Instrument Loads

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Seems like a lot of cruisers are leaving their instrumentation on, even when at anchor, these days.

Do what you want, but this practice could push you into a major electrical system makeover that might not be necessary if we just turned that stuff off.

The above photo shows the load (battery monitor to the right) from the instrument package and NMEA 2000 network on our J/109, added to a 9″ plotter.

Nearly two amps at 12 volts. Leave that on for 24 hours and that’s nearly 50 amp hours out of the battery!

And our system is comparatively small and miserly. Add in a big plotter, AIS, and worst off all, a laptop computer running navigation software, and we can easily burn through 100 amp hours or more.

To put that in perspective that’s over a third of the power Phyllis and I used in the run of a day for everything on our 56 foot live-aboard boat!

When left on all the time, small loads add up to big usage.

Here’s how to estimate usage and choose the right battery bank size, the easy way—no long boring spreadsheet to fill out…we provide a short, and not boring, spreadsheet.

NMEA 2000 Trouble Shooting Kit

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I’m in the throws of installing a new autopilot and radar on our new-to-us J/109.

As part of that I cleaned up the dogs breakfast of a NMEA 2000 network the boat came with to make it both easier to trouble shoot and hopefully more reliable, particularly since this new kit required adding quite a few network devices.

When all was said and done I ended up with a couple of old network cables that I had replaced because they looked a bit manky (another deeply technical word).

I was about to throw the old cables away when it struck me that by cutting them both in half and stripping the ends I would end up with a zero cost NMEA 2000 trouble shooting kit for use with a voltmeter.

I also added a male to female connector I had left over to the kit. Useful to substitute for a T connector to get a suspected device or drop out of the mix, but still keep the backbone connected.

The kit proved invaluable while hunting down a brand new power-T with an open circuit on one of the network lines.

And here’s a good primer on trouble shooting NMEA 2000.

By the way, I don’t think most of us need an expensive N2K meter, particular since a lot of devices, such as plotters, have trouble shooting screens which will let us check for excess error packets and the like—dig deep in the menus and check regularly to catch potential intermittent problems early.

More thoughts on NMEA 2000:

Garmin Cut Vesper Users Loose



Although we had a lot of trouble with our first Vesper AIS, I have long been a fan of their products, with the exception of the Cortex, which tried to do too many things in one unit and had a lot of issues as a result.

When Garmin bought Vesper I had a sense of impending doom—these acquisitions of small companies by big ones almost always go badly for us users.

And I was right, Garmin has just announced that they will no longer sell any of the Vesper products except the Cortex, which, as I understand it, is still buggy.

That’s bad news since these were still good products at a fair price.

The Big Suck

But far worse news is that Garmin will not maintain the WatchMate app, which means that at some point, probably sooner rather than later, those of us with Vesper products—particularly those with no screen, like the XB-8000—are truly screwed, since unmaintained apps tend to stop working when the device operating system is updated.

In my view, this is totally unacceptable behaviour on the part of Garmin, particularly since the units that they are, in effect, trashing, were available for sale up until a few weeks ago, and some are still in the supply chainour XB-8000 on our new-to-us J/109 is just 30 months old.

To be clear, this likely means that someone who bought a XB-8000 a week ago will have a near-useless lump of plastic and components on their hands a couple of years from now, and maybe sooner.

And even if it keeps working with some reduced functionality, a working app was what said buyer was sold, so they should get that for a reasonable period of time.

Decent companies like, for example, Furuno make sure that their products are fully supported with parts and software for at least ten years after the last one is sold.

I suggest we all write to Garmin pointing out their bad behaviour and informing them that we will not buy their products in the future because they clearly don’t give a damn about us—this is my letter to them.

At the very least, Gamin should be maintaining the app on iTunes and Google Play for 10 years. That’s just basic, guys, and not that hard.

I’m also disappointed in Panbo for not making more of a fuss about this. I get that they are advertising funded, and Garmin are probably a big part of that, but, even so, sometimes you have to stand up and be counted. Just telling us that we can buy a new fancy and expensive, and probably still buggy Cortex from Gamin is not good enough, guys.

