Sunday, December 27, 2015

Boating thuggery

Two fishing skiffs quietly idle up a canal in the dark. One stops at the entrance of the basin to watch while the other one goes in and docks. The occupant climbs out of the skiff and boards the boat next door sitting on a lift. The grainy short on detail CCTV system records from afar the gyrations involved in trying to steal a MFD from the boat, and it's not elegant. 

This heist was not exactly the work of intellectual giants from the criminal underground. If you knew how the two MFDs were installed a small pair of pliers, Phillips screw driver and maybe about ten minutes would have freed both displays. A screw driver or the ilk is wedged under the panel corner and it was pried away, slowly, painfully, and with great exertion. 

Eventually a couple of epoxied on bolts failed. A corner is lifted and grabbed with hands. Then with a mighty heave the panel snaps in half freeing one side and exposing the MFD. The resulting loud noise from snapping a 3/8' thick piece of acrylic dash panel no doubt resulted in a more expeditious effort to now successfully just get one chart plotter instead of two and the newly created desire to flee soonest.

Unfortunately the entire panel is destroyed, and lot of wiring was to delicately say, very rearranged. As discovered later wiring had been, slashed or just ripped apart. These morons weren't into finesse. They just thankfully dropped the cables off of the MFD, snatched it and fled. To answer the inevitable question that's now rattling around in your head. It's a no! The video wasn't good enough to identify the perps.

Like all things in life there was some good news, and some bad. The panel with the switches comes preassembled with a harness with some plugs at the end of it. This made the installation easier. 

A new MFD is installed, along with a new panel by the dealer. Switches are thrown, things turn on, pumps whir. MFD's light up, job done, almost. The dealer splashes the boat, the owner is onboard, and I'm there to check out the electronics.

The trip lasts all of about 20 minutes and then the bad news. Radar is out, the MFD's are at different software levels, not playing nicely with each other and are resetting. Down and side view sonar is no-op, and devices are missing from the network. It can't be fixed here and now, and back to the shop it goes where everyone stares at me expectantly.

I'll start with the challenges. I have no wiring diagrams for the boat or manuals, and I didn't install any of the equipment. What a less than surprising revelation all of this is to me.

I enjoy this type of puzzle though. It's intellectual masturbation at its best... as long as it's not 100 degrees, in direct tumor generating sunlight, at 98% humidity, with people watching you work while tapping their shoes.

The first step is to see if you can get a feel for the way the gear was installed in the first place, and the picture above provided a huge amount of information. If I was dictator, and ruling wisely I would have run the primary power cables for the stuff all in a neat stand alone bundle down to the fuse block. That didn't happen here. What happened is the two MFD power cables were shortened and connected together with the network switch power cable with yellow butt connectors. 

Why? I don't have a clue. The cables were all long enough originally to reach the fuse block that was about another 24 inches away. Three red power wires were jammed into a connector, and a single red wire went to the fuse block. The same thing happened with the black ground wires. The yellow "Power Control" wires (BTW this is a nice Simrad NSS evo2 system) is a story all by itself I'll chat about a bit later.

I now have an idea about what the original installer's thought processes were during the installation.

I have dead black boxes, and need to get them powered up. Out comes the wire cutter and tie wraps along with sticky gobs of black tape rain down inside the console.

The electronic's installation had lots of cheap black electrical tape used to secure wires much to my chagrin. The slimy black adhesive gets on your fingers and wiring. It then gets immediately redeposited on every white fiberglass surface in the neighborhood. If you have to use black electrical tape to wrap around the wire nuts you used, at least buy the good stuff.

One by one power cables are followed to see where they go. The multimeter tells me whether there is power joy, or not. For all but one red power and ground wire there is good news.

The suspect pair is chased down again in more detail and the ground wire had a butt connector midstream that had been pulled out apparently when the panel made its precipitous departure from the console.

The yellow "Power Control" wire scenarios have some pluses and some minuses. If it's powered separately it can be used to turn on devices, black boxes and MFD's. This was the installers approach. The plus is it can auto power up a MFD.

There is another approach I favor which is to tie each device's yellow wire to its corresponding red wire and power them from the same place. Got power? Everything turns on. No power? Nothing works. It's simple, much less complicated and provides redundancy. There was an electronics switch on the panel that provided yellow wire power, and during the robbery it had been pulled off, and the wire had been cut in two different places.

The installer had taken the yellow wire circuit on the "Great Loop" daisy chain tour of the console and embedded it in the wire harness using a plethora of tape and tie wraps. I chased down the breaks, repaired them and everything now turns on. I also made a convenient change and took the radar and tied its yellow to red removing it from the great loop. If the MFD has power, it will have radar.

So in the end you eat the bear one bite at a time. The real effort was in figuring out what went where in a very jammed full console. Start with power, and then move on to the nuance. Life is easier if you set the wires free enough at least to be able to follow them. If you don't do this type of a job in an organized fashion, well, the bear eats you.

The MFD's got a full software upgrade, master resets, and the basics configured. I'll help the owner customize the pages. The only blemish is why I couldn't get the waypoints and tracks I had saved back into the machine. I did it once during testing, but after the master resets something was different. I'll work on that Monday during a second sea trial.

Another discussion covered possible options to stop this from happening again. Better resolution cameras and much brighter lighting in the little marina are now being considered. It's very likely just a simple pressure mat switch connected to a loud alarm would have been enough to thwart these clowns. The security video  would have been more fun to watch if the idiot was frantically fleeing while a 150 DB piezo alarm was piercing his ears.


  1. "A screw driver or the ilk is wedged under the panel corner and it was pried away, slowly, painfully, and with great excretion." The great excretion part sounds messy...liquid or solid?

    1. Thanks Karl, that slid right past my eye, grammar and spell checker in a Freudian way no doubt.

  2. We use white rigging tape at my shop.... much cleaner.

  3. We use white rigging tape at my shop.... much cleaner.


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