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The Marine Installer's Rant

A blog about the things boat builders do that cost you money, and other eclectic newsy musings of interest to boaters

Updated: 2018-04-20T05:38:09.007-04:00


Speaker to magnets


It's exactly what it looks like, a field. A neutral place generally free of magnetic sources. I say this because there is no place on earth free of magnetic fields. We all live on a giant roundish rotating magnet. But in this empty field there isn't much. On our planet ambient background magnetic fields typically vary around 25 to 65 microTeslas. The extra microTeslas on you see on the meter are largely coming from power lines and other things around me. On the whole this isn't much and the local field is reading zero. However, a large green field isn't boat by any measure, and this is where we start.Here is a similar pic on an unrigged boat in a marina. The motors are hung. There is no power on. Like our empty field the magnetic fields are very low.Below is where everything starts to fall apart. This is a very similar boat except it's now fully rigged and the power is not yet turned on. I'm standing at the same location as the picture above and already there is a local field of 21. Not good at all if autopilot and its associated compass have to be installed on the boat, and it does... hopefully.On this center console boat it's the speakers that are the primary problem and the console interior is the only pragmatic mounting location for the compass. It's actually worse. Inside the console are the batteries, power steering assist pump, assorted water pumps, two stereo amplifiers, two MFDs, an assortment of black boxes all jammed in a small space. There are rules of thumb for your autopilot compass location, although they vary somewhat by manufacturer. You should keep your high tech compass about two feet away from the old school compass you have mounted in the vicinity of your helm. You do have one, don't you? They also want you to have it in the center of the boat at the waterline. And lastly you should keep it six feet away from ferrous metals and magnetic fields. On occasion, I have been able to follow the rules, but in most cases not so much. Something almost always has to give, but you can't give too much.Magnetic fields can't be shielded in the sense most of us think of the term. They pass right through lead, 3M 5200, fiberglass walls and everything else. Their fields however can be managed and redirected. When shipping magnets they are packed with their polarities opposing each other. Keeper bars help as well. Materials like Mu-Metal provide a path for the magnetic fields to travel through mostly constraining them. But in all cases some leaks out, it's just a matter of how much. Magnetic fields, like antennas create lobe patterns that have directional characteristics. Take a meter and rotate a bar magnet in front of it and note the strength changes. This was my first pass at installing the Simrad Precision 9 compass on this boat. I've installed dozens of them on others and to a unit all worked perfectly out of the box, except this one. It was my fault. The location looked good, and it was on the opposite side of the console that had the big sub woofer installed. It was also out-of-the-way meaning it wouldn't get stepped on.My mistake was I didn't turn the power on and start the engines (power steering pump in the hood) when I used my Gemeco meter to scout the location. I ended up with a local field of 22, and the Precision 9 compass wanted 15 or less. Sometimes if it's edgy you can put in an offset to correct but my sea trial test and setup clearly showed me it wasn't nearly good enough for gummit work and would be unsafe.It's an oxymoron thing. When engines and power were turned on, and the stereo was thumping the final location was on the opposite side of the console even closer to the sub woofer, and I ended up with a local field of 9. I can live with that. I wish I had camera like NASA has to see magnetic fields. It would save me a lot of time, and would make my job much cooler.Credit where credit is due:Wikipedia ring magnet field diagram by user Geek3.Gemeco's iNstall app was used for measurements and screen captures.[...]

Jolting and Fleece


Can boat batteries shock you? The answer is yes and I can in an empirical way say this is the truth. The way you can test this is on a stinking hot humid day in Florida whilst in the bowels of the boat sweating like a pig have your wet arm come in contact with the positive and negative battery terminals. Will this kill you? No! Will  the shock hurt you? Not really. But in a cramped and confined hot space can it startle you causing your head to jerk up smacking the underside of the deck and let the wrench in your hand at the same time bridge the terminals causing notable arcy sparky stuff to briefly happen? Yep I know from personal experience this is very possible, and if there was hydrogen sulfide gas leaking from the batteries at the same time there might be a kaboom.BTW the legal department on the fourth floor reminds me to tell everyone to not try to invent or test ways to have large batteries shock you. If you're going to try this anyway at least make sure you video it and use the revenue to help pay the medical bills. Although the voltage is low the amount of  the stored energy is large and the law of unintended circumstances can raise it's ugly head.To be honest I don't like to deal with batteries at all. They're heavy, bulky, almost always in awkward and at times nearly inaccessible locations.In this particular case the charger  in  a new boat has failed and needs to be repaired, ahem, replaced. I think it never worked in the first place. This was made worse because it was one of the first devices connected to the batteries and the wiring was tie wrapped to large battery cables laying in between the battery boxes. But I have a flexible tool that takes some sting out of doing this job and it makes it safer.These fleece blankets cost about $5 everywhere. If you don't want to make the investment then on your next flight you can whine at the flight attendant you're cold, and they will give you one. It's a cheaper version of the $5 one at Wallymart. I just stole mine from the Greyhound girl's big basket of winter blankets. I chose the safety orange colored one.The blanket is folded in half twice (4 layers) and it makes laying on top of the front batteries to get to the back batteries much more comfortable.  All  these pointy things aren't poking as badly into me. Fold it twice more and you have a good knee pad.Even better when you're in a cramped place you can safely set your tools on it. In my case there is a bulkhead on each side of me and I would have to keep the tools behind me making them a P in the A to get at.Since this is kinda a sorta safety first thing here I have some additional advice on dealing with batteries.1. Turn off all the batteries switches first.2. Use a tie wrap to bundle all of a terminal's leads together. This stops a critical wire from falling into the cracks and being overlooked when you reinstall  them.3. Remove the negative terminal wires first, and then the positive wires.4. Since the wires are off this is a good time to check water levels if need be, the date on the battery, and clean any corroded terminals and connectors. This is also the time to take a pic of the battery label so when it inevitably fails you know exactly what type and brand it is. You might as well check any fuses too. It would be comforting to know if the automatic bilge pump fuses are still good.5. If you're replacing old batteries have some rubber gloves and rags to clean up any spills and to protect you hands  from the nasty stuff that's in batteries. Wipe out the inside of the battery cases at the same time.6. Reattach wiring starting with the positive terminal first. Make sure the nuts are good and tight.7. If possible do this on nice cool fall day. August in Florida wasn't the optimum day. [...]



It never ceases to amaze me why people supposedly skilled in the art of building boats can do such stupid things. It could be in their minds it seemed to be a good idea at the time, or perhaps it's the delusion that their work is so good that it will never need to be touched again. So off we go on a modest photo essay of things I see that just drives me nuts. Our first case is corrosion protection.I don't know what all this goo really is but the boat builder no doubt had 55 gallon drums full of this stuff by the way they smeared it on. In the picture it looks like silicon, but it's not. It's just as gooey and slimy as  the day it was applied. I had to have paper towels to wipe off the probes from my voltmeter while checking a circuit for power. I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. A light spray of Boeshield T9 would have done the trick faster and better.Cut hole, check. Stick gasket in place, check. Put MFD in hole, check. Screw the MFD in from the front, check. Attach bezel, check. Go behind the MFD and seal it completely with 3M 4200 or the ilk, why?This was unnecessary. I have to remove it. If it hadn't been glued in place it would have been five minutes to drop the cables and replace it with the new oneInstead it became a 45 minute battle to extract it resulting in damage to the case in the process. I  cut as much of the goo as I could get to with a utility knife but the installer was meticulous in ensuring it was thoroughly sealed.Despite the fact that the console was only a quarter of an inch thick the goo was one half of an inch thick in the places it was hard to get to, like the top of the unit where I couldn't get the utility knife in to cut it.So what was wrong with the gasket? Nothing other than the layer of spooge copiously smeared on top of it. Nothing at all. What was this moron thinking? All things break someday and typically sooner than later when it will have to be removed.This is the last WTF moment for today. This picture is from a high latitude yacht. To translate this into americanized English for everyone this means it was designed to cruise in cold climates and hence is heavily insulated with spray foam everywhere. Instead of  investing a few bucks in conduit almost all of the primary wiring was foamed in place. This guaranteed the wiring could never be replaced, and even worse it makes it nearly impossible to pull new wiring in. The yacht is going through a substantial upgrade and the largest single cost is the time it takes to get new wiring from A to B all caused by saving a few bucks on  conduit. Progress on some pulls is measured in inches per hour. WTFYeah I know it's been a while, and I'm sorry about it. Without going into the details life and work became extraordinarily complicated, distracting and very time consuming to say the least. Things have now calmed down to near its "Abby Normal" state and posts and life are resuming. Boy is there a backlog of stuff to talk about. [...]

