Sunday, December 27, 2009

Digital TV conversion for your boat DYI project

The vast majority of boats floating out there do not have digital TVs for reasons I discussed earlier, so I thought this would make a good subject for a DYI project that could be done by boat owners. When the project is done, you will have transformed your boat into an on air wonder with many crystal clear digital channels. Right now, most of you don't get on air channels at all since the digital change over. You need a few reasonably priced items, and some patience. The picture below is from a late model 44’ Searay Dancer, and this is the starting point for the project. If you look to the left side of the cabinet, you will see the Glomex TV signal amplifier. This is an ideal place to put the gear we are going to use. You can click on the picture for a closer view.
















You are going to need some bits and pieces such as the following items. The first is an A/B switch shown below. This is used to switch the cable input between the dock, and the on air antenna. These run from about $10-$20 and can be found online, or at  Radio Shack









The next item is a LXXR extender. This cool small flying saucer shaped gadget will take the digital converter’s infrared remote control and will convert it to a radio frequency remote control. This will work with any infrared remote control that uses AA, or AAA batteries. This means you won’t have to open the cabinet door to change channels. This is available online for about $75.00. You can only use one per boat. Additional units hear each other.












The digital converter I like the best is the Apex unit available from Best Buy. This costs about $60.00, and is a nice compact unit with remote control.
You will also need to buy some coax TV cables (2-3), a plastic collar to pass the wires through the cabinet  side (1" diameter, 1 1/8 drilled hole) found at your hardware store, and maybe a small power strip. The converter, and the LXXR both need 110VAC. You will also need some 90 degree coax adapters. These little things screw onto a male coax fitting, and turn it 90 dgrees. This reduces the depth of the converter box by allowing the coax cables to come in sideways. A couple of coax butt connecters may also be needed. Both of these things can be purchased at a Radio Shack, or hardware store.

Below is a simple diagram of the wiring. You can click on the diagram to blow it up, and then print it as a 8 1/2" by 11" page,


Step one is to locate the boats coax splitter. This is often located somewhere behind the Glomex controller. This most likely means opening the electrical panel, and looking behind for a bunch of coax cables terminated into a splitter. One is the input, and all of the others are outputs, and all are clearly marked. The input to the splitter is the center cable of the Glomex box. This cable needs to be disconnected from the Glomex box, and moved to the "To TV" center connector of the AB switch (it may have to be stretched with an additional cable). A new short cable is installed from the center connector of the Glomex box to the "Antenna in" of the digital converter box. The Glomex box only has the "Antenna In" cable, and the center cable now connected. The dockside cable, that was the third cable to the Glomex, is attached to the "B" connector of the AB switch, and the digital converter "To TV" cable attached to the "A" connector. Look at the diagram if I have confused you.

In the picture below, I drilled a 1 1/8" hole to pass the cables through. This was a bit tight, but I got it all through. A 1 1/2 hole hole would be a little easier to work with. The LRRX, and the converter need 120VAC, and if you are lucky, there may be an outlet you can use behind the panel. I was not, and had to wire a small power strip in. If you have to do this, use 12/3 triplex marine wire, with real connectors, not wire nuts. If you are not comfortable with doing this, have your local boat electrician do this for you.

All in all it took me about 5 hours to do this. As you work, label the cables. They all look alike, and it is easy to put a cable in the wrong place.

Errata

The Glomex box has to be on, and turned all the way clockwise to pass the signal to the converter. You will see the red light lit.

The converter box can be set for channel 3, or 4. The default is 3. This means the TV's must be set for on air antenna, and tuned to channel 3. This is done in the TV's set up menu. To watch cable from dockside, the TV's set up must be switched to cable.

The digital converter is easy to program, and just takes a couple of minutes to program if you move to another port of call.

"A" on the AB switch must be pushed for local channels, and "B" for local cable.

