halfway to their goal. I was the third one to pledge, and Ben Ellison was the second. You can read his really good piece about this on Panbo. Got some spare change? Support Signal K and Digital Yacht on Kickstarter.

The connected boat is coming!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

NMEA 2105 conference musings on technology

The 2015 Baltimore NMEA conference was in my mind truly notable for a number of reasons. I was privileged this year to be a NMEA technology award judge along with my esteemed colleagues Ben Ellison (Panbo) and Jim Fullilove (Marine Electronics Journal). Signal K had it's NMEA debut. The two presentations by Tim Mathews were the most attended at the conference. But most of all the advancement of marine electronics took a massive surge forward. Terminology never heard at a NMEA conference before abounded. Pulse compression, gallium nitride amplifiers, mills cross phased arrays, Android OS platforms and much more. You know who is responsible for this happening? Without a doubt, you are!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The ORB's have come, are you prepared?

This boat really was never designed to have an autopilot installed despite the fact it's a twin engined hybrid pleasure bowrider and fishing boat. I visit the boat, crawl around, snap pics to aid my creaky memory and figure it's possible. Not easy, very cramped but I can do it. It has a new Teleflex helm jammed into a tiny console, no worries there other than the lack of room. What I didn't know was something was different, very different about this helm that I think even an experienced installer like myself could easily miss. I would bet that most couldn't tell from the picture what this is, but I'm going to enlighten all. From my experience the line from the movie Groundhog Day "Anything that's different is good" was not.

Turbulence City

There are a some things right with the picture below and things really wrong, at least from my perspective. I labeled the pic so there weren't any doubts about orientation. I'll speak slowly for the benefit of the more boating challenged. This is an aft bilge compartment. The arrow pointing down is the direction towards the pointy sharp end of the boat. The one pointing upward is towards the square back end of the boat. This is a boat that has a "Liner," meaning there is a layer of foam in between the hull and the top shiny fiberglass surfaces you see can see. The foam layer provides floatation and the laminated nature of the construction makes the boat structurally stiffer.

But our mystery deepens (bring in the Twilight Zone theme music here). What are the two liner cut outs about and why are they there in the first place? Are these the boating equivalent of crop circles? Is Turbulence city a real place? We're going to explore these weighty concepts and see if there are any real answers.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Elco 48' Flat Top, Local boat's I like #3.

Elco's beginings started with an order for 55 electric launches being awarded to an upstart General Electric Launch and Navigation Company for use at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. This was a comptetive and contentious bid whose spec's just said 55 boats capable of carrying 30 passengers each. Two steam powered launches were in the bid mix along with two electric versions. You have to keep in mind that explosive petroleum fueled engines are still in their infancy. At the time of the bid only two boats in the US were known to have them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Engine hatch hell

It was a boat engine hatch much like the one seen below. It was open and the boat was being worked on when the hatch lifter suddenly failed sending it crashing to the deck. The problem was a person was in the way. It took two frantic and adrenaline driven men to manually lift the very heavy hatch off him. An ambulance rapidly transported the badly injured tech to the local hospital's emergency room.

The medical expenses are in excess of $100,000 dollars and still accumulating. He will be off work for at least three months or more recovering. As horrific as this accident was, the good news is his prognosis for a full recovery is likely, and had he been in a slightly different place the falling hatch could have killed him. When a hatch lift fails catastrophically while you're under it you either get crushed or the edges of the hatch act like a guillotine. This event has given me more than some cause for concern. On any given day this could easily have been me!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to hoist a Signal K flag

This whole event comes from an internal conversation with the core Signal K group about getting people to send in pictures of Signal K flags flying on their boats. They all have boats. I don't currently have a boat, that's completed at any rate.

As a bit of a lark I suggested I could hoist the SK flag as a tattoo. I figured this would be much better than hoisting my own petard by far. Then Rob outed me on Panbo. It was now real and printed using pixelated ink on my favorite marine electronics website for all to see. Okay, no worries, I can make this happen, and did.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Radar raconteur

The radar has been elevated. Its gone from being nearly blind and has entered the world of the sighted. This was a most nuanced and detail driven job. It wasn't that it was physically hard, just every single damn aspect of this task was fiddly. Nothing was straight forward. Climb up, climb down. Go back to Ace hardware and stare into those little boxes containing a zillion parts looking for an answer. Climb back up, climb back down. 

It was a screw up I briefly touched in a earlier piece. The problem was how to undo the damage, install a elevated radar mount, and make it look as close as possible to a factory installation. This took creativity, imagineering, and some classic MacGyvering to pull off.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Boat builders installing marine electronics. Is this really a good idea?.