Template tempest


Rule number one: When you buy a four-foot open array radar, it ain't four feet. It's something else and it's almost always longer. In sum, it didn't fit where it was supposed to go. This led to some interesting gyrations to find a solution. A number of problems had to be solved. The first was how to do some careful measuring of curved in space and time radar arch surfaces that were not perfectly symmetrical as you would expect of any hand made product. And who would be surprised to find out nothing on a boat is square and true? The second issue was measuring the swing of the radar array, and the third problem was the design of a cantilevered ledge to mount the radar on. But in the end the lesson here is that there is almost always a way to solve a problem. Oops did I just hedge my statement a bit?So how did this all happen in the first place? The answer is it wasn't all that hard. Two antique radars were being replaced with two new ones and had been purchased along with a ton of other electronics as part of a major upgrade. The new 6' Fantom radar fit where the old one was, but the 4' Fantom array missed by a few wee inches.So to do the measuring we need some tools. The radar's template was accurate, but it didn't include the center point of the array's rotation. With the radar sitting square and straight on its template I used an ancient device that the pyramid builders used called a "Plumb Bob". Don't ask. I don't know who Bob was or why they named it after him.The array end is slightly curved but squarish. I used the plumb bob to plot the curve of the leading edge of array as it turned. I marked the curve in about five degree increments using one of the several compass on my phone.Now for the arch surfaces. I needed to know where they started and stopped and where the flat portions were located. I'm going to through bolt a platform that is going to be cantilevered off the bottom side of the arch. I also want the bolts to be as far apart as possible and still be on the flat surfaces. A square told me where the ends of the curvaceous surfaces were and a straight edge let me define the start and stopping points of the flat surfaces.There is an access hatch under the arch that also figures into the big picture, so I need to know where that is. When a surveyor does a survey they have to have a starting point. In other words you have to say "This is here"and everything else is referenced from "This is here".The opening of the access hatch is measured and a longitudinal center line is established.All of this is being done on the upper deck of the vessel. The material of choice is poster board taped together. If you blow the pic up, you can see all of my cryptic notes. How far do the cables stick out the back of the radar? Where does the arch start and stop? Where is the center line? What distance away does the radar have to be cantilevered out to be to let the array clear the structure as it turns? Lastly despite the fact that I measured carefully I needed to have some safety margin built in. I only have one shot at this on the owner's dime. If I screwed up, the error would cost me my dimes.The final frontier of this exercise is the space ship Enterprise shaped template of the platform. It will through bolt on each side of the access hatch. Everything clears and I have some modest safety margins built in. The moment load is about 125 lbs and I'm comfortable the arch will hold it. It is going to be milled out of 1/2" aluminum and I'm removing some material under the radar pedestal to get rid of some weight. The machine shop drilled the mounting holes and put a drain hole in the depression. I snagged it and took it out for coating. It's cleaned, gets an epoxy primer and then was powder coated in white.The final result looks really nice. It has a factory appearance and array cleared by 2" the structure behind it. The two plates (wrapped in plastic) job is to spread the bolt loading on the arch over a larger [...]

Navpods and goo


Sometimes things in my truck look like garbage and there usually is some there. But often it's part of my tool kit. No it's not as pretty as my micrometer or as fancy as some of my electrical measurement gear is but nevertheless it does a great job of getting rid of goo. This plain piece of 1/4" acrylic is the remainder of a VHF radio install using a new plate that covered the much bigger hole from a older deceased unit. I have several similar pieces like this floating around in the bowels of the truck.In the boating world there are two types of goo. Those that can be removed with the aid of solvents, and all the others. The others are what this unimposing piece of plastic is good for. I've pulled out a VDO chart plotter. I had never seen one before but they did exist at least in the past, and this one was long overdue for replacement. The new unit is a Garmin 7612 MFD and because of space issues I'm installing it in a PYI Seaview Power Pod. But I have to get rid of the goo first.In most cases goo has been applied to a fiberglass or painted surfaces. You can't use razor blades, or metal tools because of the potential for surface damage.Left over acrylic pieces with sharp edges work a treat. It's tough enough it doesn't dull quickly. This same material is familiar to those who live in northern climes. Acrylic is used to make many ice scrapers. Chunks like I'm using also inherently come in a variety of shapes to help get into tight places. I have some pieces I have snapped off that have close to razor sharp edges. These won't hurt most boaty surfaces as long as you don't get roid raged with them. This doesn't get rid of all of the  goo, but what's left after a good scraping can typically be abraded off with some paper towels and elbow grease. The old VDO unit was added at some point in the past, and was not the most elegant piece of work I have ever seen by a long shot. The helm structure is aluminum and painted white. A hole was hacked out for the new chart plotter. A new 1/8' aluminum plate was machined and also painted white. The plate was then glued down using prodigious quantities of something that looks like liquid tire. The VDO unit was glued down with the same goo.It looked cheesy to say the least. White was everywhere and apparently this installer couldn't find any white sealant to match. To top it off this was a tenacious and sturdy material requiring real tools including a hammer to cause more than just separation anxiety.Here is the shiny new white acrylic cover plate. It's 3/8" thick, and just slightly over sized relative to the original plate. It's thicker than my usual plates because it has to take the load of the new Power Pod. I've also left a 1/8" more or less gap between the other devices to make it easier to do some paint touch up repairs to the adjacent instrument panel.Seaview's Power Pod was the perfect fit for this application. I don't have the space to do a bail or flush mount mount and needed the movement flexibility to allow for adjustment. There are three major parts. The base, housing, and  front cover. You get all fasteners, base gasket and a special screwdriver I'll come back to later.I made a little GIF up from photo's on  Seaview's website to show you the range of motion. At this helm the captain can quickly adjust the MFD orientation to suit whether seated or standing.Before I get into the install these pods were originally shipped with the base partially disassembled, and the instructions reflected this. Somewhere along the line they started to ship them with the base assembled. The instructions didn't change and at first it can be a bit confusing. If you run into this scenario just start at the last step and go backwards. Seaview is in the process of revising the instructions and the device isn't that complex. There are two other pieces of nuance to pay attention to. The first one is don't lose the screwdriver[...]

The apoplectic wire pull


The DirecTV receiver failed. It was one of two on the boat. It was connected to a ten year old KVH satellite dome that was always on. Here is the catch. The existing receivers are legacy receivers and are no longer available. The newer SWM (Single Wire Multi-switch) technology receivers are available everywhere but not compatible with the existing dome. In theory you can add a powered Multi-switch to get around this. Given the age of all of the gear coupled with the mess behind the entertainment center with miles of unlabeled white coax cable it was decided to start anew. It seemed so simple at the time and then promptly went to hell in a hand basket when I tried to pull the new wiring.The KVH system was a factory installed and had a special mount fabricated for it. The hardtop was prefabricated and wired. The top layer is the bottom of the hard top. At the factory installing the hard top was simple. The wiring coming up from the boat's interior passed through a largish hole in the bottom layer, then was fished through a hole in the center layer where they were terminated with connectors.Piece of cake. A overhead crane picked up the hard top and hovered it over the boat. Someone plugged everything in. The hardtop was lowered in place and secured. Easy peasy except for three small problems. First is the center layer hole was now inaccessible for all time. The second one is all of the wiring that entered into the boat was tied into one huge bundle. Finally they used black electrical tape. This will make more sense in a minute.The old dome was removed from the boat kicking and screaming. Everything was corroded from the coax connectors to the bolts holding it it place. Reason failed, force prevailed and off it eventually came. The new dome is a KVH TV-Hub system. I only have to pull one wee coax cable to the entertainment systems. I look up inside the hardtop and by golly there is a conduit going down. How unusual is that? In ten minutes the cable is hanging out of the access plate between the top and middle layers.At the other end the access plate is between the middle and lower layers. I can see the wires at each end. I pause and realize there is a hole in the middle layer I can't see, and worse I can't reach from either end. The three wires from the original KVH install are there. I disconnected the original coax cable from the hard top and attach the new cable to it.  I try to pull it through. Zip happens. I go back to the other end and look more closely. The coax cable has been taped to the other two gray KVH wires (power and data). Sigh, I lop off their connectors and eventually after donating some DNA to the boat I painful moved my coax cable with the other two wires four feet to the other access hole. There was black tape every six inches assuring these cables are connected for life.The hole entering the boat from the lower level is packed full. Twenty minutes of trying to get my wire fish through is to no avail. Okay, let's try plan B. I cut the two gray wires as short as I can.Down below I disconnect enough wiring so I can pull out the panel holding the receivers. This lets me lay on my back and slither into this small space and have one arm free to use. I can see the three wires where they leave the big bundle. I'm able to just grab one of the two gray wires and pull it really hard. It was a measure of my frustration at the time. Slowly it slipped through all of the gooey back tape and fell through. The second gray wire came out easier.I go back up to the top, tape the coax connectors to smooth them out and lube up the bundle with dish washing liquid. Back down below I crawl back into the hole and start to pull on the coax cable. It moves and stops. At this point I don't care. I give it a huge jerk and it pops free. You can see in the pic where it exited from the big tie wrapped bundle.Total time to pull a single wire about eight feet. A mere 12 hours of gyration[...]