TZ iBoat Updated

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I have used a bunch of iPad navigation software over the years, but TZ iBoat, by the same folks who have been doing navigation software on computers for some 30 years, is by far the best.

Lots of reasons, but the most important is that it’s the only app that I can enter and edit a route on without being driven to distraction. No, not as easy as a computer with a mouse, but way better than a plotter.

Anyway, TZ iBoat has just been upgraded with three new features, two useful, and one that should be avoided like the plague:

  • Autopilot Output: TZ iBoat is now able to send information to your Autopilot (NMEA0183 sentences via TCP) when a route is activated. Make sure to check out their user guide for more information under the “Help” section.
  • Bluetooth Mouse support: Many of our power users on iPad wanted a way to control TZ iBoat with a mouse. This is now possible.
    • This is a wonderful upgrade. A finger is just too blunt an instrument for entering waypoints and routes, and a mouse (or track ball) is best.
  • Instruments Damping and Offset: TZ iBoat offers new settings to offset and damp instruments (course, speed, wind…). Speed damping can be especially useful in some cases to stabilize the Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA).
    • Probably useful, depending on setup.

Further Reading

Q & A: Iridium Go! or Go Exec



The new Predict Wind Iridium Go Exec device does indeed have a subscription plan that limits data according to how much one pays, i.e: $159.95/month buys you only 50MB of data. That includes all data transfer including tracking data.

Do you happen to have a clue how much data you found that you used, on the average, per month with the original Iridium Go device?

I am just trying to figure out what size plan would be needed in order to not have to worry about constantly hitting the ceiling towards the end of the month. I believe you & I would have similar usage (that is forecasts & basic emails).


The exact amount of data we used varied a lot, so I don’t think that’s the way to make the decision.

Rather, what I can say is that we never had a problem getting all the weather information I needed, and I download a lot more than most people, as well as being able to handle all of our email, which, again, is a heavier load than most people, because of running AAC.

Sure, sometimes the GO! took as much as an hour to deal with all that, but so what? With good software you don’t need to sit around and watch it, and if there’s a drop-out it reconnects automatically and continues on until done.

So if it were me, I would stick with GO! to get the unlimited plan, given that I just don’t want the stress and aggravation of worrying about a hard data limit and the huge charges if that gets inadvertently breached.

I also would not want to have to figure out how to buy more data if I ran out while at sea.

So given that GO Exec is not fast enough to surf the internet, and does not have an unlimited data plan, I just don’t see the point of it against the original GO! with an unlimited plan.

That said, as I have said before, being able to make calls without the kluge of a connected smart phone is a nice upgrade, but not enough to push me into Exec. Rather I would recommend buying a secondhand Iridium handset for the emergency call function.

More on exactly how to use G0! For both strategic and tactical weather forecasting.

The Rolls Royce of iPad Waterproof Covers


While I’m not a fan of relying on tablets exclusively for navigation, on smaller boats like our new-to-us J/109 they can be a good option, at least in conjunction with a plotter.

However, the big problem can be how to charge a tablet and still keep it waterproof. The product pictured above solves that problem.

I’m planning to order one for next season.

On the same subject, here are:

Navigation Where It Belongs


I don’t care how much butchery it takes, we are having a plotter/radar at the forward end of the cockpit where it belongs, to supplement and backup the iPad we use for navigation.

The plotter below-decks is useless when shorthanded and we don’t like plotters on the binnacle, either.

The new on-deck plotter will act as an autopilot control head as well as show strategic information like laylines, should I have a rush of blood to the head and go racing.

The new plotter is much smaller than I would like, but compromises are required on any boat, and the smaller the boat gets, the bigger the compromises.

More on making the most of these small-boat navigation compromises.

Mock-up of the fascia that I just made to assist the composite technician who is going to fix my butchery and make it look nice.

Yes, I could do the glasswork, but it would take me three times as long and look half as nice—know your limitations.

