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.


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 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:

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.

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.

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 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?"

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

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.

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, it was obviously very defective, and what should he do?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Nautical Poem by W.S. Gilbert

This is a little known nautical poem by W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. I read it as a kid, and never forgot it, much to my wife's chagrin. Amidst all of my bemoaning about what boat builders do, I thought on Thanksgiving day that it would be nice to wend down another path.  It is about nautical dining you know.  Enjoy

The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'
A Nautical Poem by W.S. Gilbert

'Twas on the shores that round our coast
From Deal to Ramsgate span,
That I found alone on a piece of stone
An elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore recite,
In a singular minor key:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

And he shook his fists and he tore his hair,
Till I really felt afraid,
For I couldn't help thinking the man had been drinking,
And so I simply said:

"O, elderly man, it's little I know
Of the duties of men of the sea,
But I'll eat my hand if I understand
How you can possibly be....

"At once a cook, and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which
Is a trick all seamen larn,
And having got rid of a thumping quid,
He spun this painful yarn:

"'Twas in the good ship Nancy Bell
That we sailed to the Indian sea,
And there on a reef we come to grief,
Which has often occurred to me.

"And pretty nigh all o' the crew was drowned
(There was seventy-seven o' soul),
And only ten of the Nancy's men
Said 'Here!' to the muster-roll.

"There was me and the cook and the captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig
And the bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig.

"For a month we'd neither wittles nor drink,
Till a-hungry we did feel,
So we drawed a lot, and accordin' shot
The captain for our meal.

"The next lot fell to the Nancy's mate,
And a delicate dish he made;
Then our appetite with the midshipmite
We seven survivors stayed.

"And then we murdered the bo'sun tight,
And he much resembled pig,
Then we wittled free, did the cook and me,
On the crew of the captain's gig.

"Then only the cook and me was left,
And the delicate question, 'Which
Of us two goes to the kettle?' arose
And we argued it out as sich.

"For I loved that cook as a brother, I did,
And the cook he worshipped me;
But we'd both be blowed if we'd either be stowed
In the other chap's hold, you see.

"'I'll be eat if you dines off me,' says Tom,
'Yes, that,' says I, 'you'll be,' --
'I'm boiled if I die, my friend,' quoth I,
And 'Exactly so,' quoth he.

"Says he, 'Dear James, to murder me
Were a foolish thing to do,
For don't you see that you can't cook me,
While I can -- and will -- cook you!'

"So he boils the water, and takes the salt
And the pepper in portions true
(Which he never forgot) and some chopped shalot,
And some sage and parsley too.

'Come here,' says he, with a proper pride,
Which his smiling features tell,
' 'Twill soothing be if I let you see,
How extremely nice you'll smell.'

"And he stirred it round and round and round,
And he sniffed at the foaming froth;
When I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals
In the scum of the boiling broth.

"And I eat that cook in a week or less,
And -- as I eating be
The last of his chops, why, I almost drops,
For a wessel in sight I see!

"And I never grin, and I never smile,
And I never larf nor play,
But I sit and croak, and a single joke
I have -- which is to say:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raymarine or Garmin, I can't decide!

There is always a way. In this case the client has best of both worlds. A Garmin 5212, and a Raymarine E=120. How can you lose, or get lost.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The angry wrathful technology gods at work (Click pic for a better view)

This is a case of the angry gods at work. This box is connected to sealed rubber covered switch pads on the dash, and is programmed to turn on chartplotters, stereos, pumps, and all of the other things on the boat. The boat is four years old now, and the box has failed, taking the operation of 16 pieces of equipment with it.

The box was made by Carling, who sold, or transfered it to another company. They promptly redesigned it, and discontinued production of the original box. There are no spare parts, no programmers for it, no wiring diagrams, no nothing period. The only option here is to remove the digital pads from the console, cover the holes with a overlay panel, and install 16 switches. Actually there is another box that controlled another 8 switches, so you might as well do all 24 switches at the same time. The boat builder feels bad about it, but can't do anything about it. It would have been cheaper to build the boat with 24 switches in the first place. Sometimes simple is best in a highly corrosive salt water environment.

