Working While Cruising—Our Offices on “Morgan’s Cloud”

I don't have any solid statistics to back this assertion up, but my sense is that more and more cruisers are, like Phyllis and me, and AAC European Correspondent Colin and his partner Louise, working while cruising at jobs that require long hours at a computer.

And even among cruisers who leave their jobs completely behind when they head out, many are blogging as well as editing photographs and video; all computer intensive.

And almost all of us spend quite a bit of time at the computer on boat-related tasks such as weather analysis and cruise planning.

So, given all that, I'm going to share some photos of our workstations on the previous Morgan's Cloud, a 56-foot aluminum Mcurdy and Rhodes cutter, as well as some notes on the communications and computer gear we use, and some useful aside tips that will make all cruisers' lives easier.

Let's start off with the details of the gear at my workstation, the chart table, shown in the numbered photo above.

Subscribe
Notify of
29 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Marc Dacey

It all sounds good to me, John. I certainly concur with the “buy the powerful machine less often” bit, thanks to Canada’s CCA tax regime. I buy the best ‘puter I can afford to every four years, whether I need to or not. And the point about ergonomics is well made…I was thinking about that earlier today down a frozen engine bay.

Klaus

Hi John,

just one comment on Mac gear that might be helpful for other readers: the MacBook line of 12″ Mac notebooks with USB-C charging can be charged directly on 12V outlets without the need to go through 230V/110V power supplies. We use a AUKEY Quick Charge 3.0 USB C auto charger for that. The MacBook negotiates the voltage it gets through the charger. Very handy and efficient.

AUKEY
– Input: DC 12-24 V 5.6 A (Max)
– Output 1: DC 5 V/3 A (per port)
– Output 2: DC 5 V 3 A
– Output 3 (type C Quick Charge 3.0): DC 3.6 – 6.5 V/3 A, 6.5 V 9 V/2 A 9 V 12 V/1.5 A (Max)

Best,
Klaus.

Conor

That is a great setup! Thank you for sharing it and the useful tip of the Duet App. I need a solution such as this but have not heard of it before. Thanks!

Paul S Britton

Great article as usual. My comments/questions are unrelated to working on a boat. Glad to see you have forward scan sonar. Have you written an article on your experience with that yet? If so, can you refer me to it? Also interested in your opinion on FLIR, especially with all the recent damage to Clipper boats damaged by unseen objects, e.g. containers, whales, etc.? Thinking about this becoming standard for circumnavigators.

Paul S Britton

Thanks John- Any response to my FLIR question?

Brent

It might be worthwhile showing a network diagram of your wifi system at some point in a future article. There are LOTS of gotcha’s about such systems in boats with multiple data sources and connections. I recently heard about a poor boat owner that had given his crew access to his wifi network for limited email connection and discovered a massive bill for his satellite or cellphone service because one of the connected computers was setup to automatically download operating system patches when connected to wifi (as most are these days). Ideally, you want a boat network that allows you to partition the incoming data networks easily while providing easy access to anyone aboard with their electronic devices without slowing down or jeopardizing key components (such as navigation and weather) and paring down more frivolous high bandwidth connections (Netflix, Youtube, OS Updates, etc.) to only when connected to free and/or affordably contracted services. It astonishes me the various electronics that people can bring aboard these days from computers, cellphones and tablets to drones, personal trackers, health monitors, etc.

Of course you can limit the connection of your wifi network to just free sources (dockside wifi), but then you are also limiting your own personal flexibility – e.g. tying your navigation computer to the nav station unless you have separate networks. Hopefully it won’t be long before Google or Facebook or some other enterprising firm pushes out affordable global access internet as has been promised for decades. It’s interesting to note that the first thing people do when they get back to civilization is to hunt out an internet connection. To me it really does prove that we are a very social species even if some of us would rather interact on a keyboard than in person :-).

Matt

This sounds like a problem that might be solved with a Pi-Hole. (It’s a free application that runs on a $20 Raspberry Pi computer. It blocks most advertising / tracking traffic, as well as enforcing whatever additional allow / block rules you define, for all devices on the network.)

I no longer trust any always-connected device – laptop, phone, tablet, smart thermostat, smart lightbulb, smart door lock, smart cat food bowl, smart doorbell, etc. – to make its own decisions about what data is or isn’t allowed to touch the network. Whatever it is, if you don’t lock it down, it will eventually do something that you really don’t like. And if you don’t control every individual device, it’s much easier to lock down the whole network at the firewall & DNS level.