When attaching the small eye to the infrared window of the converter, move it around while changing channels until you find a good location, then stick it on, and leave some extra cable, so the LXXR can be pulled out. It is also the batttery charger, and you need to get to the bottom of the unit. I used velcro to attach it. You can look a the picture to see the approximate location. In the Sarasota area the system receives about 30 channels, all very clear. You can now cancel the local channels you pay DirectTV for. Questions, post me a comment, and I will try to help.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 2010 Boston Whaler Outrage 370, Wow!


As you could imagine I have seen a zillion boats, and I am I am rarely impressed. I was at the Sarasota Christmas boat parade, and a new Boston Whaler 370 pulled up to the dock right in front of me. This was a stunning vessel, and beautifully executed.  This is one of five boats that have been built, that are being moved around to various dealers to show them off. I understand that Whaler has a production line in operation, but I think at this point you would have to order one, and live with a short wait to get one.

The details in this vessel are well thought out, and if your yacht could accommodate this boat, it would make a versatile tender capable of being a dive platform, fishing machine, and fast transport vessel. A few of the features include dive tank storage, side access hatch, with ladder, triple Verado’s, retracting sun shade, refrigerator, and much much more. Below are additional photos, with some short dialog. Did I say wow! ? you can click on the photos to enlarge.

















On the boat is Jim Shepard, GM of Marine Max Sarasota, He let me take the photos at their facility. Above Jim is the retractable sun shade. Just push a button, and it disappears.

















This is not your average Whaler Outrage molded fiberglass sink, and it is typical of the way this vessel has been finished. This the first thing your eyes see when you go inside the console.

















The teak table retracts at a push of another button, and there is dive tank storage under the seats.

















This is a well thought out console with room for first class electronics. Those are decal's of the new Raymarine 14" Wide E-Series chart plotters. They appear to be most impressive, and the maximum amount of electronics allowed by law. There are three seats at the helm, with a fold down floor to provide better visibility while standing.

















I just like the way the console surround looks. Form follows function, meets the future. The vent is at the top of the glass windscreen so things won't blow around, and the sun lounges are a perfect place to sip an adult beverage while catching some rays. And yes, lots of sound on board.


















Great access at the dock. The hatch swings out of the way, and you can easily get around it when it's open. There is a large swim ladder that stows under the aft seat, and locks into the stainless steel plate on the deck.

















Okay, here is the price, nicely equipped, but sans electronics. I would budget another $25K to $30K for  electronics that would be in keeping.with the vessel quality. The price might appear to be high, but it is a lot of  boat, with many unique features, and a lot of versatility.

I have only seen two boats this year, that I was really impressed with. This is one, and you can follow the link to the other one, a 1937 John Trumpy designed, Mathis built yacht owned by Donna and Rich Reiling. This is, without a doubt the finest vessel I have every had the privilege to board, and the owners have lavished endless effort into this true nautical jewel. There are few of these yachts left, and none of them are in this kind of new condition. Look at the photo album, and check the history. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Three chart chips, two GPS's, and an autopilot under the tree. What I what from vendors this Christmas

















This is a list of things I would like various vendors to give me for Christmas:

From Garmin I would like a QWERTY  keyboard for the marine touch screen units. It drives me crazy trying to use the linear keyboard, and doesn’t make me feel smart. I’m sure the programmers wouldn’t want to use a keyboard like that at work. I would also like to have non-wind instrument based VMG data element in my stocking. Did I mention I want a QWERTY Keyboard?

My ho ho from Raymarine is to have the weather page on top of a real chart. It is difficult to see exactly where you are on the existing base map. I would also like to see if you could arrange for a inexpensive Sirius weather package that just has the Doppler radar. This is available on the XM side of what should now be one happy XM/Sirius family. In my stocking I would like a slightly longer hold time on the WPTS/MOB button to activate MOB. I get a lot of calls from clients wondering why the chartplotter is beeping at them.

The toys I want from Northstar are to remove the "Aye Aye Captain" message every time I "GOTO" a point, I don’t want cute, I just want to go. I also want the "Quick" point to go away when I am through with it.