Raymarine secret tech revealed.


I am often bemused by things I see on TV especially funky boating related content. Louis C.K. showed a photo he took of his chart plotter on some late night TV show talking about when he grounded his boat. It was from a classic E120 Ray system and I quickly was able to see the the safety contour was still set at the factory default of 66'. What this meant was all of the water that is less than 65' deep was all the same dark blue color on the chart. Set it to 7' and all water that is dark blue is.... you guessed it, is 6' or less, maybe much less so pay attention. Turquoise colored water is then 6' to 12', and white water is deeper than 12'. I sent Louis an email with instructions on how to set up his E120 better. I suspect he was too embarrassed to respond back to me.

So it bugs me that apparently Hollywood and TV professionals seem to know little or nothing about boats other than there should be women in bikinis aboard. The set up is simple. The shrewd NCIS New Orleans personnel suspect the boat they are on took a trip and a murder happened. The first antics not included in the little video clip was having the actor look at the waypoint list to figure out where the boat went. How could that be determined? Well in an abstract sort of way waypoint data does have a time stamp showing when it was created, but not used. The actor then decides to use Raymarine's top secret new "Back Trak 3D(™)" technology you will see for the very first time. Look out track points, you're a thing of the past. You're history, passé, old school and devoid of high tech 3D computer graphics.

The sad thing from the producer's viewpoint should be all the wasted money spent on pasting in a cheesy CAD model and zooming in on it when the track points could have been used for free and would have been realistic. I didn't buy the alternative "Back Trak" thing, but maybe it's real? Producers, got questions about real boaty stuff? Send me an email.

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The Electric Chair


I'm fairly sure this is R2D2's great grandfather and the image is iconic. It's circa about 1995. For those that are math challenged this is about 22 years ago. But this is really about the chair, or in this case two helm chairs. The chairs are beautiful and at the time most likely the best money could buy. Everything electrically adjusts. Headrests, position on the rails, and you name it is controlled by a panel of buttons on the side. Overall very cool if the electrical and mechanical stuff still worked. One sort of does, and the other not so much at all.Very little documentation about these chairs still exist. After combing through the ship's papers and manuals I have a brochure, an unreadable wiring diagram, and parts list for things I can no longer purchase. Online is no help either. Time has marched passed these elaborate chairs.Here is the second problem. The yacht is getting new teak flooring. Yep real teak, not some type of veneered plywood. So what do we do with the helm chairs?The options are to rip the old chairs out and buy new, or use the existing chairs somehow, someway and still be able to replace them downstream. They still look nice. The later option is chosen, but this is not without challenges.There are three subsystems to the chair. There is the rail system and the stainless steel platform that rides on it. A base that consists of a really heavy, or so my back informs me hydraulic cylinder with a foot pump that still work well, and the chair itself with a 10 switch panel for the motors with worm gears that adjust everything.The chair you're looking at above was electromechanically in a bad way. This started with a power on switch that doesn't, and hasn't been made in many yahrens. Goal one is to get the chairs into a location where they can be fixed in place for all time.This required a little forensic analysis. There is no documentation on how it works so the place to start is to take it apart. Stubborn fasteners get removed, the chair is laid down and huffed off of the base which then lifts off.It seems simple, but there are other things not so obvious like where does the power come from? This is an important question because I want to disconnect it completely and safe the electrical system. The mechanics of the thing is straightforward. There is a DC motor in the center attached to a worm drive gear with a sprocket. A chain drives a shaft from its center which in turn has sprockets at the ends. The side belts have cogs on their underside and pulls the platform to and fro. But where the heck is the power coming from? If you blow the above pic up you can see what looks like at best about 14 gauge red and black wires going over to the sides of the platform and they're attached to two very small boxes. The wires didn't look big enough to supply the entire chair and the little boxes looked like limit switches. It turns out I was wrong.I took a closer look at what I thought was a limit switch and there was a small button on the side of it. What else was I supposed to do? It was almost like it was saying push me, I dare you, and I did. The assembly you see popped up.It was a carbon brush and spring like you would find in a DC motor. Who'da thunk. The brush rides on a shaft that you functionally can't see on the underside of the rail and feeds power. Clever but too Machiavellian for my taste.Most of the mystery's of the chair have now been divined. The next step is where to position them. I get the captain and place him the helm chair. The seat is jockeyed around until he can stand in front of the helm, stand and use the seat as a leaning post and sit in it and still use the helm (in this scenario your feet work best using the spokes). The side chair is also positioned but a little further aft for easier access.Out comes my drill and holes are painfully punched in the SS st[...]

Wiring fuax pas


A couple of wires got swapped around during a new gear install and the subsequent damage was north of $7000. You had to look closely at the wiring to see what went wrong. This is the terminal block inside a Garmin GSD26 CHIRP sounder module, and the wiring is coming from an Airmar 2kW/3kW r109LH CHIRP transducer. This costly error was made when it was installed and resulted in the failure of two sounder modules, and a very expensive transducer.In dual frequency CHIRP transducers, there are two sets of transducers. One for high frequencies, and one for low. In the case of the R109LH transducer, there is a bank of 15 low frequency elements, and one large high frequency element.When the transducer is connected to a CHIRP sounder module two separate transducers are being connected. The blue and its associated black wire is connected to the high frequency terminal block you see on the right side. The low frequency wires, blue/white, and its black wire are for the low frequency side connected on the left side. You can see from the photo, and my annotation this did not happen correctly. They were inadvertently swapped.I first saw the boat when the owner contacted me about the sounder module not working. This is a working boat used for fishing charters. The boat was new to them, and was bought elsewhere. At the time of purchase the owner wanted a Garmin CHIRP fish finder, and the subsequent system was built around the GSD 26, and the Airmar R109LH transducer.I stopped by and looked at the GSD 26, and there is zero doubt about the lack of functionality. The owner was really upset. The dialog started with how disappointed they had been with the system's performance, and they should have bought another fish finder brand instead. Bad dock gossip is never good for any brand of marine electronics.I had a spare GSD 26 set aside for use as an emergency replacement for fishing tournament and working charter boats. Until now it has never been needed.I leave the boat, pick up the new loaner sounder module, return and get ready to uninstall the non-op module, and that's when I saw the wiring. I leave the boat again to get my good camera and took the picture you see. The old module is then pulled, the new module is installed and I fired the system up.I was very concerned, but everything initially seemed okay dockside. I played with the system for a while. It appeared to be operating fine, at least as well as I could tell in shallow water dockside and I'm very relieved. It appears the transducer may not have been damaged. The boat goes back to work. I talked to the owner at the end of the day, and there was a vast improvement in the operation of the system, but there was still the lingering shadow of a doubt it wasn't quite as good as they were hoping for. Then a few days later the phone rings, and now there is a problem. The high frequency side of the GSD26 system has stopped working completely.  It's now time for some modest conjecture about what has happened here. No one to my knowledge has dealt with this wire swap transducer problem at these higher power levels and the potential consequences are not well understood. We however can make some observations, The first one is empirical. The sounder module was not happy with having the high and low frequency wiring swamped. It performed poorly, and  in a short period of time failed outright. It's my understanding that the low frequency elements of the transducer would not be as prone to damage, but the high frequency elements are very likely to suffer in this scenario.My guess is that after GSD 26 loaner module was installed, the already damaged high frequency transducer element failed completely, taking the loaner GSD 26 to Davy Jones Locker with it. So in sum the original GSD 26 failed al[...]

Captain Ralph's logs. The life of a delivery captain.


