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?"