I have to cut off transducer connectors from time to time, and solder on a new ones. Tiny connectors, two cups of coffee, old eyes,  lack of a third hand, and done in situ dockside makes this a tedious task. I would pay much more for the connectors if they had short wire pigtails  already soldered on them. This is the gift I want from Airmar, and Gemeco.

A cherry red light on the wireless control pad that will tell you whether the spotlight is on, is what I want from Go Light. Nice product, works well, but I can’t tell if it is on, or off.

From Brunswick for Christmas,  I want a NMEA N2K gateway for Mercury, and Cummin’s engines. You would sell a lot of them, and it seems to be a shame that all of those chartplotters, on all of your boats can’t use the engine display features available via their NEMA  N2K interface. (I know Northstar has it, but this was an accident of corporate geography)

This is my Xmas list, and if you have more xmas items you want, let me know, and I will add them to this list.you can e-mail me, or use the comments section.

My thank to Tim Ellam for the use of the GPS ornament photo. Tim has good tech based blog covering gadgets, geocaching computer technology, et al, and the link to his blog is: http://www.techblazer.com/

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tech support kudos
















It can be a complicated world. and we all need a little help from time to time and I am certainly not an exception to this. In the real world, I could not do my job, without the assistance of the many marine technical support groups, and I am most indebted for the high quality assistance I receive from them.  It has been a tough year in the boating business, and despite this, the quality of the technical support has been maintained through all of the cut backs. The following are "Kudos" and comments about some of these fine groups.

Airmar
You would be hard pressed to find a more reliable device on your boat than an Airmar transducer. These devices live in rapidly moving salt water, get scraped on by divers, and run for years without touching them. I mostly deal with Irene when I have an issue. She is smart, a transducer goddess, and always a pleasure to talk to. The  phone is almost always answered quickly, and if you have to leave a message, it is quickly returned.

Raymarine
The tech staff at Raymarine are the best in the business. They know their  products forward and backwards, are always easy to talk to. Trevor, Mark, Winston, Linda, and the rest of the crew have been of immeasurable assistance to myself, and my clients through the years. There is rarely a long wait, and the phone menus are short and sweet. Thanks for the help.

Garmin
Garmin continues to do an excellent job of tech support, and gets a special "Kudo" for being the only company that actually custom wrote software to correct a clients software issue. They sent me a N2K data logger to collect the info, and within ten days sent me a software patch. Way to go, and we both have a very happy client. The phone wait time has improved, but I wish the interaction didn’t sound so scripted. "Have I answered all of your questions about Garmin today?"

Clarion
Every boat has a stereo, and most have Clarion. What color pair of RCA cables is the Is the aux input I am going to use for the audio feed from the weather module? John always knows the answer, even for the antiques. Rarely a wait, simple phone menu, and always helpful

Furuno
Quick, and responsive. You sometimes have to leave a message, but call backs come quickly. The manuals are sometime a little inscrutable, but Ron and Jeff are there to help.

Northstar
This group and been bought and sold a couple of times, but the support has been seamless. My namesake Bill has a good sense of humor, and always has the answer.

Searay, Boston Whaler, and Carver
These builder’s still get the support job done, despite the cutbacks. They also have some of the best configuration control in the business. Need to know what the matching fabric was in a 2004 vessel, or a battery wiring diagram? They have the info. It sometimes takes a few days to get the data, but you always get it. There are doing a great job on short staff. Thanks for the effort.

Beede Instruments
This is another special "Kudo" for Ken Lepage who was able to find the original software, and custom program a pair of engine instrument/engines interfaces to replace the units that were damaged by a lightning strike, and to Mike at Carver who remembered the boat, and what had been done to it. The work around to correct the problem had both of these gentlemen not gone to some extra effort, would have cost thousands of dollars. Thanks for the help Ken, and Mike, my client is tickled pink.