The life of a boat delivery captain is more often than not a easy or glamorous job. They can delivery new boats, not so new boats, and boats they wished they never stepped on the deck of. My friend Ralph has been doing this for a long time and as a consequence he has learned bad stuff on boats can and will happen on occasion. Engines crap out always at the worst times. They can also on occasion catch fire or sink. Navigation electronics and autopilots fail when you need them the most and the weather always has to be accommodated. The list of stuff that inconveniently breaks on a boat is almost endless. As a matter of fact it's a rare boat that everything on it is actually working. Ralph has to know the basics of almost every navigation system ever made, and he's a decent a 101 engine mechanic under duress.

As you can imagine over some metaphorical beers Whiskey Tango Foxtrot boat escapades flow right out of him. Ralph keeps a daily log of his trips, and through his eyes you are going to read his trip logs here on the Rant and the first one is fraught with problems. Did you know you can deliver a large boat on the water almost all the way to Tulsa Oklahoma? I didn't, and at times during this trip Ralph wishes he didn't either. Along the way Ralph adds in some some "Fun Facts" and comments about where he is.

The first log details a trip from St Petersburg FL to Muskogee Oklahoma via the Mississippi in a 65' power yacht. At a minimum this should dissuade anyone who has contemplated a nostalgic pleasure boat trip up the Mississippi river that it's not a good idea.

The second one coming up is a trip to Cuba which will be of interest if you're planning to travel there. Other trips will follow. These are Ralph's words and photos. I have redacted some names and phone numbers from the logs and I added a little punctuation for clarity in a few places. Other than that I have left it alone. You will find the link to these expeditions in the sidebar to the right below Panbo titled Captain Ralph's logs and adventures. These are good reads, and in some cases cautionary tales.

Getting Skooled


It's time to get tutored again by Garmin to keep my certification valid. The last time was in Ft Lauderdale a couple of years ago. This required getting up at 3 am to get my sorry ass to Lauderdale by 8 am. The 4 hour drive return trip wasn't any more fun either. This time fortunately training was in Tampa so I only had to get up at the crack of dark and drive an hour. The format this time was very different, and much improved.In Ft Lauderdale there was a large room with tables and a huge three ring binder jammed full. You sat, the speakers changed and the day went on. This time we did the moving. The massive binder was gone and thumb drive had taken its place. The day started with everyone in a large room with a welcome and outline of the day. On the back of my "Hi, I'm Bill" badge was my schedule. The day was divided up into break out sessions that were one hour fifteen minutes long with about a dozen in each session and six of them filled the day.What was different was the amount of hands on involved. As an example in the CZone session above you worked with real systems. In the session on networking you experienced a unstable marine network and why it was cranky. This was much better than staring at Power Point presentations all day long.In the autopilot session the instructor did an impressive simulation of an autopilot calibration sequence which I suspect had taken some real practice to pull off. By hand the Reactor black box was rotated 1 and 1/2 turns, and the system said, my compass is linearized. For the sea trial he used his hand to rotate the Reactor left and right simulating the boats motion and pulled off a successful calibration. This was true slight of the hand work. I can't aver you could do this every time and pull off a good calibration, but he did it in front of me.So did I learn anything? The answer is yes. Although I already knew a lot, the complexity and capabilities of these systems has dramatically increased over just a few years and it takes a real effort to keep up. Now add in Navico, Furuno, and Raymarine and it becomes very challenging to stay current.Beyond the nuance of things like steer by wire autopilot integration I acquire two small tidbits I was tickled with.The first one is I can now load in PDF documents into the newer Garmin systems. For example for a fishing boat I can add the local fishing regulations. For cruisers it could be manuals for critical equipment or safety related materials.I also thought it would be a good idea to include installer notes on where I buried black boxes, NMEA connections and other related items. Photo's with circles and arrows with a paragraph on the black could also be added to help the next guy downstream, and myself if a lot of time has gone by."Hi I'm Bob, you worked on my boat about four years ago and I have a problem. Do you remember me?" "Hmm, I'm not sure Bob, is your boat white?" "Yes Bill that's me. " Sorry Bob, I don't remember, they're all white. I need a little more info."The other cool thing is I can change the splash screens. I can add dealer logos, boat names, or any JPEG picture and or text the owner would want. The are some rules like matching the resolution to the MFD but it's straight forward.Can the customer do this and load PDF's? The answer is no. It requires knowing where the secret buttons are to access all of the special diagnostic menus. A wrong move here could do real damage to the system and we all had to do a blood oath to get the info. Well maybe that didn't really happen but the Gods at the Garmin mother ship wouldn't be happy with me if I disclosed this info, and your local Garmin tech would be pleased to help you with these things.Good job Garmin. The training format was terrific and the in[...]

Screen scenes day


What do you mean your chart plotter is growing ferns and has bugs in it? Are you serious? You really are? Okay I'll come over and take a look. One of the interesting things about this job is trying to translate what people tell you about a problem into something useful you can use. More often than not it's collection of vague recollections. It's acting up, it doesn't seem right, there was a message on the screen but I don't remember it, my sonar isn't working. The end result is my verbal interrogation skills have to kick in. I sit them down in a metaphorical chair, shine a bright spotlight in their face and sweat some additional meager tidbits out of them. "So Bob what do you mean your sonar is broken? What did you do to it? You'll feel better if you get it off your chest, tell me the truth Bob. Did you push the wrong button? You say you did nothing? Do you have any witnesses? No? This isn't looking too good for you Bob. I think you better call your tech. You're going to need representation, and repair money.I get it. It can be difficult. It's like telling your mechanic you car won't start. He then thinks to himself there are a zillion reasons why this could be happening. It can be even worse. A owner tells the dealer something is wrong. It's already fuzzy enough now, and then the dealer calls me and makes it even fuzzier. Hi Bill, something is broke on Bob's boat, can you go over and fix it? Hell I don't know Bill, it's something to do with the electronics, just go fix it. In this case when I was told there were ferns and bugs in his chart plotter I'm not sure I could have done a better job of describing it. I just gawked at it for a moment trying desperately to think of something to say that sounded real smart. Failing miserably at this I just blurted "It's broke and it won't grow back."So what has really happened? Beats the crap out of me, but this won't stop me from speculating. This is a Raymarine RL 80C MFD circa 2002 with a Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD display that needs all kinds of mystical dark arts to manufacture. Although many are still working, most have ended up in a paupers grave. Often this a unmarked dumpster somewhere behind a shopping center. If you blow the image up in the lower left hand corner it looks like there was an impact. You can see a star pattern radiating away from it. This may have caused a delamination that was the starting point of the problem. The ferns I think are possibly a chemical reaction that is propagating inside the layers of the display. It has a very fractal feel to it. It's dead like Elvis, can't be fixed, and is slated for replacement. It was really cool and alien looking however.In the same marina five boats away on the very same day there turns out be another screen problem. The reported problem, like many is also infused with obfuscation. The MFD is acting up. Unlike most jobs, I have a little history to work with here.The MFD was installed by the boat builder. The console wasn't exactly a precision piece of work. When the MFD was set in the console it rocked a bit. This was fixed by screwing it down plenty hard until it fit flush and looked good.Shortly after the boat was delivered the display started to delaminate. There was no ambiguity about the problem or its cause. A new MFD was installed by the dealer and this time carefully installed but now has some issues. My first guess is the two MFD's have different software versions and I'm armed with the latest software. When I look though the software is current, but the new display seems to have a touch screen problem. Sometimes it seems to work, and others not so much. I used twisty knobs and the ilk to navigate around. I re-calibrate the touch screen and no joy. I call tech[...]

Presidential boating, a reprised post with a note


I assiduously avoid politics on the The Rant, and I'm not changing this stance now. Even being careful a story that is patently fictional to the point it even includes characters such as zombies or aliens, can on occasion incur the wrath of those that somehow can't tell the difference. I made the little cartoon just before the election in 2012 and it was crafted so no one was a winner or loser. This year is different and all of us will have been the losers in this process no matter who wins, but the biggest loser of all is public civility and rational discussion. Go vote tomorrow for anyone you want and on Wednesday we will all collectively be grateful the political ads will have disappeared from our TV. The story below is exactly as it originally appeared in 2012. Bill

After doing some research, most modern presidents have generally eschewed recreational boating. When you see them on a boat, it's generally for a photo op, or a day trip on a friends yacht. The notable exceptions are Jack Kennedy who was by all measures an enthusiastic boater, George Bush Sr. who has, and uses a center console fishing boat, and Herbert Hover who was avid fisherman. Although Jimmy Carter was a graduate of the Naval  Academy, and a submariner, his boating presidency is marked by the selling of the Sequoia, and the infamous rabbit incident.