Why does my new boat have obsolete equipmnt?

Avarice, poor decisions, and or acts of the angry wrathful technology gods are why I often see obsolete equipment on a new boat. How does this happen? I will pose a scenario that will explain how it happens, but it is still inexcusable that it happens at all in most cases.

Greed, or greed coupled with ignorance creates the biggest source of obsolete equipment, and here is how it can happen. The Chartomatic chartplotter company designs its new version 7 Chartomatic system (It won’t have any of the problems of the earlier Chartomatic version 6), and they start to manufacture them. Some one in Chartomatic’s management team notes the obvious that there are still 2000 Chartomatic version 6 units still in the warehouse, and they direct sales to discount these units, and sell them off quickly. Eager salesmen visit the boat builders, and tell them, "Have I got a deal for you, Chartomatic version 6 units are now half price for a limited time only". Limited time is only for as long as they have the units in stock. The boat builder says, "This is a good deal and we will buy 300 systems". Chartomatic ships the now obsolete systems, the builder installs the now obsolete systems, and sends the boats to the dealers who sell the boats with now obsolete systems.

Now I could say that the Chartomatic salesman did not bother to tell the boat builder that the systems are now obsolete, thus taking the blame off the boat builders, but I believe that the boat builders see an opportunity to get some additional margin out of a business that operates on razor thin margins. I have seen dealer invoices for the installed obsolete equipment that reflect the original full MSRP price, and not the discounted price the builder paid. Even worse, the buyer is usually not told the equipment on his new boat is no longer being made.

This happens with not only the Chartomatic systems, but often with other equipment of the vessel such as TV’s, microwave ovens, stereo equipment, and other related gear. I have recently been on brand new boats that had TV’s that don’t have digital tuners in them. You would have been hard pressed to go to a big box electronics store two years ago, and find a TV that didn’t have a digital tuner, and so the TV’s being installed were bought earlier, and were already obsolete when they were purchased at "Such a deal for you Mr Boatbuilder".

The boat buyer is hurt in several ways here. Not only is the equipment no longer being made, but he or she has been robbed of the time available to have the equipment repaired if it fails. All manufacturers will stop repairing the old gear at some point due non available parts, or to push customers into newer equipment. The replacement of a simple TV in a boat can be an expensive, and tedious task. You have to find a TV with the same exterior dimensions (The original TV is no longer being made), remove the old set, which is often difficult (When reason fails, force prevails). The mounts on the back of the TV’s are never in the same place, power has to be un-harnessed and new power pulled back in, and the story goes on.

Now all of this being said, in a few years of ownership, all of these problem will eventually present themselves anyway, but boat builders should not try to speed this problem up at the owners expense.

The wrathful technology gods do often play a role in this problem. Boat builders can buy the latest gear available, and six months later the manufacturer is out of business due to any number of conditions. This is certainly statistically more likely if the equipment is on the "Bleeding edge of technology". In the posting above, there is a photo of equipment that is on a four year old boat that can’t be repaired, is no longer made, and the work around fix will cost as much as the original equipment. The gods have spoketh.

Things in progress include proprietary equipment and systems, why good people made poor boat buying decisions,  the huge connector divorces the tiny pull hole, and my tech support kudos.

The old marine radio photo was taken by Wikimedia user Korrigan.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

E-mail notification of new postings option added

I have added a e-mail notification option to the blog. if you want to be notified of a new post, you can place your e-mail address in the box, and click subscribe. Please let me know if there are any issues with my software. I tested it and you get a short "No reply", email giving the posting date. If you want to e-mail me directly, you will find the e-mail link under "View my complete profile" near the bottom of the page, and as always feel free to comment at any time. No e-mail addresses will be kept or sold to third parties. A new post will be on the site soon. Thanks Bill

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Searay console face lift completed (click pic for better view)

This was a fun, and satisfying project. The owners are Kevin and Michelle, and they have taken excellent care of their ten year old Searay. The biggest challenge here was to relocate the original nine switch panel to two new locations. Three of the switches were moved to the upper instrument panel along with the cover that protects the engine start/stop switches from accidentally being actuated, The rest of the switches were mounted in the burl panel on the lower right side of the photo. The switch labels were lit from behind with the older flexible lighting strips. The trick was to cut out the the three banks, of three switches from the original panel, keeping the back lit nomenclature intact under the switches. The wiring harness had to be relocated, and stretched in some places. The three now smaller switch panels were epoxied into place in the new locations, and the back lighting strips were taped into place.