I have a huge set of tech support numbers in my phone, and they are my most important asset. Whether the issue is the NMEA colors for legacy equipment, software communication problems, or even my occasional dumb questions, these many support organizations are there to help all of us. Although the wait can be irritating at times, always be grateful for the people who help you, and don’t forget to say "Thank You".




Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Oh, watch out for that electron avalanche storm", with apologies to Jimmy Buffett.
















This is a cautionary vignette about lightning awareness. I had a salesman call me on a Saturday morning, who said "He has a client on a brand new boat (24’ Boston Whaler) who had called him, stating his boat was badly shocking him, and would I please call him ASAP". I called the owner on his cell phone, and he was both scared, and very upset. He claimed his brand new boat, was severely shocking him, and it was obviously very defective, and what should he do?

The boat was about one mile off Sarasota’s New Pass channel. I calmly started to ask him questions about what was going on. I was calm, because I wasn’t on the boat being shocked. I first asked what he was doing when he was first shocked, and he said he was fishing, and the tip of the rod touched the water, and he got a jolt. The shock freaked him out, and he reeled in the line, and started to hang the rod in a rocket on the T-top, and a large spark jumped from his hand to the rocket jolting him again. His colleague, had also gotten shocked when he touched the T-top frame. The owner also reported hearing a crackling noise coming from all around the boat, and the digital instruments were not reading correctly. Now it was my turn to be scared. My instructions, were short and succinct. Take the boat back to the dock immediately, now, and I mean right now, do not pass go, do not collect $200, shocks or no shocks! And now for the rest of the story, page two.

On the way to met the owner. I noticed the enormous thunderstorm just to west, was quickly moving inland. When I got to the dock I did a quick check of the boat and could not find a single thing wrong with it, other than the engines digital instruments said the maximum speed of the boat had been 2456 MPH, which I think is about mach 3. I suggested to the owner that he may have encountered an electron avalanche, and he took great umbrage to the idea, stating the shocks continued until he almost got to the dock, and insisted that the boat was defective, he wanted a new one, and the dealership would hear from his attorney.

So what did happen? I suspect it was an electron avalanche, which is a close relative of St. Elmo’s fire. I suspect, had this happened at night, the personnel on the boat might have seen a bluish cast all over the boat. The edge of thunderstorm was just overhead, and carried a huge negative charge. Positive electrons from the surface were wanting to stream off the boat aided by the nice points on the outriggers up to the thunderstorm. The entire boat had taken on a positive charge, including the people aboard, the fiberglass surfaces, and plastic surfaces of the boat.

This positive charge attached to the people onboard was being discharged whenever someone on the boat touched anything that was grounded to sea water including the tip of the fishing rod. The outriggers were isolated from the T-top by fiberglass, and the T-top was bonded to the zincs. Just shuffle your feet on a carpet, and touch the door knob, and you have a similar situation. Why did this last for about a half hour after leaving the area? Rub a balloon on your sweater, and stick it on the wall. The balloon will hang there for the period of time it takes for the charge to naturally dissipate.

The electron avalanche can be the precursor to a direct lightning strike, and it was very fortunate that this did not occur, because conditions were certainly perfect for this to happen. The positive electrons want to stream up to meet a  negatively charged stepped leader coming down from the storm providing a downward/upward path for a strike (there are a variety of opinions about the up down stuff).

There are two points to this story. The first was the thunderstorm was moving quickly towards the boat, and they should have left the area just as soon as they saw it. The good lord does not always watch over fools, but I think he does watch over drunken sailors.

The second point is that whether you are on a golf course, or on a boat, and the hairs on your head and arms start to stand up, or you are getting shocks. Take immediate cover, and not under the closest tree, or we will have to change your name to Reddy Kilowatt.
In the end, the owner, after doing some research agreed that this is what happend, and will not go fishing if thunderstorms are in the area.

There are lot of good sources for learning about Electron Avalanches, St Elmo’s Fire, and Lightning available on the Internet. Be informed!