Let's put President Obama, and Governor Romney in a debate setting, and have them talk about boats. In this case Governor Romney owns at least a 29' Searay bowrider, a small Boston Whaler, ski boat, and a couple PWC's that are kept at his vacation home in New Hampshire. It is not believed that President Obama has a boat. They both do support boating, in their own ways.

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Quit whining damn you!


It's a problem that I'm seeing more often. In this case it's problem I could improve, but not fix completely. I should rephrase this. It can be completely fixed but the costs are exorbitant and no one is willing to pay for it. Fingers point in all directions. The builder will say I didn't install it so it's not my fault. The dealer will say I installed it, but the builders design is the problem. The owner says "Why me? It's not my monkey, not my circus. Just fix the damn thing."It's not an earth shaking problem by any means, but is a portent of what's to come. I'll save everyone the suspense, the stereo speakers have a whining sound. This similar to the noise those of a certain age will recognize as being like alternator noise sometime found in car stereos of the past.In this case the noise is coming from a Mercury Verado steering pump. You can hear it spool up on the stereo speakers it and persists in a high pitch whiny way.The problem most likely is, gird your loins for really big words now, "Electromagnetic Interference by Induction." Okay it's a mouthful but not really that complicated, and by design boat builders need to start paying more attention to this sooner than later. Just for the record this interference problem could also be caused in part or exacerbated by a "Ground Loop" but since there is only one grounding block on the boat I don't think this is the problem. If you go back a decade or two or so boats were electrically simple. DC and AC circuits, NMEA 0183, SSB, VHF and stereos round out the collection. Boats are increasingly using a myriad of communication technologies. Wireless remotes, Ethernet networks, NMEA 2000, CAN bus, WiFi, ANT, Bluetooth, cellular, and these are the common ones new boats can have. Now add sat comm systems,  power distribution, embedded computers and the list just keeps going on.The picture above illustrates the basic problem my stereo has, and one that most boats suffer from to varying degrees. In the picture what's in that wire bundle going to the upper helm? Everything! From DC and AC power wiring to communication cabling all in close proximity. This brings up the problem of induction. Any wire that carries a current creates an electrical field around it. Remember as a kid you learned that you could wrap a bunch of coils of wire around a nail, add a battery and make an electromagnet? So in a big bundle of power wires these fields can interact with each other. On a boat these aren't typically huge fields, but things happening on one wire can impact another one right next to it.Okay, back to my stereo's whining problem. The speaker wires all have to pass through a rubber cable boot in the console along along with everything else with it. The speaker wires are picking up the whine from the adjacent power wires and the speakers play it. The speaker wires had been tie wrapped to a large power bundle and followed them for three feet to the boot. I relocated them away from these wires and the whining almost all went away. What I couldn't do was shield the wires where they passed through the boot with everything else and there was no other way to route the wires.Sure, I could have cut a zillion tie wraps. Back pulled the speaker wiring. Bought specially shielded speaker wire online. Pulled in the new wiring and likely the problem would go away completely with a hefty cost that no one would be willing to pay but that's not the point. The real point of this piece is to opine that boat wiring systems need to designed in a more structured way, separating out and away the wiring pulls for low voltage wiring and communications. It's a testament to the quality of marine cabling, and its shielding t[...]

Installing the Simrad SGO5 steer by wire autopilot and playing with the Sea Station.


Most of my autopilot installs I just grind out. Do the plumbing and contain the oily mess. Punch holes in the dash for control displays. Add NMEA network pieces, hang black boxes, and connect a bunch of wires. At the end of the job I smell like I've showered in hydraulic fluid, and dried off with a sweat soaked rag. It's very close to the truth. This autopilot system install is different, and different is good. No plumbing, no greasy fluids, few parts and it was easy-ish. This boat also has some very new Sea Star tech I had the opportunity to play with and really liked.This is a new center console boat with a nice factory installed Simrad system. Twin 16" NSS displays, CHIRP sonar and Halo radar. The boat is also equipped with a SeaStar Optimus 360 joystick steering system, and hence why we need a steer by wire autopilot.To do this install we only need two major pieces. The first is the Simrad SG05 you see above. There are several flavors of this unit seen above with the primary difference being cabling and interfacing for other steer by wire systems like Volvo's EVC/IPS and others..The other important part is we need a compass, and in this case it's the new Simrad Precision 9. It's simple to mount, and even easier to adjust. There is just one cable that connects it to the NMEA 2000 network.Before we get started take a look at the diagram. The SG05 is a gateway that translates NMEA 2000 into CANbus that the Optimus system understands. NMEA in, CANbus out and vice versa. So one cable (SimNet) goes to the NMEA 2000 network, and the other (the permanently installed one) goes to the CANbus network. Don't mix these two up.We are also using the NSS display in place of an autopilot head. This saves another hole in the dash and the cost of the autopilot stand alone control head.It's not in the installation instructions, but is covered in a Navico service bulletin. We have to isolate the power to the Optimus system. In other words we can't let the N2K network power connect to the Optimus CANbus system. A small inline isolator takes care of this. I made sure you can read the Simrad part number for the little thingy.The connections are very simple. The SG05 connects to the NMEA 2000 network with a SimNet to device net (regular N2K tee) cable. The permanently installed cable connects to the Optimus CANbus network. In my case I pulled a termination resistor and moved it to what will be the end of the network. The photo shows the result. Add tie wraps and the physical installation is done. My elapsed time is about four hours and it's time to set it up on the briny.Set up is generally straight forward. You start by calibrating the compass. Look to the left at the vertical sliding menu. Click on Network, then Device list, and then Precision 9 compass. Now click Calibrate.Like any compass set up you want low wind and fairly calm water conditions. Press Calibrate and start a turn in either direction with the goal being a full 360 rotation in about 1.5 to 2 minutes. It's not rocket science and the system will grumble at you if you're too slow or fast. Keep turning until it says it's done. My calibration only needed two turns. The Precision 9 compass was on the money when it was first installed, and retained it's correct heading after calibration. It's within a degree of a steady COG and that's as good as it gets.The autopilot setup is a bit more nuanced. Locate on the vertical sliding menu and click on the Autopilot followed by Commissioning.This is not the page I actually used. I lifted this screen grab from a Simrad demo boat at the NMEA conference. The software display is somewhat generic and this page is tweaked dep[...]

Boating morals


I really don't enjoy the big three long weekends. Memorial day, the 4th of July and Labor day are in my view the three worst times of the year to go boating. Marinas are packed, boat ramps overwhelmed, and anyplace on the water that has food, liquor and a dock is knee deep in vessels and their alcohol fueled exuberant crews.These are indeed the quintessential amateur days on the water. My life is made worse by owner's realizations the boat that hasn't moved since the last long weekend holiday now has a variety of ailments. Dead batteries, bilge pumps that don't, electronics that won't turn on and the 12 volt outlet isn't working and this means the daiquiri blender isn't usable. My phone rings endlessly. Some I can help, some I can't, and some I won't. Crikey Bob that thing has been broken for months, and you're calling me at the crack of dark Saturday morning to get it fixed by 10:00 am? Buy a car battery and jumper cables to run the blender. It ain't happening today, Sheesh.I get most of my news from Google. They don't take any particular stand on anything. They just aggregate news from the web. Here are the first five articles on a subject from the big boys in news biz, and below is a link to all 1327 other news stories on this very subject. You can go through that long list and pick the stories that affirm your view of the world and ignore the rest. Who needs the facts when someone will tell you what you want to hear.One of the things Google news lets you do is set up custom categories, and one of mine is "Boating". To be honest it's a horror show. Boat explosions, collisions, drownings, propeller deaths, BUI's, sinkings, boaters that haven't figured out dams are dangerous, and water craft that with greater frequency than you would think possible, are smacking into large inanimate fixed objects like bridges, docks, beaches and islands at high speed.I've selected a handful of headlines from recent news stories. I'll provide a succinct description of the event and in a Murphy's laws sort of way provide a moral. Don't worry, this won't be a bummer of a read. Yeah some injuries, but everyone is alive, at least so far. I left the real carnage on the Google news page for you to read, and there's plenty of it.This headline caught my eye. The USCG had to rescue out of gas boaters? There must be more to this story and there was. No the boat wasn't being dashed to pieces on the rocks and it wasn't going to plunge over the dam either. As a matter of fact they had already called Sea Tow or the ilk for assistance. All they had to do was sit tight and wait, but they didn't.Most of the people on board put on life preservers (okay this was in hindsight brilliant) including a young child and went swimming. This would have been okay I guess if the boat had been anchored, but it wasn't. The short story is the boat promptly drifted away and they couldn't swim back to it. The good news was someone on board of the immobile boat used a cell phone to call the USCG who dispatched a helicopter and a 45 footer to recover them all safety. Moral: If everything seems to be going well on your boat, you have obviously overlooked something. Most likely checking your fuel levels before leaving the dock. BTW don't leave the boat also.Its been two decades since Sea Scouts have been rescued in San Francisco Bay, and there is a reason for this. My belief is the average Sea Scout is a better boater that most adult boaters. They have a thing called the Sea Promise as follows: As a SEA SCOUT I promise to do m[...]