New Iridium Go! exec


Predict Wind have a preliminary announcement video for a new faster version of the Iridium GO!.

Not a lot of details yet, but it’s supposedly a lot faster, although not fast enough to use for actual internet surfing.

The big drawback will be if the unlimited data package available with the original GO! is not offered with this new unit or is a lot more expensive.

I’m guessing it might not be the great deal that the unlimited plan on the original unit is since the new GO! uses the Certus modem like Iridium Pro.

If no unlimited plan is offered, or a much more expensive one, I’m thinking that for many users who are just looking to download email and weather information at sea the original GO! may still be the best option since I have never had any problems getting all the weather data and email I need over the older unit.

Definitely the key thing to look into and clearly understand before purchasing one of these new units is the availability and cost of an unlimited plan.

One upgrade I did like is that the new unit has a speaker and microphone and so can be used for telephone calls without connecting a smartphone. This is a big safety benefit since there have been incidents with the old GO! where users were not able to get voice communications working quickly in an emergency.

Here’s the intro video, not that it’s much use:

And here’s a Q&A that might be more useful.

A Crash Jibe Looking For A Place

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I’m in the throes of replacing the autopilot computer on our J/109 (more on that in a full article).

First off, when I opened this box to connect up the drive and clutch I was distressed to see this terminal type.

These things have no place on a boat, at least if they rely on the screws alone rather than contact plates that the screw compresses onto the wire, but, even then, for critical systems I far prefer ring terminal blocks.

That’s bad enough, but my distress turned to horror when I disconnected the clutch wires and found that whoever had set this up—given the history of the boat almost certainly a boatyard “professional”—had jammed the wires so far in that the screws were on the insulation, not the wire—look closely at the photo.

This could have caused a nasty, and likely intermittent, failure at any time over the last 18 years since the autopilot was installed.

Bottom line: you gotta check everything and “boatyard maintained” is often more of a warning than a reassurance.

Is It Time To Consider a Robot For Watchkeeping?

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OK, that was a clickbait title, if ever there was one.

Anyway, I have been vaguely interested in the AI lookout and collision avoidance technology that has been used in the singlehanded racing game for some years, called OSCAR.

Now I see that the company has rebranded as SEA.AI and their entry level product is down to a still eye-watering €9,999.

But, then again, if this entry level unit really works, I can see that kind of investment (no more than a good integrated plotter and radar system) being worth it for singlehanders, or even double-handed crews.

And if we were still heading for the high latitudes regularly, Phyllis and I would be all over this technology, assuming it works for detecting small growlers.

Worth thinking about, although I’m guessing that waiting a bit longer before spending on this technology probably makes sense for most of us.

The other thing that could be a problem is how much power this thing uses. I note that it needs 24 volts—to avoid voltage drops on the mast cable since this model has all its brains at the top of the mast, I’m guessing—which is a bit of a smoking gun on what a hog it is.

Do any of you members have any first-hand experience with these things?

Review of Furuno DRS2DNXT Radar

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Eric Klem, a deeply experienced commercial and recreational mariner, and professional engineer with huge radar experience, just reviewed the latest Solid-State Radar from Furuno.

Don’t miss this comment (membership required to read), you will learn a huge amount, just like I did.

Read Eric’s Comment

Starlink Maritime


Starlink are going to provide a solution for moving vessels, but before we get too excited check out the price! Think US$10,000 for the unit and US$7000/month for service!

Looks like I will be right that Iridium will the solution for most of us for some time to come. In 2019 I predicted 10 years more of standard old Iridium for most of us.

Might still be right, but then again five years from now might be closer for always-on internet at sea at a reasonable price—only 30 years after the billionaires started promising it for “next year”.

No Position


We were out sailing our new-to-us J/109 when I realized that neither of the default screens on the plotter or TZiBoat showed position. Pretty standard these days…and oh so wrong. Imagine a person overboard and we need to radio for help, but first have to dig through a bunch of screens to find our position. Two minutes to fix (above photo), but worth thinking about.