Sunday, January 4, 2015

Specifications translated

Design Requirement Specifications for
Marine Electronics Installations

1.0 Scope: This specification applies to all recreational and commercial vessels 20' or longer capable of navigating offshore. If the vessel does not meet these requirements it shall be clearly labeled on a visible plate that it is "not capable of being fully equipped for safe use offshore." Offshore means any body of water where a vessel can be out of view of land.

This means that if you can't easily put a full suite of gear needed to safely navigate offshore on a boat quit deluding buyers that your product is suitable for big water, even if it looks like it can float on it,  for a while at any rate.
1.1 These specifications cover the minimum infrastructure and design requirements for installation of standard aftermarket customer purchased equipment and access for maintenance of builder installed vessel systems.

Ahem, the key word above is minimum. I know it's asking a lot. This isn't almost, we forgot, gosh we don't actually use our boats, who'da thunk, it's the dealer's and owner's problem, or you just need some duct tape and some tie wraps.

2.0 Aftermarket customer supplied equipment definition: Designed in capability to support installation of aftermarket equipment shall consist as a minimum the following systems. One Multi-Function Display (hereafter referred to as a MFD), two 8' marine radio antennas, one GPS antenna, one marine weather/audio antenna, one radar unit, one spotlight, one autopilot system including a specified location for its electronic compass, and hydraulic pumps system, one sonar black box, and associated transducers, satellite TV antenna, hailer, electric/air horn, night vision system one electric anchor winch.

Okay, I can live without the anchor winch, but if it takes a battle royale to get the rest of these basics installed on your boat you need to rethink your product designs. These are commonly installed marine electronics. Where is the autopilot compass going to go? Is there room for a hydraulic AP pump? Sure you installed a plate to mount a radar on, but left no way to get the cabling to the MFD.

2.1 Builder supplied equipment definition: This is all steering systems, breaker panels and switches, relay switching systems, fuse panels, power and ground blocks.

What, you mean you don't install aftermarket equipment auxiliary equipment power, ground, and fuse blocks?  You should! BTW if you can't figure out the amp loading for the potential gear, give a call and I'll help you. I'm pretty sure that 16 gauge wire you would use to feed the fuse block won't do the trick, for long at any rate. What's that burning smell Bubba? You know now that I've thought about it I have never seen a builder include a label on a fuse block stating the maximum amperage load it's capable of.

3.0 Vessel wiring:  All wiring installed shall be in full compliance with ABYC standards and wiring diagrams are to be included with the owners vessel documentation. Documentation shall include diagrams showing where primary wiring related components are located.

You're telling me you don't have a wiring diagram or schematic for your boat?  Someone must have made one even if it was hand drawn on a napkin in the bar. Or do you just wing it as you put the boat together? It's proprietary you say? What's that all about? You better be using coldfusion to power the boat to get away with that excuse. Just email the damn electrical drawings to me soonest.

3.1 Electrical components: All electrical components shall be detailed in a bill of materiels including the vendor's original part number, contact information, and quantities used. All materiels used shall be in current production at the time of purchase.

I know, you got "such a deal" on those discontinued relay modules and stereos. It seemed to be a good idea until one broke and I can't buy another one now. It's not that I don't enjoy the intellectual masterbation involved in kludging together an expensive Macgyvered solution, because I do. Unfortunately you're screwing your customer when you do this.

While I'm on the subject I recently spent a day Googling the picture of a part the builder could no longer identify, and had placed a sticker with their own special part number on top of the vendor's original part number thus rendering it unreadable. It was a battery solenoid switch made in France. Nice part, but it shouldn't have been a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

3.2 Wiring conduit: All wiring runs longer than 4' shall be in conduit. All conduit shall have a cross section diameter of at least 50% larger than needed for the designed wiring. In addition conduit shall be supplied for aftermarket equipment installation as specified. Conduits runs shall have no hard 90 degree turns and pulls wires shall be preinstalled.

I have never understood the inability of many boat builders to make provisions for the inevitable. I think they Photoshop in pictures of top mounted marine electronics that I've seen of some boats. Wait, I know how it's done. The gear is just screwed on to take the helicopter aerial pics and the wires are never attached because marketing didn't have the budget to actually pull the wiring to make it work.

3.3 Hardtop/Tee-Top: The minimum sized conduit is 2.5" in diameter with no hard turns, going directly to the lower helm console from both the starboard. and port sides. The builder shall make provision to access the primary wiring conduits from the center of the Hardtop/Tee-Top for centrally mounted equipment such as satellite domes, radar, and other related equipment.

This isn't hard to do, if you design it in. The picture above is a classic example. It was almost like the builder was trying to make it especially difficult to do a simple task. After the fact, three holes had to be drilled, and the cables painfully creeped inch by inch through them. After about three hours of tedious work you still end up with less than a professional appearing installation.

3.4 Lazarett to helm conduit: The minimum sized conduit is 3" in diameter with no hard turns, going directly to the lower helm console. This conduit is for the exclusive use of aftermarket equipment such as rudder references, transducer cabling, underwater lighting, and other aft mounted systems.