The secret life of hulls and transducers


It's a great transducer. It was carefully and properly installed. The only problem is it doesn't work if the boat is moving faster than 10kts. You can't put this style transducer anywhere on this hull where it will work at speed. This is a far more common problem than you would believe and the problem is caused by the hull design,  not the transducer.The owner of this boat is experienced and has expectations about transducer performance. Another owner of the identical boat is new to boating and just assumed transducers don't work if the boat is moving. Hull design, construction, and rigging all contribute positively or negatively to transducer performance. In my world a transducer should be able to hold bottom and mark fish targets at most boat's normal cruising speeds. For reasons we are going to learn about this is often not the case.The problem in too many cases is the transducer is an after thought. Designers strive to create safe, stable and hydrodynamicly efficient hulls and our boat in question is all of that.But this design never contemplated installing transducers. This transducer will work, but needs shimming out from the boat using a fairing block of sorts to clear the turbulent boundary layer created by the hull.Here is a one minute 101 simple lesson about the boundary layer using a borrowed NASA drawing.When a fluid like water travels over a surface like a boat hull, the closer to hull the water gets, the slower it moves and friction caused by the hull creates turbulence. This is the boundary layer. The smoother the surface, to a point, the thinner the layer will be but it will always exist on a boat hull. Anything on the surface of the hull from strakes to a through hull fitting can dramatically increase the thickness of the turbulent layer downstream from it. Just above, or below the boundary layer depending on your perspective the water has a smooth non-turbulent laminar flow which your transducer loves. It's a very complex subject with endless variables from hull shape to speed so this is a good place to stop.Here are a couple of very dramatic photos of hulls underwater rarely seen by boat owners. The one above is traveling high speed. The strakes really jump out at you and this is the reason universally manufacturers say don't install transducers near these structures. On this boat you could likely install transducers on or near the keel line. Here is another hull, and the boundary layer turbulence is significant. I can't see a single place where a transducer could installed without a substantial fairing block to get it down into clean water.The take away is that a hull may perform really well but can be at the same time very transducer unfriendly. What can affect transducer performance? Every part of your hull that's in the water. Some have minor impacts, others huge. Here are a few examples.It's almost cute and seems harmless. It's a drain for an anchor locker. I suspect it's located below the water line so the locker dripping stains wouldn't be seen. At speed the venturi effect sucks in air from the locker through the hose and spews it down the hull. Looks good, it's nicely installed but very bad for a downstream transducer. This is just a one inch hole. Just imagine the turbulence you can get from a six or eight inch bow thruster tube in the bow.Strakes that stop mid hull create a lot of turbulence downstream. The more abruptly it stops (squared off) the more turbulence it will generate. There was some effort to fair this one but not enough.Hull ripples and flaws will increase the thickness of the boundary layer This is more typically seen i[...]

Sealed up for all time


It ostensibly was an easy install. Stick a weather receiver on the hardtop, a quick and easy pull into the console and plug the little beastie in. The mechanics of the job are simple. Remove four nuts along with the collection of assorted washers used as shims for the cap nuts and some threaded bolts that hold the antenna mount to the plate. Right under the plate is a commodious pull to the console. So far so good and less than fifteen minutes have been expended and then everything went to hell in a hand basket.This should be a piece of cake job. It's not like I haven't encountered this scenario before but it begs two points. First when you install something on a boat you should anticipate that someday you will have to remove it. Secondly although not intuitive you can do things too damn well and this is a case in point.Yeah I remember. Now the fasteners are all removed. It's time to take off the the plate but it won't budge and neither will the antenna mount. I have a passing niggling thought. The wiring is very neat with a zillion tie wraps keeping it that way. There is a school of thought that theorizes any slack anywhere in a wiring harness will cause eternal damnation in some godforsaken fiery pit.I go down into the console and yep everything coming out of the down pull tube is in a tie wrap iron maiden. Back up on top now armed with some small tools I nibble away at the goo encapsulating  the antenna wire until I can break it free. It comes loose and much to my relief there is some slack and it appears to be just enough.The mount won't come loose. I scoot around on my butt, grab a hand hold and using my foot and considerable effort and it snaps loose. The entire underside of the mount had been coated in a 3M 5200 esque goo. The mount is now free, sort of  and on the plate is a perfect male mold of the antenna mount bottom.This was a portent of what was to come. I try to get a small screwdriver under the plate to wedge it up but this isn't going to happen at all. I go back to the truck to get my oft used Mr. Hammer and a collection of screwdrivers. Hammers are an essential tool for any marine electronics installer.  The plate is thin enough it could be bent. As you might gather this isn't a good thing so removal needs to be done in a patience careful way.Pick a corner, any corner, and beat a screwdriver under it. Use a smaller one to keep the gains in place, and repeat for about 30 minutes. All of a sudden you can start to hear the crackling and popping sounds of the adhesive separating. Wait for the sounds to stop. Wedge some more. More sounds and in another 15 minutes of doing this the cover suddenly pops free.Alas the release is a bit of a bummer. The adhesive was so tenacious a largish portion of the gelcoat and some fiberglass is stuck to the plate and has delaminated from the hardtop. I use a small screwdriver as a chisel to cut the gelcoat and glass on the other side and the damn thing is finally free. There were some hairline cracks on the other side but some artful caulking will cover it.The rest of the job was as it should have been. The cable pull was easy and the connections went well. The builder's installation of the N2K network was perfect, a sight I rarely see. Every wire was labeled and there were two unused tees to plug into.The problem was why they assumed that nothing would ever be added to the hardtop and that plate would have to be removed. This was a case of using the wrong sealants, and way too much of the goop. I used a white polyether caulk and put a ring around the outside of the the plate, the bolt holes and the cente[...]

If you can imagine it, it's already happening


How quickly is technology advancing? The answer is exponentially. I used Gorp as an example paddling across a river on a floating log around 10,000BC. The bolt of mental lightening had struck. Gorp no float. Log float. Gorp sit on log and float. It would be another couple thousand years, and many toes lost to piranha before the log was hollowed out by Urp to make a canoe. The reality is early man was probably using crude boats made from reeds and bamboo much earlier than this, they just didn't survive through the ages to prove it.The point of the diagram is to show the relative rate of technological change. In my graph it took Gorp about 5000 years to evolve from paddling to figuring out you could use the wind and save the calories. Looking back from today's perspective it seems it should have been obvious, but it was a long hard slog to get there. Gorp only had stone tools and they weren't exactly precision devices. Weaving of fabrics is still over 5000 years away in Gorp's far future when the first sailboats will finally appear. Crikey, we didn't have the practical tools to make boats out of wood planks until the Bronze age when the rocket scientists of day started producing tools out of metal. This was 7000 years later in Gorp's future to come. Things started to move much faster when we learned to write things down saving the information we have learned. The printing press sped things up too.The next big jump takes another almost 3000 more years when steam engines started to provide propulsion. After this boat tech starts to really accelerate. Gas and diesel power appears and boats get faster. New boat building materials like steel and eventually fiberglass cascade into the market place and we are now at our current time provided by a GPS satellite.Perhaps instead of dealing with Gorp and the passing of millennia a better example of technology growth is this more recent one.It took 80 years to get from the telegraph to the radio and only 7 years to go from the transistor to the integrated circuit. A little over ten years later the microprocessor appeared. Within a single generation computers, the internet, and WiFi appear and the tech advancement curve sharpens upward dramatically.I have two takeaways. The first one is the consumer, meaning us, drives a huge potion of the technology advancement curve. Products we buy create the huge volumes of manufacturing which in turn drives down costs. At the same time the competition for these huge markets forces new technology and features to be continually added to satisfy the consumer's seemingly insatiable demands. TV and phones are good examples, along with cars and a zillion other things.Consumer demand doesn't drive all technology change but it's a major player especially on the manufacturing technology side of the fence. Other sources of technology growth include governmental (military space, et al) research and development that transfers downward into the commercial sectors albeit at a slower rate. Navico's impressive Halo radar with it's gallium nitride amplifier is a good recent example of using military developed tech. Lastly basic research and applied science have their roles to play.Product life is becoming increasingly shorter. Products become obsolete not necessarily because they wear out, but newer products do much more much for equal or more typically less cost. The Raymarine Classic E120 in ten years and multiple generations later has been replaced with the es120 which in real dollars is half the price and substantially more advanced. In a futurist mode here are some predic[...]