Two panels were fabricated from black 1/4" acrylic, and covered the upper and lower locations where the old Furuno, and switch panel were. The new Garmin 5212 was mounted in a black acrylic wedge, which in turn was mounted to the new upper panel. As I have mentioned before, flat panel displays must be viewed nearly head on for the best results. The wedge tipped the new Garmin 5212 about 20 degrees toward the helm station. Had this not been done, the display would have been difficult to be seen from the helm. This problem also existed with the original Furuno display which was mounted flat in the original location. As a note, the original space provided for the Furuno was at a bad angle, and was to far from the helm. Marketing must have designed this helm.

This type of project does not happen quickly. Equipment must be removed, templates made, and panels fabricated, wiring modified, glue has to dry, and new equipment installed. This project took about twelve man hours, spread over a week.

The black panels worked out well, and match the black plastics used elsewhere on the console. I was very pleased with the appearance of the console when it was finished. The fabrication of the acrylic panels, and the mounting wedge for the Garmin 5212 was done by Delcraft Acrylics in Sarasota. Bob Blanchette takes my templates, and turns them into highly polished works of art. Delcraft Acrylics phone number is 941-379-4037, or they can be contacted at  In the end the project was tres bon.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Searay console get a face lift. (click pic for bigger view)

This is the before picture of a ten year old Searay console. Many owners are upgrading their boating investment, given the current state of the economy. The Furuno is going to be removed, and the adjacent switch panel is going to be relocated. A Garmin 5212 chartplotter is going to be installed where the Furuno was. This project will be completed in a couple of days, and I will post the after pic, along with  some dialog about how we did it. Posted by Picasa

Bad T-Top, go straight to your room.

This is the classic bad T-Top. This boat is a new 34 foot center console fishing boat, so we know the owner won't want any nav gear on top like radar, VHF, GPS, and weather antennas wiring pulled down to the console, right?  You can see the pull comes out of the electronics box, and takes a ninety degree turn into the pipe. It goes down about 3+ feet and then takes another ninety degree turn into the console by the cup holder. The interior of the pull is very sharp, and is shaving the wire casings as the wires are pulled through. The pull is only on one side, and the holes are a little less than an inch in diameter. Extra care must be taken in restraining the wires to make sure the sharp edges on the interior of the pipes will not cut and short the wires over time. Just wait until your father gets home you bad T-Top! Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 2, 2009

Marketing designed the helm console, and isn't it pretty !

Lets start with the fact that I think a huge percentage of boat owners need a chartplotter, and a depth finder on their boat, period! (With paper charts as back up) I live on the west coast of Florida, and our water is "thin" to say the least. I also spent a number of years cruising on Georgian Bay where there are only two kinds of rocks, those bigger than taxi cabs, and everything else. The east coast is fraught with hazards, along with the Great Lakes. In short, unless you use your boat on a small uncharted lake, I can't imagine leaving dock without good navigational tools.

So why do so many boat designers think that their customers use their boats on a small uncharted lakes? I can tell you why, because there is no room at the helm station to mount anything, much less a small chartplotter from Garmin, Raymarine et al!

The helm stations on so many boats look like the were designed by car companies. The surfaces are full of compound curves, lots of pleather esque foam structures, drink holders stereo controls, and not a single space to mount even a small chartplotter. Even on bigger vessels, there is often a dearth of space for modern navigational equipment. Today you would think, after you spent a half of a million dollars on your new 40'+ sedan bridge boat, that you could fit two 12 " chartplotters into the helm station, but sadly this is not always the case, and the smaller boats such as bowriders, and day cruisers are the biggest offenders. I suspect that many buyers are taken in by the bright colors, and curvaceous surfaces, but they end up seeing me the first time they run aground,  clutching a nautical chart, that is really a place mat from a local seafood restaurant circa 1964. By the way, this story is true, and the owner was really using the place mat as the chart, and was very aground off one of the local keys.

