June 28, 2015

AIS: where we stand...

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so once in a while we will repost here for reference.

The following may be one of those... 

———— Last updated 26-July-2016 by Bill ————

Link to original forum post [28-Jun-2015]

Re: AIS- A Love Story

Originally Posted by TJ D View Post
My love story begins like so many others, on a stormy winter night in the Bering sea.

Back about 2006 or so, we were mandated to install class A systems on our trawler. It really just seemed like another case of government overreach, creating yet another requirement on top of an already endless list. However, we had no choice so we complied.

Now, for as long as there's been a fishing fleet working out of Dutch Harbor, we've had to cross one of the main shipping lanes between the west coast and Asian ports. These guys operating these ships more often than not would disregard the rules and simply continue on their course regardless of the crossing situation. All very annoying, but we learned to live with it. For you colregs enthusiasts, there are no TSS areas where we're talking, no special exemptions. Calls by position, course, speed, whatever would almost always go unanswered. It's just the way it was.

Until the night I was crossing the lanes with our shiny new AIS. Suddenly, I had identifying info for everyone! We could call these guys by name, and they knew we knew who they were. And just like that, the vast majority of them would take appropriate action in a crossing/meeting/overtaking situation without so much as a radio call. Amazing! I immediately bought a receiver for the sailboat, followed by a class b transponder when they were available.

For those still reading, here's the point. This is the single most important contribution to maritime safety since the advent of electronic positioning. We also embrace the KISS principal on board (the sailboat, not the trawler), but this system has a place on any boat venturing out in any area where shipping traffic is present, coastal or offshore. I read about and remember well the difficulties posed by commercial traffic in various ports, and these units just take so much of that away.

I don't know what compelled me to write this today. It probably has something to do with Shell's new arctic oil rig pulling into Dutch last night with 5 attending tugs and so many damn lights that I appreciated the technology anew.

Good sailing to all.

We agree. AIS is the best aid to navigation released in many years. We love our Vesper Watchmate 850 integrated with our chart plotter and VHF radios [both of which also have AIS Rx only functions for back-up...]

The anchor watch functions are unbeatable. {Having said that, a feature request would be the ability to adjust the anchor coordinates instead of having to punch the mark button at precisely the right moment... This is an issue for us because the Vesper is in our pilothouse, and we typically conduct anchoring from the cockpit helm. Running down the companionway during anchoring to press the button isn't always doable, or timely...}

We went so far as to rely on AIS for POB alert and retrieval function integrating an AIS transmitter with GPS into our inflatable PFD/harnesses. [Side note: When we replace these, we will go with the fairly new AIS/VHF DSC versions to get even more alarm options...]

I also note with interest Ben Ellison's [Panbo] recent article about 5 Watt SOTDMA Class B AIS transceiver [up from the current 2 watt Class B limit we currently enjoy...]

AIS: don't leave home [port] without it!



And here is a follow-up agreeing with someone commenting about RADAR:

Re: AIS- A Love Story

Re: AIS- A Love Story

Originally Posted by CarlF View Post
I'm constantly surprised by the people who consider radar critical for collision avoidance but an AIS transponder a "nice to have".

I hardly ever turn on my radar anymore -- even in Maine -- but the AIS is always on.
Originally Posted by jtsailjt View Post
WOW! Since the vast majority of the boats on the coast of Maine don't have AIS, I can't imagine why you wouldn't turn on your radar as well as your AIS if you ever go out in the fog. AIS is a wonderful tool, and nearly a necessity offshore these days, but when coastal cruising in an area with lots of lobster boats and smallish recreational vessels, neither of which is likely to have/monitor AIS or proceed in a straight line for more than a minute or so at a time, I think radar being on and crosschecked every few seconds is a necessity. For coastal cruising, especially in an area known for its fog like Maine is, radar is critical for collision avoidance because it allows you to see ALL other traffic, where AIS only allows you to see traffic equipped with AIS transponders.
Agreed. Radar is typically a must for us in our current cruising waters. 

We constantly remind ourselves that all of these electronics are simply AIDs to navigation... and the more the better for us [depth, charts, chart plotters, GPS, AIS, RADAR, binoculars, spot lights, etc...]  And lets not forget the days of  recreational SAT NAV, RDF and LORAN-C...

I have never found any single AID that accommodates every situation- including my own eyes and assessment. 

Situational awareness conspires to keep me humble...


Here is another post: this one regarding AIS brand and model [and feature] choices: [2-Jan-2016]

Re: Vesper Watchmate Vision Reviews?