A couple of small epiphany's in a day in the life.


It was a bemusing and somewhat vexing problem that at first blush was all caused by a watch. It's 5ish in the afternoon on a Saturday and I'm clutching an adult beverage at a function when the phone rings. I stare at the magic box doing it's best to attract my attention. I sigh and take the call. It's a local Captain who is taking a boat way offshore on Monday and his autopilot is now kaput ostensibly caused by a Garmin Quatix watch. This is a new one to me and he now has my attention.He launches into the saga. He has a original Quatix watch, and tried to connect it to the autopilot while underway. The autopilot immediately freaks out, and has to be put in standby to get control of the boat. The watch is disconnected from the system and he attempts to reengage to autopilot. The odd thing is now the autopilot seems fine until you engage it. Instead of doing its "Otto Pilot" thing it now pops up the "Shadow Drive" is on message and does nothing else. What this normally means is the helm has been manually turned, the autopilot thinks you want control of the boat, and gives it to you. This isn't supposed to happen when you first engage it, and I have never seen one do this. I agree to visit the boat on Sunday morning to see what can be done and will bring the latest software with me.The boat is a new and large center console fishing boat from a good builder. It has three Garmin 7616 MFD's installed by the factory in the dash. I take a quick glance at the gear connected to it and don't see anything of concern other than older software.The Captain shows me the problem, and what the hell. The damn thing goes straight to "Shadow Drive" when you engage it. So step one is to do a full software upgrade and see if that corrects the problem. This takes about 20 minutes to do. It's is a zen thing and I have some level of confidence all will be okay when done, but it isn't. The problem stubbornly remains. I take a closer look at the autopilot set up It seems to be okay, and the Shadow Drive is disengaged. What's up with this? I think maybe I should look at the autopilot's computer and see what the idiot LED light is saying.I go off to the truck to get some boat disassembly tools and the first epiphany slowly seeps in. It's a funny thing about our brains. The Captain had mentioned the Shadow Drive message in his call to me. I had played with the autopilot and seen the Shadow Drive message a dozen times so I erroneously assumed it had one. I slowly realized on the walk back to the truck his boat doesn't have a shadow drive at all. It's a steer by wire system as the image of the boat's Teleflex Optimus 360 joystick appears floating in my head. Something else is going on here.The console is opened, and yep it's a steer by wire Reactor and I had overlooked the SBW designation when I checked the N2K device list. Further it's telling me via the LED idiot light it thinks it feels okay. I scratch my head and try to figure out what to do next.When solving a problem in a system with lots of stuff hanging on it information is important, and the Captain had some. He had done some excellent and smart problem solving before I had arrived as evidenced by all of the boat's documentation spread out on the berth.Buried in the back of the console were two gateways. The first was for the engine interfaces, and the second was for the autopilot. Look he says "the autopilot interface LED is doing a two blink." This means in effect that it's talking to the steering system but not the the autopilot.The second epiphany star[...]

The Electronics Undertaker


I've been dealing with marine electronics for a long time and now recognize when death is close at hand. More likely it's emulating Norman Bates's mother who's telling the owner to call me. As a matter of fact I can sense the miasma of burned electronics through the phone during the call. The quavering desperation in the callers voice. The hesitant answers to questions like "When was the last time you used it?" "Hmmm, you don't remember?" "What model is it?" "Whoa, that's old, those vacuum tubes are really hard to find nowadays." What it's a sailboat? That means the radar is on the mast and the use of the bosun's chair along with someone with a strong back."The coup de grâce in the conversation is the ever hopeful, "It could just be a loose wire you know." My inside voice is saying "sure buddy, but it's not statistically likely, and you should have called Hospice for this gear a long time ago." I hate these service calls. I will have to call the time of death and everyone is going to be unhappy including me. Like this is all my fault.  I try to be kind by being brutal out of the box, and sometimes this works. "Look Bob, the thing is older than Methuselah. I'm surprised it's still working at all. If it's broken it can't be fixed. It won't grow back and you can't just rub some dirt on it to make it better. Even if it could be fixed it will be expensive. Why would you throw good money after bad?"But mostly the owner's oft misplaced optimism that it's only a simple loose wire or the ilk overrides. I sigh and go off ready to give Bob a bill to tell him in person what I told him for free on the phone. I bite my tongue and don't ask him if his TV at home has a picture tube.So this begs two questions, "How long should I expect my marine electronics to last?" and "When do I decide to replace them?" Behold the Raymarine E 120 the winner of NMEA's prestigious Best Navigation Product award in 2006. It was a powerhouse in the day. Big screen, fast for its time, and did everything that was possible.Just to give you some perspective the price for this unit was $4600 in 2006 (no charts, sonar, or GPS included). In today's dollars that's $5481.A decade and multiple generations later here is their current product. The eS127 that sells for around $3000. It has a touch screen, built in CHIRP sonar and GPS. It comes with charts and is lightening fast. The bottom line is it has far more technology and it's half of the price of the older unit.My best answer to the first question is you should expect a lifetime of not more than 10 years max. There is some waffling here. A lot of this depends on the environment your gear lives in. A lower station enclosed and air conditioned helm offers the best chance of a long life. The unit that gets broasted daily on top of the tuna tower won't live as long. And yes, I have clients with gear that has lasted far longer than the ten years and they are either proud of the fact, fiscally strained or are oblivious to the march of technology. Last week I was on a boat with a VHF radio that didn't have DSC capability.The second aspect of product life is the fact that electronics are changing so quickly that after about the third generation of changes its likely that product support will quickly dwindle. The E120 shown above is now only marginally repairable depending on what has failed. Some parts and components used in it are no longer made. Now for the subject of when you should replace [...]



Hello, my name is Bill and I was once a pontoon boat hater. In days of yore they were ugly. Floating boxes largely devoid of hydrodynamic properties milling around on the waterfront at withering speeds of 6 or 7 knots with a geriatric crew. This has all changed. They're sleek, fast, safe and loaded with amenities. Corian counter tops, BBQ grills, bars, refrigerators, thumping stereos, and plush seating for the multitudes. Look at this curvaceous model with the arch. I don't know what those ports are on the bow are all about. Either they are intakes for the turbine engines or gun ports but they certainly look purposeful. The quality of design and construction is orders of magnitude better than it was a decade ago, almost.... You see I still have a small beef about most of these vessels. In a world full of advanced materials with names like FRP, carbon fiber composites, NidaCore and the ilk, why are they still using plywood for the decks?It's not a tragically bad choice, but given the alternatives available it seems they could do better. I'm sure, at least I hope, that it's a minimum of AB grade marine plywood. The thing about plywood, and even treated marine plywood is eventually it will rot. The only question is how long will this take? It's water intrusion into the plywood that's the issue. To be specific it's fresh water that's the problem.Dry rot and brown rot are common terms to describe the damage caused by a fungi that can only exist in the presence of fresh water. Where does the water come from? Lots of places. Typically it comes from rain, condensation and the water hose used to wash off the boat to get rid of the saltwater.How does it get into the wood? Common starting points are penetrations into the wood from bolt and screws, and the end grain of the plywood.I've seen many a stringer rotting where bolts used to secure the engine mounts created a water entry point. They look like they are made of fiberglass but in may cases it's just encasing a timber. Trampoline decks in boats got spongy in the first place starting where seats, Beckson plates and other items were screwed into a plywood and fiberglass laminated deck.I asked a couple of sales persons about why plywood was being used for decking? It was apparent they had been asked the question before, and all immediately launched into a dialog about how good their warranties are, so don't worry.I looked at enough warranties to validate they are good and several were better than many fiberglass production boats. A fair number of them are transferable to the next owner, although in some cases this was a bit fuzzy. By that it seems you may have to buy the used boat from a dealer to make this work.So why the plywood in the first place? I think first it's cost. A sheet of good marine plywood is around $100. A typical 24' pontoon boat would use 6 sheets ($600). Using NidaCore panels (section shown above) would end up at about three times the cost or around $2000 adding some fudging. So by spending about $1400 more deck rot would never be an issue.I think there is a second reason for the plywood. I suspect that many pontoon boat builders just don't have much experience with fiberglass products. They live in the world of aluminum welding and fabrication and do an excellent job of it.So would I buy a new pontoon boat with plywood decks? Sure. Would I rather they used something other than plywood? Again yes. Does it come with a Kegerator and daiquiri blender? The p[...]