Brent

Looks like a cool idea but it isn’t clear that it would stop things like Windows/Mac/Android/IOS Updates without stopping other services like Apple ID authentications that might be desirable or that you might be perfectly OK with when connected to wifi but not through cell, satellite or SSB. Those updates can cause unintended huge data bills if you let anyone connect to your internet services while offshore. I guess you could solve it through using multiple routers/networks and using routers (or perhaps Pi-Hole) to blacklist ALL traffic that isn’t travelling on email protocols for anything going in/out on the “restricted” internet source. An ideal LAN setup for a cruising boat might have a wifi network for all devices to plug into that can allow any traffic to go over a guest wifi network using a wifi signal booster but that restricts just down to email (and perhaps rich text / summary only formats) for anything going over email while not connected to guest wifi. Of course you could create two completely different networks and keep them segregated but then you need to shuffle your “approved” devices back and forth as applicable and you are bound to screw up at one point and have some massive file go through your restricted network. That’s why I was interested in John’s setup.

Eric Klem

I like the tip on using the ipad as a second screen, I didn’t realize you could do that but it makes perfect sense. My first thought on the seeing the picture was actually something along the lines of how can anyone stand working on such a small screen. I have a dual 24″ setup and sometimes wish I had more (we are not setup to do work on the boat, we actually only bring our phones but then being on the boat is vacation only for us). My home computer is still a desktop partially because of cost but also partially because of the performance/capabilities with a proper monitor setup and my work setup is similar as well only with slightly bigger everything.

The point about ergonomics is very good. One of the biggest improvements for me was getting the screen up to eye level which I realize is hard on a laptop.

Eric

Dave

Regarding the height of the laptop screen, if you are using it and typing for extended periods of time (1 hour continuously or more), consider a separate (wireless) keyboard and raise the laptop so the screen is at eye level. If you also need to use the finger pad, either look for a keyboard with one built in or get a wireless mouse.

Pro-tips (I’m an ergonomist)
1. If you are getting aches/pains in your neck, the screen height is incorrect (usually too low). Get it level with your eyes when sitting correctly (note – this is actually hard to do yourself – get a crew to look at you from the side and judge the height of your eyes v the height of the top edge of the visible screen)
2. If you’re getting aches in your lower back, you’re seating is incorrect. Imagine looking at yourself side on – you’re looking for approx. right angles at your hips and knees and at your elbows. To get a right angle at your knees, if you’re short like me, may need a footrest if the seat is quite high.
3. If you’re getting aches in your mousing hand/wrist/arm/shoulder – look at both 1 and 2 above and/or consider upgrading your mouse to wireless and a higher DPI

Most importantly – never sit for more than 1 hour at a computer when working continuously (surfing/reading with little keyboard mouse activity doesn’t really count). Take a break for 5 minutes minimum each hour and go and walk around to loosen up, or make a drink. Leave it any longer than an hour and fatigue sets in. That can only usually be gotten rid of with a good night’s sleep.

These simple tips can make a huge difference between dreading sitting down at the computer or actually enjoying it but as john more importantly states, you may have a more important job to do and you need to be fit enough to do it. Musculo-skeletal injuries can be very serious – I know one programmer who did project work at a laptop for 6 months solid. He then had to take two years of work to recover from the damage he did to muscles/tendons etc. And he didn’t fully recover…

Dave

Thanks John – and therein lies another common theme I have come across over the years of assessing folks at workstations (office-based). But before I mention that, I’m not suggesting this applies to you or anyone else – but it *is* a *common* theme.
When trying out a new (correct) posture, especially after months/years of making do, you body will react and tell you it feels uncomfortable. But you need to persevere and prove to your body that the “new” position is far better for it. I usually tell office workers that yes, they will feel some discomfort for perhaps a day or two but no more. If they do, there are other issues afoot… Invariably, I hear some weeks later that “I can’t believe the difference this has made”. I rarely hear “it didn’t work at all for me”. And yes, I have actually been in that position myself. Once when I ordered two new displays for my workstation (I did not adjust them properly and had neck ache for a few weeks) and second when I bought a new car and didn’t set up the driving seat properly – that manifested in really bad cramps in my right calf muscle. 5 minutes adjusting the seat and hey presto – all gone.
Of course, we are talking about workstations on yachts. Many people would spend no more than an hour or two at the most. But for those who are spending a good few hours per day blogging, writing, doing work etc., it can be really important (health wise and productivity wise) to get it right.
If there were two take-away tips for everyone, and given we typically don’t have the boss looking over out shoulder (do we???), take a good break of 10 minutes every hour and you’ll be grand.
The second take away comment is your last sentence. I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