Like the title asks, should boat builders be in the marine electronics business? I think the answer for some is maybe yes. For some absolutely not. Then there is everything else in between. So I'm going to opine a bit on this subject and explore the pluses and minus of this approach starting with the costs to the buyer first. For the buyer the big plus of a factory electronics install is it's easier to finance the addition of the electronics on a new boat when it's folded into the mortgage.... provided it's well installed.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pump Wasteland

All pumps are born innocent and full of hope. Swaddled in colorful four color printed boxes and clear plastics they wait on the shelf for that happy day they get adopted and go to their new forever home. They have yet to know they will end up enslaved in a chamber of horrors. Buried alive in a stifling dark, damp, moldy and nearly inaccessible compartment. This is their hellish destiny. I'm sure on a quiet night I can hear their tiny muffled pleas coming from the back of the boat. "Help us, it hurts so bad and we're afraid" quaver tiny voices. "What did we do to deserve this?"

Life isn't fair. You're born a pump, your job is to pump. End of story. It could have been worse. Think about the disposable diaper's eventual chagrin when they discover their purpose in their new forever home.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sharknado, the review

"Hi Bob, what's your script pitch this time?" "This a real winner Joe. I've given it the working title Wolfnado. It has everything you need to make a true Blockbuster. Vicious hungry wolves fall out right out of the sky and rip apart anything they see. It's got skimpy bikini shots for the teenagers, lots of guns, chainsaws, blood, fangs and no big words. I'm telling you right now Joe, this is really high concept stuff."

"Bob, that sounds great but how are you going to get it to rain wolves?"

"Joe, this is the high concept stuff I was talking about. There will be a huge storm that develops over Florida. Tornadoes will suck up thousands of hungry raging wolves. The storm then dumps them all over Miami Beach. There's plenty of cheap stock beach footage we can buy that will keep production costs way down."

"Bob, I don't want to rain on your wolf parade, but there aren't very many wolves in Florida if any at all, and the effects people are going to scream about the costs. Those fur computer graphics stuff ain't cheap and all those hemp wearing environmentalists will be on our asses also."

"How about sharks Bob? I mean who loves man eating sharks? Florida has tons of them swimming around and biting people? I don't even go to the beach because I saw that Jaws movie as a kid. We can make them out of rubber cheap, they can be reused and we can put fins on weighted skateboards and pull them around in shallow water." I'm thinking big. Big like "Sharknado." I bet you could write a script in about a week, and we could make it for chump change. Maybe around a fat million dollars. Hmmm... who could we sell it to? The Scfy channel maybe?"

Monday, June 22, 2015

Optical delusions, it's a matter of perspective

Two things are going on here. One is the camera is failing and it took some luck to get this picture below in the first place. It was once upon a time a color camera I think, but it has become more of a faded black and white image when it's working at all.  It's also the incorrect type of kind of camera. The image is accurate but the POV is not.

The Garmin 7612 display is new, the existing camera not so much. The owner was aware the camera had been in poor health, and from my perspective it had long passed on into Kodak heaven. In truth it had no power initially, but when given power it had a severe case of the Delirium Tremens. It really doesn't matter. For these reasons it's going into a plastic body bag for transport and internment at the local paupers landfill.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Two hours afloat and too many things to say.

This radar installation confirmed my sense that radar beams can't see through aluminum pipes. This wasn't something I was so curious about that I would expend valuable energy in trying to test, but now I have some empirical evidence to back up my hunch. 

This was two hours of owner training on a shiny new boat. Like all things I do, it seems my eye has a proclivity to spot other things and events to talk about and today was no different. The radar problem was evident as I walked up to the boat. It's a FUBAR install. It's not my work and I can't do anything about it today so the training will go on anyway.

I try to beat the basics into owners. My approach is to make the owner push all of the buttons, and we are going to do some things over and over until it starts to approach second nature. Make waypoints, name waypoints and go to waypoints. Make tracks, save tracks, name tracks and follow tracks. You get the drill. Add to this autopilot 101 use, and a stern lecture that bad things can happen if you do dumb things with the autopilot at high speeds. In extreme cases you could end up precipitously leaving the boat and watching it recede into the distance while you contemplate all of the mistakes you have made in your life, this last one in particular. I cut this educational activity off at about two hours max. It's all normal mortals can absorb in one shot.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A tale of two motors

Our two motors suffered from a long and terminal case of rust-itis. It starts with a dermal complexion rash and if not promptly treated rapidly spreads, causes bloating and in the end given enough time all that will remain is a umber colored stain.

For steel to rust you need two basic things. Water and oxygen. Neither by itself causes rust, you need the collusion of both of these ingredients. Now if you add salt to the mix you can dramatically accelerate the process. But my essay isn't about rust, it's about how the water got there in the first place.

