I just got back to my trusty laptop to start writing articles again. So I told myself what I should start with. There are thousands of topics I want to cover. So I had my ah-ha moment (yes, you can still get them at 66). Why don’t you write about his recent experience discovering the NMEA 2000 facility?
Simply put, I’m a cruiser at heart. I have been away from my sailboat for the last 2 years working to build my cruise/retirement kitty and last winter I took a few trips to my Gulfstar 44 to make sure it was okay and missed me. I also decided it was time to start installing the new instruments I’ve purchased over the last 2 years while traveling for work.
Two years ago, my wife and I took a week off to drive her to St. Augustine from Miami to catch up on the time I would be traveling for work. During that trip I noticed very quickly that there were some systems that desperately needed attention. I really mean the replacement, but the attention made it easier to swallow. All boaters scorn the idea of having to break up multiple boat units (if you don’t know…a boat unit costs $1,000.00) to install new equipment, even if they do the work themselves.
In addition to the aversion to the term ship units, there is the fear of self-installing electronics. Most cruisers are and by necessity should be jacks of all trades. But installing electronics for most is the most terrifying task. I consider myself pretty good at installing just about anything on my boat, but installing multiple instruments together and trying to get them to talk to each other is a pretty scary thought. When I bought our Gulfstar, it came with electronic components that worked fine. I had a Garmin 4″ black and white and grayscale GPS, Simrad/Robertson autopilot, Furuno radar (my head bumper on the dining room table… what was anyone here thinking?) and wind instruments and Datamarine Corinthian depth minus the anemometer that was blown up during Hurricane Wilma.
Shortly after my purchase, I purchased a Garmin GPSMap 4208 chartplotter to replace the small screen it had. When I read the documentation and installation instructions for the 4208 (along with a couple of phone calls to Garmin tech support), I discovered that via the NMEA 0183 cable, I could get it to talk to my Simrad autopilot. Wow, I could build courses to different places and my GPS would tell the autopilot where and when to turn. It’s okay, I said. I have to do that.
So, with installation instructions in one hand and tools in the other, I began stripping the wires from the main GPS cable, running them to the autopilot computer, and adding a second manual to the mix. “Connect the blue/white wire from the autopilot cable to the brown wire from the NMEA 0183 GPS cable” and so on until I had this ball of connections. With the sweat of fear running down my forehead, it didn’t look too good until I turned on the GPS and autopilot and played what-if. Holy mackerel…it worked. I cleaned the ball of connections and was a very happy cruiser. I felt like I needed to have a medal pinned to my chest.
Let’s jump to today. The autopilot stopped working properly during our trip to St. Augustine, the wind instrument didn’t work because the anemometer I bought on eBay wasn’t compatible with the instrument head, my depth was erratic because I installed a transducer on the hull instead of a hull for the new Garmin GSD 22 Sonar, plus I had to deal with the bumper hanging over the dining table for the radar every time it was needed (a difficult task from the cockpit of a mid-cabin sailboat). Years before, I installed a Raymarine GPS and Radar overlay on the chartplotter and knew this was still possible. So I will upgrade or replace my electronic devices.
As the owner of an online store for boat electronics and parts, I had been hearing about this new NMEA 2000 device for a few years and decided to check it out. I typed Garmin NMEA 2000 into the search bar of my trusty laptop and found instructions for a basic Garmin NMEA 2000 system. I read these instructions several times and decided that NMEA 2000 was the way to go for me. I also checked my Garmin 4208 for compatibility. Surprise, surprise…it was NMEA 2000 compatible.
So I started shopping for the instruments I was going to replace and started planning my NMEA 2000 backbone. I drew my backbone probably 4 times until I was happy with my plan. I picked up a piece of starboard and started screwing in these NMEA 2000 T-connectors as planned. I routed the drop cables from each of the instruments I purchased and connected them to the backbone tees. I added the power tee and installed the male and female terminators on the lightning protection tee as instructed. NO AWKWARD CONNECTIONS PACKAGE! Easy to plug and play. The hardest part was pulling the cables from the new Garmin GMR18HD radar and wind transducer from the top of the mast to the spine. He connected the few cables to the autopilot computer and installed the new wind transducer on top of the mast and through the hull. Other than that and replacing existing instruments, it was very easy with a bit of pre-planning. I even decided to add a Garmin GXM 51 antenna so I can add Sirius XM weather while listening to the 60 on 6 when we start cruising next July.
The only thing I could think of that would be simpler would be to have all the instruments cordless! And you can do that with some teams today. I can’t wait for that update. I said all of this to let you know that upgrading the electronics on your boat shouldn’t give you a rash or hives or make you run in the other direction. NMEA 2000 has put the installation of new electronic devices comfortably in the hands of all willing novices. If you can connect your DVD player to your TV at home, you can install NMEA 2000 electronics. So don’t put off any necessary upgrades or new systems you’ve been thinking about installing on your boat. Start shopping for the equipment you’re thinking of purchasing, either in parts of a complete package. Go to your local traditional seafood store and watch, play and ask questions. After you decide what you want, start getting some prices and start the process of searching all the marine electronics stores online and having fun installing your new electronics. Happy sailing, good winds and calm seas.