Originally Posted by Kenomac View Post
We're thinking about upgrading our present AIS receive only system to the Vesper Watchmate Vision. Anyone currently using this system? Pros, any cons? Anything better out there?

This inquiring mind wants to know prior to purchase.



We inherited a Vesper Watchmate 850 with our boat. [The model before the Vision: No WiFi or touchscreen, and monotone as well...]

It is a very reliable, feature rich unit with excellent filtering and very low power requirements. It is connected to the primary VHF masthead antenna using a Vesper splitter. [An excellent device from our experience...]

The anchor alarm has earned its place as our primary one. [3 others are set also- along with a RADAR perimeter...] As I have mentioned in prior posts re: AIS, our AIS is broadcasting all the time- even at anchor- but that is due to the areas we currently cruise. [Our SOP may change in other locations in the future...]

Since our person overboard [POB] alert devices are PFD mounted AIS transmitters [with GPS] we also installed a VHF with AIS Rx only [for AIS Rx redundancy.] Both AIS sources are fed to our N2K network so our MFD is our primary AIS Target screen [We can select which AIS source to use...] We added a GoFree WiFi1 device to our N2K network, so AIS data is available to all N2K and WiFi devices. [Like you will be able to do with a Vision.]

Since we rely on AIS to alert onboard crew of a POB, we want to make sure the alarm is loud enough to be heard. The Watchmate 850 has a provision [and likely other AIS models as well...] to easily wire in an external alarm, which we did [with it's own on/off switch for muting...] We even wired in another switch to additionally activate our airhorns. [All can be muted in an instant... This is very important as you cannot talk over either alarm...]

Therefore, [for us...] being able to activate external alarm(s) of choice is an important feature of AIS. That is a requirement I am keeping on my list for future AIS replacements.

In case this is useful.



June 22, 2015

Thoughts on Heating Systems for High-Latitude Cruising

We occasionally comment on other cruiser's blogs. [See our Sailing blogs/sites we enjoy... sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so once in a while we will repost for reference. 

The following may be one of those... [Original post on the Zero to Cruising blog...]

Regarding a request for feedback about Heating Systems for High-Latitude Cruising I responded with the following:

Original Forum Post [22-Jun-2015]
I have lived aboard/cruised several boats above 60N year-round over the decades- each with a different, effective heating system. 
We are now preparing our current boat for high-latitude cruising. It came with diesel forced air which works very well for us currently cruising the Inside passage of Alaska. Before going to even colder climates, we will install a hydronic system as well. 
From experience, if you only choose 1 heating source, go hydronic. Set it up with a thermostat controlling the heat register(s) in each zone. Include a loop for your hot water heat exchanger, and a valve to preheat your engine(s) and generator. [I forgot to mention in my original post that this allows the engine to provide heat to the hydronic loop while motoring...] It doesn’t get any better than this, and the lockers/bilge where you run the hoses are heated and dry as well. A bit overkill for just taking the chill off occasionally, but very robust for the coldest of conditions. 
As a back-up go with a forced air system. Use this when constant heat is not required and/or moderate temperatures. 
Either system will do the job if properly engineered and installed. 
Having had a stand-alone diesel drip unit in a 37ft boat at 61N over several winters, I can tell you you need one that balances intake draft so it won’t back-wind and soot up your cabin. (Sigmar was the only brand I found back then that had a separate combustion air intake among the diesel drip heaters… there may be others now…) I can also state that even with fans and air circulation, you won’t achieve even heat through-out the boat when it is cool outside. My boat was insulated and conditions often reached -20F with 40+ kt winds for weeks on end… I stayed warm, but not every nook on the boat was cozy…
I also installed a Dickinson solid fuel heater inline [above] with the drip heater [Sigmar]- sharing the same exhaust flue. [Essentially, the solid fuel heater became a part of the diesel heater exhaust stack.] 
I had to drill a hole through the bottom of the ash drawer of the solid fuel heater the size of the flue pipe [3in?] to allow the diesel exhaust to pass through. I had a piece of heavy gauge [11ga?] SS sheared to the inside ash drawer dimensions that I set in the bottom of the drawer during the season when the oil burner was too much, but the solid fuel was just right. [I had a note I placed inside the diesel heater firebox reminding me to remove the SS ash drawer bottom piece before lighting the diesel...] 
I was living aboard in Prince William Sound at the time, and kept easy lighting [wax impregnated] compressed wood logs that I broke into ~3in lengths for quick morning fires in the summer, and often burned driftwood as well.  
Coal also worked, but was difficult to source locally... 
These days the compressed fuel for pellet stoves [with an aerated basket to hold the pellets in the burn chamber] might be appealing as well as the ~2in diameter compressed logs [without wax] from the pellet manufacturers.
This set-up worked well and was very safe. If there was a downside, it was the inside of the wood stove would build-up a bit of soot [no more than the inside of the flue...] from burning the diesel drip all winter. I would wipe the 'glass' and insides near the door with a dry paper towel, and use that to light the fire... Any remaining soot quickly burned off after a couple of hot wood fires. 
Since Morgan’s Cloud was mentioned, in case you aren’t already aware, they are conducting a High Latitude workshop this Oct in Halifax where this topic is one of many that will be covered over a 2 day period. (In case that is of interest…) 
Enjoy the journey. 