The connected boat part 3 Digital Yacht's on air TV antenna.


Despite rumors of its demise digital on air television is alive and well, while analog cable systems used by marinas are continuing to fade away into the past.  In this series we have looked at installing a WiFi Access point connected to a router, smart televisions, and a Signal K server and there is more to come on this subject.  To round out our cornucopia of wireless tech we are going to install Digital Yacht's impressive TV antenna and play with it for a bit.It's pretty easy to install and more than suitable for a DYI project. But remember the golden rules about boats. Access to everything typically sucks, and wiring diagrams don't exist. I heard a rumor that the last known boat wiring diagram from a sixties vintage Hatteras is archived at the Library of Congress. Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it.The actual product name is the futuristic sounding DTV100. I've splayed the box's contents out in the main salon. You get everything you need for most boats in the box with the exception of the coax cable from the amp to the TV or splitter. You get two mount adapters, the amplifier and its fasteners, and the antenna with 10 meters of attached cable.There is only one small thing I would have changed about this product if I was dictator.  It would have about a 1' pigtail with the RJ6 coax connector attached to the cable, and then include a butt connector along with the 10 meters of cable.Why you ask? It's simple. The majority of boats already have a vintage antenna, and the coax cable is already there. In this common scenario detach the old antenna, stick on the new and attach the pigtail to the existing cable.This saves lots of time in many cases, in a few others not so much. This also presumes the connector hasn't corroded into oblivion, and the cable is going where you want it to go. Sometimes it doesn't.The antenna has a nice sturdy feel about it. You get two mount adapters so the combination accommodates smooth 25mm and 36mm mounts and the threaded 1" mount versions.A little tip here. When using the smooth (non-threaded) mount put a couple of turns of masking tape or a little silicone on the mount to give it some added stiction. There is a bolt on the antenna base you tighten to lock it in place.Now for the interesting part of the install. Hopefully you no longer still have a TV with built in VCR and glass picture tube. If you do, stop reading right now an buy a new TV, or get a good book and give up.The exception to this is if you have a on air digital tuner attached to it, and all of this assumes you have a digital tuner in your TV.  Some new flat panel TV's tout a feature called "Tuner Free" like it's a bonus you want. You don't want this so called feature so look for this when you're buying a new TV.So we have a couple wiring scenarios to deal with. First is the classic AB switch configuration. The old analog antenna went in on one side and the dockside cable went into the other. The middle connector went to the splitter.The Shakespeare and Glomex boxes do a similar task, but are also signal amplifiers when they're turned on. So what to do?What happened in lots of cases were the Glomex or Shakespeare switches ended up in geographically unattractive locations from a cabling viewpoint. You can use them as a splitter of sorts if you don't turn them on. I'm not really happy with this because you get some additional signal loss in the process.The quick and easy way o[...]

Waterspout to Tornado to Waterspout to Tornando


Back in January we had a cracker of a front pass through Sarasota. Not that I didn't know it was coming, I did. Cold fronts are a regular event here. Almost weekly at some times of the year. They typically roll in diagonally on a long southwest to northeast sagging line. This one was coming in late at night. The evening cooling tends to calm the associated T-boomers down on most occasions. Yadda yadda yadda, big deal. Severe thunder storm warnings are also a dime a dozen here and off to bed I go with a good book. I never saw the tornado watch that appeared at 12:45am. At 2:03am the cell phones start squawking I grab mine, fumble for reading glasses, and holy crap, what the hell going on? This thing didn't calm down, in fact it got meaner, a whole lot meaner. There were warnings galore lined up.I plunked myself in the living room and turned on the TV. All of the local TV stations had dragged in their meteorologists who were clothed just one small step above pajamas. Warnings were scrolling at the bottom of the screen, but what I was paying attention to was the Doppler radar images which were showing rotation just off the coast due west of me.Above is a cool NOAA screen shot from the event showing three potential areas of rotation embedded in the front. Note the areas of bright red right next to the bright green where shear is occurring. The one in the center created the tornado that will strike Siesta Key and move onto the mainland. It came to earth at 3:17 am in the Gulf of Mexico as a EF2 tornado and in just five minutes traveled 1.14 miles as it roiled across Siesta Key crossed the intercoastal and continued to ravage the mainland. Hence the title of the piece.What's unusual is there are few if any cases of a tornado starting as a mesocyclone waterspout then becaming a tornado as it moved onto land or is it now a landspout? Within a minute or two it became a waterspout again as it crossed over the intercoastal waterway, or is it still a tornado? And then again a tornado on the main land.This is the catch. There are all sorts of fuzzy verbal boundaries and lots of forms of, okay hold your breath now, Cyclogenesis. At the micro end of this scale you have gustnados that can look like a tornado, but aren't. Landspouts are generally considered to be a relative of a typical waterspout but it's over land. Don't forget the mountainado and snowspout either. At the nano level there are dust devils, sand augers, fire whirls and dozens of other similarly named whirlwind manifestations.So here is a clear rule of thumb. If any of these forms of Cyclogenesis, and I'm using the term loosely are attached to a mesocyclone storm cell (bad ass thunderstorm) consider them very dangerous whether on land or in the water. Even if some of these weather events aren't attached to a mesocyclone they can still be extremely dangerous.I waited a day for all of the emergency activities to finish and walked the entire tornado path starting on the beach. It was scoured clean and very flat. Damaged beach furniture had been put in piles but I think only half of them were found. I couldn't help thinking beach goers will be finding the balance of them while swimming in the gulf for years to come.The six story Excelsior condo took the brunt of the tornado's wrath coming in from the gulf. Windows blown out, cars were damaged, but the most notable damage was caused by the roof being stripped off. This allowed the next few hours[...]

Quickdraw Macgraw Garmin Software


Just because a chart says nothing is there doesn't mean there is nothing there and this is a case in point.  Sarasota Bay in general is devoid of features. Sonar images shows largely a flat plane punctuated by the occasional rough bottom of fish havens where construction rubble has been spread around. The center of the bay bottoms out at 12' and the charts say this is the deepest location, but its not. There is a large hole in the bay hiding in plain sight and I'm using Garmin's Quickdraw software to map it out along with some other good uses for this clever softwareI put a circle in the area I'm mapping. The Garmin chart, and the corresponding NOAA charts both show the same thing. An innocuous area running about 5 or 6 feet deep with some fish haven rubble in a few places.If I didn't use this area on occasion for autopilot compass setup because of the shelter from blustery winds out the the east I wouldn't have noticed anything. What caught my eye one day was the sonar depths and images weren't matching the charts, at all. There is actually a large hole in the bay here.On subsequent trips to the area I tried to use side scan sonar to get a better look to no avail. The water wan't deep enough to get a good view. What I could tell was the sides of the hole had very steep sides in places, and over all it appeared to be a trench with a deep end. Last week I had the chance to play with the Garmin's Quickdraw software to map the area and it worked a treat.In 15 minutes I was able to build a one foot contour line map of the bottom. It's a trench with a deep wing off the end of it. The trough is about 12 feet deep and is about 100 yards long with the stumps of a few pilings left. At 16' it is by my reckoning the deepest part of Sarasota Bay. Pssst, don't tell any one but there are lots of larger fish targets showing on sonar in this hole.After some research looking at aerial photos from as far back at the thirties I suspect this was originally a dock and associated dredging from some time ago. Specifically in 1925. As the discoverer I'll give it a name. The El Verona Trench for the old hotel building that still stands, but whose long dock protruding into the bay has moved into the past.The west coast of Florida is riddled with canals. Most show up on the charts, but some don't and this is one. Universally these canals have never been sounded. The screen grab above has a canal, and I put some text where it's located.  One run in and out with Quickdraw shows the actual canal. More passes will provide additional mapping detail and for the owner that lives here this is valuable information especially at lower water.Another good way to use Quickdraw is to quickly map our shaky and shifty west coast passes. Sarasota Bay's best pass is Big Pass. It has about 6' of water give or take if you know where the channel is.The Sarasota Yacht Club as a public and very welcomed service has for years has mapped Big Pass and as needed relocates the marks (nuns) in the pass. If my memory serves me right they take a small boat and collect the track data, feed to to Garmin's Basecamp or I think Homeport originally and plot a track through the pass. They do an excellent job, but it seems to me that Quickdraw would do the job faster. Below is a Google Earth view of the their survey data from just a few days ago.One of the difficulties with using track point depths is i[...]