All is not lost here. There is always a way to fit in some gear. I have built starboard shelves, used Ram mounts, covered over cup holders, and have utilized many other schemes to jam equipment into a space it was not designed for. Life would be so much better if there was even a wee space available to mount a chartplotter on many smaller boats, and by the way, this does not include behind the wheel where you have to stick your hand through the spokes to push a button..

Mounting locations for chartplotters must allow the helm operator to look straight at the display, and the buttons must be easily reachable without leaving the helm. The flat panel displays used by most manufacturers must be viewed straight on. If the viewing angle exceeds more than about 15 degrees, the colors start to shift, and the display becomes more difficult to read. It is also important to place displays just below, or just above eye level, so the head does not have to move to see the display. Think of your speedometer in a car, you just drop your eyes to see it.  Equipment that will be often looked at should not be mounted in an electronics box above the helm if it can be avoided. This forces the user to tip their head up, increasing operator strain, and taking more time away from looking out for hazards. It also stops cricks in my older neck. Getting old isn't for sissies you know.

My last thoughts about this subject is electrical infrastructure to connect additional equipment. On many smaller boats, there has been no effort at all in providing power, and grounds (You need both don't you know). Wire harnesses are pre-fabed, and often just include only the systems that are installed on a boat at the factory. This leaves the installer with the option of seeing if there is a location you can splice into that will carry the needed current loads, or pulling in new wiring from another location such as the battery switch. This can cost the owner more than a small device costs. So if you have to cut corners "Mr. Boat Builder", at the minimum pull in to the console an appropriately sized ground and power wires, and terminate them on blocks, or even better terminate it on a real fuse block, and this includes the ground.

Coming soon, "My boat is new, why is the equipment outdated?"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The T-top from hell, and the little anchor light that couldn't

Lets start from the top (ha). T-top's have two functions. The first is to give you shade, and rain protection, and the second is to provide a location to mount equipment such as radar, VHF and GPS antennas, lights and other gear. There are good T-tops, and certainly  there are bad ones. Some of the problem is with bad design, the boatbuilders can take some fault, and most of all the T-top builders. So lets take a look at our perfect boat discussed earlier. This vessel is purpose designed for offshore fishing, and cost about $150,000. So you would think that the new owner would stick some equipment on the T-top, or am I being unreasonable.

When we look closely at the wire pulls from the top to the console, we discover that the pull hole inside the console is 1" in diameter, and  this is a  generous hole compared to some I have seen. Coming through the hole are already a set of wires for the anchor light, down spots, fuse block wiring from the electronics box, and the one thing that's not present is a pull wire. To make things worse, not only is the remaining hole space small, the pull comes out of the electronics box and is welded into the 2" down pipe at ninety degrees. The wires go down several feet, and then turn ninety degrees again into the console. So lets see now, two ninety degree turns in four feet, no pull wire installed, and we have to get two Garmin N2K GPS engine cables with connectors, a radar power and data cable, VHF antenna wire, weather receiver N2K cable with connector, and its audio cable, and I haven't even got to the spotlight yet. All is not lost you think, the pipes are the same on the other side, but alas there are no holes drilled at all. So what's the answer, call the builder, and ask for advice. This is a no go, the tech support staff tell you they don't make the the T-top, but here is their number, and maybe they can help. The T-top manufacturers conversation goes something like this, "We always drill a one inch hole, and they never told us to do it any different, and we always put in a pull wire". "The boat builder must have used it to pull in his wires, you will just have to drill additional holes, or make the existing ones bigger, can I help you with anything else?" This problem can be very costly to solve.