I have two recent examples. One is a winch motor in a forward anchor locker, and the other is a autopilot hydraulic pump located in the lazaret. In both cases the owner's aver the motors were working the last time they used them and I believe them. My inside voice however is mumbling the last time these motors were used Ron Popeil was selling spray on hair in a can.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A very connected boat. Part 1

The client wanted two things. The first was satellite TV and KVH TV1 fit the bill. It's small, easy to install and supports up to eight receivers. The second goody on the list was improved WiFi access. Although the home port has adequate WiFi service they have discovered many marinas do not. Based on Ben Ellison's Panbo assessment of WiFi systems I chose the Rouge Wave Pro. It works better than my most optimistic expectations. I'll talk about this a bit later.

Then it became a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. The original flat panel plasma TV was okay, but just that. Measurements are taken, and it's new TV shopping time. The end result was a Samsung 5500 32" Smart TV with WiFi. Smart is an understatement. Built in browser with some clever techniques that let you use the remote for URL and search entries. Easy short cuts to Netflicks, YouTube and the ilk. It's very thin, and looks sharp in its new home.

So now we have a big chunk of the pieces in already in place to create a truly connected boat. I've added a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B to act as an interim Signal K server and it's now connected it to the Netgear router. The two yellow boxes will turn blue in time. I have the Arduino and will install it downstream. It will be used to test some Internet Of Things control applications and the system can be used to test prototype gateways when they become available. This is one of two local systems being installed. But this is all for part two. 

A very connected boat Part 2

This is what a Signal K system will typically look like on your boat. The boxes may well be different but the concept will not. This will be a beta site and I'm playing with ways to install the gear, make it unobtrusive, easy to access, and I'm documenting any issues along the way.

My mantra is it's better to be lucky than smart, although being both lucky and smart isn't a condition to be sneered at. The boat is a Searay 39 MY and in this case the lucky part of the equation is access is great. Below this panel is a large removable cabinet door where a couple of air conditioner units live. I can actually work myself into the void, sit upright and get at the back of the panel. It's also right next door to the new TV which made its installation easier. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Signal K FAQ's

Much has been going on behind the scenes with the Signal K project which has culminated with NMEA's formal recognition of Signal K that appeared on their website yesterday,  and the most excellent article about all of this by Ben Ellison on Panbo.

So I thought I would post some FAQ's about the project and provide a glimpse of what a system would look like on a boat. There are three pieces to the system. In this beta installation I'm using a Raspberry Pi-2 as the interim server. It has a Ethernet connection to the Netgear router, four USB ports, a SD card slot and will be powered by a dual USB charging port. The yet to come NMEA 2000 Signal K gateway will be installed behind the panel. The router power is going to be reconnected behind the panel. The SS clam shell will be painted black so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.

The point is a Signal K installation doesn't require much space, doesn't have to be ugly, won't cost much and the bonus is you get a wireless access point on your boat. I'm finishing a piece on this install which will pop out shortly.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

MFD SD Card Selection Guide

I wrote a recent article for Practical Sailor dealing with SD cards and their care and feeding along with a spread sheet showing by manufacturer make and model the SD cards they use. This was a mind numbing, difficult and tedious set of nuanced data to gather. Practical Sailor has graciously agreed to let me archive a copy of the spread sheets here at the Rant.  The link below the photo is to the page with two spread sheets.

The definitive guide for SD card selection for your MFD.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blue tape and a piece of paper. What else do you need?

I love 3M blue painter's tape. Period. I always have it in my tool bag, and a few more rolls rattling around in Old Red. Old Red is my 1995 GMC pickup truck. It's still reasonably reliable but it's always slowly oozing colorful vital fluids from engine orifices. Let's just leave it with no one asks me if I have any Grey Poupon mustard while I'm driving around town in it. Overhead is my bitter enemy so I'm reluctant to send it to hospice until I have to.

Lets get back to the blue tape stuff. I rarely use it for it's intended purpose and instead apply it to a myriad other uses and needs.

Monday, April 6, 2015

West Clothing Lifestyle Bluetooth Sunglasses And Some Boat Stuff Marine Store

When I visit my local West Marine its now like I'm walking into a department store. I  pass by all of the soft good fashions wearing my hydraulic steering fluid stained blue jeans and scuffed up boat shoes as I trudge towards the catacombs in the rear of the store. This is where the real boaty stuff now resides. I just hope they won't make me start to come in through a back door marked trade entrance only. Seriously now, mannequins? So what the heck is going on here with West Marine.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Xducer finessing. You always need a bigger hammer.

Installing marine electronics on boats requires tools and gear. I have lots of this stuff. So much that often the problem is in locating where things are in the beast truck. Ethernet cable testers, several soldering irons of varying wattage's, a fox and hound for chasing wires, volt and clamp on meters, specialized crimpers, outlet testers and much more high tech gear. Most are rarely used or needed on a daily basis. To deal with many boats you have to throw away the finesse, and use things more commonly wielded by stone masons, or needed by railroad track repair crews. The boat often won't give up its gear until substantial brute force is applied.