June 15, 2015

Bilge Pump thoughts and feedback

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so once in a while we will repost here for reference.

The following may be one of those... [Link to original forum post]

Originally Posted by Utahsailor View Post
Planning to install a second float switch a few inches above the present one for a second bilge pump.

1. Is there a problem sharing the present outflow line between the two pumps

2. recommendations for bilge pumps
3. An alarm will be added to the second switch, recommendations?
4. Does anyone have experience with a simple cell based alerting system for this and othersecurity needs?

Sorry for the blizzard of questions but last few weeks have been heavy work weeks.
Hi Utah Sailor,

Some quick responses sharing what we chose to do based on past experience in several cruising sailboat:

1- Sharing discharge line: Don't. You are inviting problems and reduced flow. Run separate, appropriately sized discharge lines for each pump.

2- Pumps: We use the Whale SuperSub automatic pumps for our maintenance pumps [i.e., keep the bilge dry..] They have proved to be very dependable, leave only a 1/4" of water remaining, and don't generate any noticeable IR on the radios...

We also put a simple counter on our primary bilge pump and that count gets recorded in the daily log...

If you don't use an automatic bilge pump as your primary, you may want to consider installing a delay circuit so the pump doesn't cycle on and off in a lumpy anchorage... [i.e., a simple 15 second delay works wonders on the float style pumps. The CruzPro EFS20 has this capability and more built in to their bilge pump monitoring device...]

Secondary pump(s)- use the biggest you can afford, or two... or three...

If going offshore, consider a crash pump: you only need it once...

3- Alarm; something that is too loud. We have our high-water alarm on a deafening piezo unit inside the boat, and it is also connected to the airhorn to alert fellow cruisers and us on shore... [if anyone is within earshot...] ALWAYS make sure you can mute alarms. Once you are alerted they have served their purpose and from then on only interfere with communications during a time you can least afford it.

Side note: We can activate the high-water alarm from within our cabin as part of our personal security plan... [e.g., in case of uninvited, unwanted guests, an emergency, etc.]

4- Security System: Last year I installed the cell based system from Siren Marine because we had to unexpectedly leave the boat over winter to tend to land based responsibilities elsewhere... It saved the day a couple of times [blog references below...] Great unit, lots of features, remotely programmable, and excellent customer service... The provided SIM card works in 180 countries... Details about the choice and installation are in this blog post. If you are interested, you can read about how it already paid for itself...

Have fun with your projects. They are all worthwhile...
SV Denali Rose

Follow-up posts in the same thread:

Re: Adding second bilge pump

Originally Posted by HopCar View Post
"We also put a simple counter on our primary bilge pump and that count gets recorded in the daily log..."

I think a counter is a great idea but I'm also thinking an hour meter might give you more useful information. What do you guys think?
Good thinking: recording the time [pump run durations] is the other half of the equation... I tried in years past to find a timer that would record short durations and ended up with a simple 12VDC analog clock that was only on for the time the pump ran.

The analog clock would advance a few seconds/minutes each time the pump ran and turn off again. Start it at noon and you have our total run time since your last reset to noon.

[Hour meters usually record in 10th's of hours so aren't as useful for this purpose... It would take many months before my primary bilge pump would reach the 6 minute mark for total run time and advance the hour meter by a 10th. There may be other meters out there that record shorter durations (minute meters?) but I haven't looked because we have an alternate method for gathering that info, below...]

On our current boat, the remote vessel monitoring system I mentioned in my earlier response on this thread] takes care of that for us [it still records whether we have cell connectivity or not and updates when within cell coverage. [It sends a text alert when the primary bilge pump starts and again when stops running, among many other things...]

We love useful data too!

SV Denali Rose

Following is a related post regarding Whale IC bilge pumps. [1-Jan 2016]

Re: Pumps, pumps and more pumps.