This just drives me nuts period. I'm snaking wires under a berth, drilling a hole in the base of a head sink cabinet, and then another one through a bulkhead into the engine room, or I'm staring at a conduit that is so full of stuff that even after I cut the connector off, bend it over, lube it with grease and use a come-along to pull the wire it just barely squeezes through. Fifteen feet of 1.5" ID flexible conduit costs about $8.00 full retail. You couldn't spend more that a couple of hundred dollars total on most boats saving the owner huge sums of money in installation labor downstream.

4.0 Transducer installation: The builder shall provide acceptable through hull locations for at least three transducers. Through hull fittings for other systems shall not be placed in upstream locations that will cause downstream transducer turbulence at the vessels maximum speed. Hull interiors shall provide sufficient room to allow installation.

This is one of the most overlooked, or outright ignored things boat builders do. They all too typically don't design in good and accessible locations for transducers, and the step hull builders are among the worst offenders of the lot. Since I'm harping on the subject, what marketing genius came up with the idea that the fastest fish machine always wins the tournament? When did the concept that finding fish with all the fantastic technology that is now available became secondary to speed in a fishing tournament? This is an anathema. Its possible to go fast, hold bottom and find fish is, just not for many because the lowly transducer was an afterthought. Some get it, most don't

5.0 Accessibility and mounting space: All vessels shall provide adequate space and accessibility for aftermarket equipment installation. This location must be inside the helm area or immediately adjacent to it. It shall have at the minimum 4 sq feet of unobstructed mounting area capable of accepting up to 3/4" long number twelve fasteners.

Most boat builders are unfamiliar with the word "accessibility." Let me help them out. It doesn't mean you use the smallest possible Beckson plates, preferably the ones you can barely get you hand through, or place things where humans can't get to them without a chain saw, and hide things in crevices that require disassembling half the boat only to find it wasn't there in the first place.  

6.0 Documentation:........................................................

Who am I kidding here? Most days I stare at the boat I have to contend with and think, "This is just another piece of poorly thought out boat building work with a pleatheresque Ferrari looking outer skin. Outside pretty? Yes, but on the inside.... hmmm let's see it's either a Yugo, Pinto, or maybe even a Trabant.

Last week I saw an enthusiastic new boat buyer packing back up the bad boy of all CHIRP transducers, the Airmar 599 he had bought for his new fishing machine. 3000 watts of low CHIRP power and 2000 watts of high CHIRP. It can hold bottom in 17,000 feet of water, and can see a swordfish on the seabed floor in 1000' of water.

His new and very expensive offshore fishing boat machine however couldn't accommodate this type of tech for love or money. What he ended up with was one 1000 watt B175 CHIRP transducer and that barely fit. He was most disappointed, and next time he will know better.

So production boat builders, have at it. I will continue to do the installation work because there is almost almost always a way, and your customers will continue to pay the high bills for your lack of foresight, marginal construction, and close to zero documentation. It also gives me endless things to write about, so keep that shaky work going.

This all begs the questions. Are there good well made boats out there? The answer is yes. Are there boats the builders think are great, but really aren't very good? The answer is also yes. Are there alot of really abysmal boats being produced. This answer is again also yes.


  1. Mmm, making the builder use wiring conduits would be nice. Most of the wiring on our boat, even if it starts in a conduit, at some point disappears behind sticky-backed vinyl. It took hours, and most of my knuckles, just to run an extra cable of less than 2 metres from the battery to the main panel.
    But, what sort of 20 ft boat could take all the required aftermarket equipment and still have room for the crew? (Not to mention the battery bank to power it all.) Certainly not ours:
    One Multi-Function Display (hereafter referred to as a MFD) -- Well, if you could find one with a 6” screen, I might find a bulkhead to put it on
    two 8' marine radio antennas -- TWO permanent antennas? Each EIGHT FOOT long? Am I supposed to be sailing, or operating a pirate radio station here?
    one GPS antenna -- Ok, ours is built into the GPS, but I can see that a wiring route to the pushpit would be sensible.
    one marine weather/audio antenna -- So, a boat’s not seaworthy unless I can listen to the top 20? Provision an AIS antenna would be better maybe?
    one radar unit -- That much weight, that high up. Or opt to microwave the helmsman. I think not.
    one spotlight -- Big torch, just inside the companion way
    one autopilot system including a specified location for its electronic compass, and hydraulic pumps system -- hydraulic pumps? It takes fingertip pressure to move our tiller…
    one sonar black box, and associated transducers, -- Ok, a depth readout is a nearly compulsory luxury.
    satellite TV antenna, -- I’m unaware of any maritime disaster caused by the inability to watch endless repeats of M*A*S*H. and, if I can’t find space for an MFD, where am going to put a flat-screen TV?
    hailer -- Shout, or use the radio.
    electric/air horn – Yup, I can see that. Part D of the Colregs requires a means of making a noise; but air out of a can (or lungs) would seem enough unless you only ever sail in a fog bank.
    night vision system -- Hello? A wired-in IR camera?? Assuming that sending somebody with good eyes and ears onto the foredeck wasn't good enough, what is there to hit offshore that isn’t lit up? (drug smugglers excepted, but they’re pretty uncommon round our way).
    one electric anchor winch – already covered; If I put in the batteries required to run it, I certainly wouldn't have space left for a chain locker big enough to make it worthwhile.

