Sunday, March 18, 2007

Now Hear This

Electronics, March/April 2007

Our boat, at the time of our purchase, included only basic electronics: depth sounder, VHF radio (lower helm only), and LORAN. This was enough to get us by for our limited use during the first season, but we had to do all our navigation by charts and compass, and step down to the lower helm any time we needed to use the radio. Upgrades were certainly in order.

Our adventures on the bay don't demand a whole lot, but minimally I wanted a new VHF with DSC capability, an extension microphone for the flybridge, and a GPS. Down the line, I'd like to add RADAR and another depth display (possibly on the GPS) for the flybridge. The GPS was a bit of a dilemma, though, as I wanted a display at both helms without having to program routes and waypoints on two separate machines. The only choices that meet those requirements are a networked system (big bucks), or a portable that can be moved between helms.
  • For the VHF radio, I chose a Standard Horizon Quest-X GX-1500S, with a RAM+ extension microphone. Some makers, like Uniden, offer a wireless extension microphone. That sounds great (easy to install, at any rate), but brings two drawbacks in my mind. First, you have to keep the remote charged somehow, which means some kind of wiring anyway. Second, wireless means it can be dropped overboard. That would be an expensive contribution to Davy Jones' locker!
  • For the GPS, I went with a Garmin 478. It includes a built in antenna, all coastal chart data, separate marine and auto mounts, and rechargeable batteries. The benefit of batteries is that it can be removed from the mount and transferred to the other helm without ever turning it off.
Installation raised only one serious issue. The old electronics, attached to the ceiling above the helm, had wires routed through the cabin headliner. Nightmare. I removed a molding strip, peeked above the vinyl headliner, and realized that the entire panel would have to come down to get at the wiring. With some trepidation, I went with an alternate plan: I drilled a hole (with a 1" holesaw) in the column used for routing wires to the bridge. This turned out to be a piece of cake, and vastly simplified installation. The only complication is ensuring that that, while drilling, no wires or cables already in the column are damaged. To protect them, I took several layers of heavy cardboard and inserted them into the column to shield the existing wires. A rubber grommet dressed up the hole, and all the new wires were routed easily. Removing old wires was as simple as cutting off the connectors and pulling them through; they pulled out easily without disturbing the headliner.

I installed the VHF right where the old one was. The LORAN is now in a box in my basement, destined to be a collector's item. The depth sounder moved to the right, where the LORAN was. Since the roof is curved, I added spacers to the left side of each so that they are more level. I kept the GPS down at the helm, where it would be more easily visible and have a clearer view of the satellites through the cabin windows. I expected to have to buy an additional marine mount, but as it turned out, the automotive mount worked perfectly well at the lower helm. It also came with a "beanbag" mount, which works perfectly fine in the car, so we can easily take it along for road trips as well.

I have two steps yet to do:
  • I have not connected the power cables for the GPS. For now, it will run on the rechargeables at both helms.
  • I want to connect the GPS and VHF together. Once done, the DSC automated distress signal from the VHF will include position data from the GPS. Likewise, any DSC calls that we receive will display position data on the GPS.
These, however, are projects for another day.

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