Now this was a fictional example, but I regularly encounter all of these problems and more, so in Bill's fantasy world, This is what I would like to see:

1. Pulls wire should always be installed, and those who use them should always replace them.
2. Pull holes should be as large as possible, and should be on both sides of the T-top.
3. Internal holes should be just as large, and take a minute to chamfer the edges so wires don't get cut.
4. Ninety degree turns should never be used, ever!
5. Boat builders should do a better job of anticipating what equipment owners will buy, and make sure the wire pulls are adequate for their buyers potential needs.

This isn't hard to do. The boat builder's need to specify clearly what the T-top vendors should supply, and keep them honest.

Not everybody does a bad job, I do want to give a kudo to Fountain for a terrific T-top on their 36' open fish.  I just installed a ton of stuff, and the pulls were large, were located on both sides, and after a substantial pile of gear was installed, there is still space left. Also Boston Whaler is consistent about installing pulls, Bill says thanks to both of you.

The little anchor light that couldn't

Ok, this bugs me, and I see it all the time. Here is our new boat, the T-top, and or arch have specific locations to mount the radar. So what's up with these short little lights (4" to 12"). The moment you put a radar dome on, the light is no longer high enough to be seen 360 degrees around, and the light has to be replaced. The wiring is tightly harnessed, and I have to cut the pipe half way up to end up with enough wire to connect the new light. You know, if you put a light on, that would clear the top of most radars, life would be better for myself and the owner, who pays the bill. A light that is a whopping 24" in height will clear all domes on a 5" mount, and all most all open radar arrays. So buyers beware, say no to little weenie anchor lights that can't. PS, if you leave the little light on, and you install a radar, the water authorities will write you a ticket if they catch you at night with a light that is not visible 360 degrees. Never going to use your boat after sunset, don't worry about the little light.

Coming next, "Marketing designed the helm console, and isn't it pretty"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Ehler's Garmin 5212 trip meter fills up (Click pic for a bigger view)

Garmin says it will reset to zero in 16 miles, but said they have not actually seen it happen. The "Great Loop" will add some miles to your boat too. I am going to change from miles, to nautical miles to buy a little more time, if it hasn't turned over yet.Posted by Picasa

The owner buys the perfect boat

There she is, 36' of percision fishing machinery. The T-Top is glistening in the sun, spiked with rockets, and the gold anodized outriggers are piercing aft.  Three massive outboards generating 300 hp each guarantee you can get to the giant marlins in record time. Fish boxes galore, baitwells,  filet table, and built in tackle boxes. No detail has been overlooked in the quest to hook the big one. Months were spent on this search for the perfect fishing craft. Sales staff were groveling and salivating, sea trials were done, the contract is signed, and  finally, with a much lighter owners wallet the perfect fishing machine is delivered. Fishing nirvana has arrived at his dock.

The owner is excited, and calls me. He wants the very best gear he can get for the boat. This includes a 10KW radar that will cook birds at 1000 feet, no wait a 100 feet.  A 1000W transducer must be had, along with twin 12" touch screen displays, and don't forget the weather module. Stereo, amp, speakers, sub woofer, and remote are needed, "because you must have tunes to fish", and don't overlook the under water lights, "gotta have them", and "I want the blue ones". 

We spend a few days grinding out the details, make the purchases, and I show up with a huge pile of boxes ready to go to work, and the the "Warts show up"  Up next, the T-top from hell, and the little anchor light that couldn't.

What it's about

The point of this blog is to relate my every day frustrations with trying to install a wide variety of marine electronics on boats of all sizes and types. It is hoped that boat builders will read these postings, have an epiphany, and make the small changes needed to make my life easier, and hence save some of my clients hard earned dollars. I am going to abide by the rule, that I will leave the offending boat builders names out of the blog, but you know who you are, and straighten up. I will also include tidbits of general boating interest, and bits of nautical fancy.

 If you have comments, agree, or disagree, I would love to get any constructive insight that is available.

As a last note, the vessel above is Doc and Jean Ehlers 44' Manta Power Cat. Doc and Jean have traveled over 10,000 miles using a full suite of Garmin gear including twin 5212's, 6' open array N2K Yanmar engine interfaces GDL30A weather module, GSD22 sounder module, and a portfolio of other systems.  
Bill Bishop - Parmain (By Hand) Boatworks

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