  2. Thanks Anon. Yes my spec was a little to general and 20' (should have said also said power boat) is a stretch. But add 4' to 15" and a center console and this is where I spend about 50% of my time. The other 50% is typically larger boats (not that they can be any better). What's so frustrating is the builders bill these boats as offshore fishing vessels, and then ignore the fact that the users will want to add, and in some cases a lot of extra gear. So the general gear list are the things I'm most often asked to add. It's a good day if the builder's design and construction actually accommodates installing these elements. Dealing with things like two ninety turns from the hardtop to the console, jagged holes, cutting off and reinstalling connectors, lubing up wires, drilling or enlarging holes with existing wires in them and the list goes on and on.

    What's so frustrating is the things that cost the buyers so much labor cost for an installation are the things that are the cheapest to fix starting with commodious pulls. You would think that a 35' fishing boat designed to go a couple hundred miles fishing offshore would have a good spot built in for an autopilot compass, or the ability to install the larger and better transducers, have a place to install an autopilot hydraulic pump, and would have the electrical infrastructure to support the gear. Unfortunately not so much, I think it's a sad state of affairs.

    1. Sorry, I realised that you had a different sort of boat in mind but as the owner of half a 21ft sailing boat it amused me no end trying to imagine shoe-horning your set of neccesary additions into our hull (although I'm still not convinced that a satellite TV -or any TV- is a necessary safety item).
      Having experienced the problems of replacing the coax between the mast foot and the VHF; run in an extra cable for a battery monitor; and seen the results of the previous owner's attempts to connect the lighting circuit of the outboard to the main switch panel I'm in complete agreement that the builders almost seem to go out their way to make it difficult to make any changes or additions.

    2. Anon, thanks.It really doesn't matter what size of boat or even type. Imagine a 21' sailboat where the builder hadn't anticipated someone would want to put a Windex on the masthead. I have seen this, and a VHF radio seems to be something that would be needed also. The point is builders should be able to anticipate how the boats will be used and make some accommodation for the addition of gear most users would want to install.

  3. What about the ability to install auxiliary or high capacity alternators? All these widgets don't power themselves and until a vessel get's to be a certain size gensets aren't going to be workable.

    1. R, most alternators crank out pretty high amps. Most alternators can crank out around 70 amps/hr. So if the engine's are running this is a lot of capacity. The catch is how much of it you can store in your batteries for use when the engines aren't running. Thanks

  4. Great Post. From personal experience I would like to add a statement about fuel senders. My lovely 35' express which has two saddle fuel tanks. The boat is a 1999 model and runs great - as long as I can remember to calculate the fuel burn. The senders have failed in both saddle tanks and of course there is no way to access the senders without using a sawzall. And of course we are guessing where they may be because we can't see the senders and the builder "thinks" they know where the senders are on the tanks. Ugh.

    1. Pat, I know this is a bummer, but all too common. I broached this subject a bit today. Thanks

  5. Bill, you may have been talking about power boats, but plenty of that can apply to sailboats, too. Conduit for wiring would be a dream come true - I have several runs of wiring (some of it big stuff, like #2 to the windlass) that just disappear under the sole, and reappear 20+ feet away. Yeah, they work fine right now, but what if I want to add a bow thruster, or replace a broken wire? Time for the sawzall (or worse). I shouldn't have to pull teak plugs to unscrew the sole to add or repair wiring. And don't get me started on the two runs of "heater hose" going back to the water heater from the engine under the sole outboard of the main fore & aft beam (so I can't get to it) - not only was it AIR hose (which appears to dissolve with antifreeze) but it's Tie-wrapped under there! (And it's still there, just dry and abandoned now).
    But I have lots of places for antennas..:-)

    1. Hartley, thanks for the comments, I concur, and generically I don't don't discriminated between power and sail in these tirades. They both suffer from identical issues.

      Here is the sailboat version of what you're describing:

  6. As a marine electronics installer for almost 30 years I cannot tell how many times I wanted to choke the life out of a builder.

    1. Anon, the next time you run across a recalcitrant builder give a call and I'll help you choke him. Thanks

  7. I have been doing work on my varied and many boats over years of boating and trying to make wire runs correct , safe and concealed. The last was running power to my center consoles new t top.When my neighbor asked why I did not hide the runs completely, I told him to get lost.He does this kind of work for a living and I feel sorry for all in his trade.By the way, he has told me that he can not remember working on a used boat that did not have lamp cord wiring

    1. Anon, T-top of been the bane of my existence for years. despite the fact that's it easy to design and build them so they are wire friendly, it's almost like they compete to see who can make it the most difficult. Darwin eventually culls out the lamp wire users. I have seen a boat burned to the waterline because of lamp wire. Thanks for reading.