John Lark

Interesting article. I am also still working while cruising, probably a simpler approach, but it has worked well. As an architect, working with a staff in a remote office probably the biggest difference is I do have a printer on board. An HP laser jet (smallest one I could find) that fits nicely under the nav station. I can print 8.5×11’s and can tile drawings on 4 pages for good clean readable copy. Software is important, and somewhat unique for me. Primary use is Autocad, but the drawings become very large. Most often use Autodesk Design Review, file transfers are ‘dwf’ files, an internet transfer file that is compressed and quite small. I can ‘redline’ drawings, add notes and send them back to the office. PDF files are also quite common.
My setup, Dell Latitude laptop, but connected to a Dell docking station. The docking station, secured in place, allows me to include multiple connections from satphone, NEMA to all navigation systems, the printer, a remote screen if desired and multiple thumb drives. I store everything on thumb drives which makes transport easy and can easily back-up to a duplicate thumb drive. The thumb drives are also easy to store and in waterproof bags easy to keep dry. When within cell range we have a verizon myfi so all tablets, phones and separate computers on board have wireless connectivity. When in foreign ports we use a wirie long distance booster, which again is connected to the docking station, providing wireless connectivity to all devices on board. Multiple email accounts and Ocens weathernet and email through the sat phone makes all weather and offshore communications easy. We do have a remote antenna for the satphone so the phone is mounted next to the nav station. All other radios, vhf, dvd player and remotes are surrounding the station so everything is in one place.
We also do not have an SSB on board. So far after 5 years cruising haven’t missed it, we do have a small portable Sangean that will receive SSB broadcast, but find we really don’t use it and don’t need it, interesting as many of our cruising friends still use SSB communication.
Photos from phones or cameras are transferred to the laptop then to special high capacity thumb drives.
Thanks for the article, I’d really be interested in what others are doing as well.

Francisco Moreno

Another comment on Mac gear that might be helpful for other readers: any MacBook or PowerBook 11″ to 17″ Apple laptop can be charged directly on 24V outlets without the need to go through 230V/110V power supplies via a Lind 24V auto charger with an Apple MagSafe connector by Mikegyver.

Lind
– Input: DC 12-32 V
– Output: Standard Apple MagSafe connector
— orange light for charging
— green light for charged

The Lind adapter seems to be quite efficient. It stays cool or at worst lukewarm no matter how high the demand imposed by the laptop. It accepts 12V as well. We’ve used it a couple of times while traveling by automobile.

Best,
FM

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
One thing not mentioned (or I missed it) was that much of what we see in the picture must be put away when underway. I suspect, if you are like me at all, that a temptation to leave things out because you are “just motoring to the fuel dock or to a neighboring anchorage a short distance away” is an omni-present struggle.
For those who use their laptop for navigation and need it to be out at all times (or for other reasons, like working SSB or data collection from Satphone), we have used one of the Ram articulating mounting systems (https://www.rammount.com/activity/boat-mounts). I also do much writing off watch, which would be more difficult without a fixed machine. Ours is relatively a short mount and has endured 10+ years of sailing without problem or movement. This also puts the screen (more) at eye level. The positioning makes using the keypad awkward, but a remote keyboard and a remote mouse (able to be left on the nav table in most conditions) solve that problem.
I notice that you do not have fiddles on your nav table. I have often thought that most fiddles, if high enough to really help, interfere with the reasonable use of the table, especially a nav table: if low enough to not interfere, they become useless when conditions are at all boisterous.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

John

I agree, I’m a bit of a redundancy nut, laptop is not technically used for navigation, but thru NEMA connection provides a backup is necessary. Actually carry a backup computer that is stored with all software in case main one goes out, and multiple ipads and phones all carry Cmap nav software again…redundancy!

Rich

John,
Thank you! We’ve been scratching our heads on solving the our salon table height issue without something that required one of us to get underneath. Hopefully we can track down and consider using your method. Are the medical table legs spring loaded to rise? Everything I see online appears to be electric.
Regards,
Rich
s/v Oriole