Originally Posted by Winf View Post
Ok, tired of dodgy impeller bilge pumps and want to upgrade to something robust and reliable.

Looking at the Whale range. Anyone with experience with the Whale IC range of pumps? Like the simplicity of the system, just not sure about the reliability of the electronic wizardry.

In the bilge, looking at the Bilge IC unit. Alternative to this would be a Whale Gulper 220 rigged up to a standard float switch arrangement.

In the shower/sink sump, looking at installing a Whale Grey IC to eliminate the wet sump and having to clean up gross soapy scum. Not sure what the alternative to the auto switching manifold is but it needs to eliminate the wet sump arrangement.

Cost of the IC is high but prepared to pay for quality, reliable equipment.

Thanks for any comments.

Hi Winf,

I've used the Whale Bilge IC pumps on two different boats, and in a friend's house basement sump [to protect him during power outages...] with 100% success.

Perhaps the basement sump is the best test case of the IC as he reports it running ~80% of the time for days on end during heavy rains on the US east coast [subjective]. It is pumping against a 10ft head of 1 1/2in pipe- the maximum allowed in the Whale specs for that pump- and keeps up with his needs. [Like a boat, I backed it up with a 4k gal/hr high water pump.]

I have one in my current boat as the 'nuisance' water pump in the main bilge. It is there to remove as much water as possible [usually down to the last ~3/8" or 1cm..] and help keep the bilge dry. I rely on 3 other bilge pumps mounted at increasing heights to handle water flow and depths that the Whale IC can't handle. [i.e., Emergency pumps.] I've yet to record one of those other 3 pumps activating [each pump has a cycle counter] during routine operations- even when I flush the bilge with a shore water hose.

I like the IC model with the built-in check valve. It seems to work well. The one in my friend's basement is the best test with 10ft of head and silty water. I just inspected it in Nov-2014 and it [the pump and the built-in check valve] was holding up well after 14 months active duty.

The solid state water sensor works well, you just have to make sure the pump is level so the intake is never above the sensor or the pump will not shut off... Also, you can test the sensor of a dry pump by placing your hand on it for ~10 seconds; that makes the pump cycle on.

I also intend to replace the Rule pump and float switch in my shower sumps with Whale IC pumps when the time comes...

In case this helps with your decision.




Below is another related post, this one regarding bilge pump switches. 

[20-Jan 2016]

Re: Bilge Switch Shopping (it's overwhelming)

Originally Posted by allanbranch View Post
There seems to be large variety of bilge float switches. For reference I have a 30' Morgan project boat.

Just a few

When I search amazon for bilge switch, so many kinds of switches and price ranges come up.

Has anyone wrote a "beginners guide to float switches"? What do you recommend? Your wisdom is appreciated.
Hi Allan,

After having 5 boats over the years, I have given up on mechanical float switches and gone to solid state- which continue to remain reliable.

Several solid state offerings have already been suggested in this thread.

Another to be aware of is from CruzPro. They offer a solid state [probe style] switch, but the main part is their controller. They also make many other gauges and devices worth knowing about. Great company to do business with.

One thing I find useful in my current [last?] boat is a brief time delay [currently 15 seconds...] before the bilge pump activates. This is because my lowest bilge is a wide, flat and level bottomed well just forward of the engine... [e.g., ~2 ft x 2 ft with no smaller sump for a pump] so a small amount of water can slosh around for a while, activating the bilge pump unnecessarily- and often- without the time delay in place...

To my knowledge, both the CruzPro and Water Witch offer a time delay. There may be others offering this capability as well, and many bilge designs may not benefit from a time delay...

In case this is useful.



June 12, 2015

Missing the Moment... (or the Death of Nuance...)

We really enjoy technology, and our smart phones are invaluable at this point in our lives.

So are my cameras...  But sometimes fetching and fumbling with a camera to capture a fleeting moment interferes with participating in- or even enjoying- ofttimes missing the essence of what just happened...

We didn't choose this lifestyle so we could miss out on things...

When I am left with only captured images [however magnificent I may imagine them to be...] but no recollection of any feelings evoked by the event [because I wasn't really 'present'...] was my effort worth it?  Not always...

Often we insert our devices between ourselves and those we 'interact' with, not unlike a photographer and their camera. We choose to interfere with- even prevent- capturing the nuance; from truly being there. It's like eating beautifully prepared food that has no flavor or sustenance... wax fruit...

Perhaps, then, the following collection is a fitting sequel to my post from Nov-2014 about Taking Communications for Granted:

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