Electronics, GPS and VHF, Part 2: Analysis

The Garmin GPSmap 541S
When a person decides to add a GPS to an old boat - a decades old vessel that he is refitting - he must also decide where to locate this electronic device. Unlike those with newer vessels, who might be fortunate enough to be able simply to replace an older GPS with a newer one in the same cut-out or hole, those with older vessels often must create a new cut-out or new hole for the new electronic device. Likewise, they must consider how they will wire this new electronic device in the most efficient and tidy fashion. If they are also adding a new VHF to their boat, especially one that will be integrated with the GPS in order to establish DSC (Digital Selective Calling) capability, then forethought with regard to the placement and the wiring of the GPS is even more important. In the refitting of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, I had to take these and other factors into consideration when installing a GPS and a new VHF with DSC capability. In this posting, the second of seven in my series on this subject, I describe how I reached the conclusions I reached with regard to the placement of these new electronic devices.
I purchased my Ericson 25 in the fall of 2009 from an elderly person who had kept the boat for years at his own private dock in the Pamlico Sound area of North Carolina. This man, only the second owner of the boat, had been vigilant with regard to the bottom-painting of the boat. As far as the many other areas of the boat and the systems of the boat were concerned, however, he had been neglectful.
Two areas or systems that were especially lacking with regard to maintenance were the electronics and the electrical system. I addressed the electrical system in my earlier article, "Electrical, Original." Let's, therefore, focus on the electronics. On the starboard side of the companionway, one of the two previous owners had installed a depth sounder and a knotmeter. The depth sounder worked . . . well, sort of. It at least would light up, when you flipped the switch. As far as reading the display was concerned, this was next to impossible, unless you cupped your hands around the bezel and put your face about three inches from the screen. Whether or not the information provided was accurate, I have no idea. The knotmeter? It was completely shot.
Opposite the depth sounder and the knotmeter was the compass. This was not, of course, an electronic device. Since, however, its location had to be taken into consideration when the time came to install the GPS and new VHF, let's mention it briefly right here and now. This compass, like the knotmeter, was entirely defunct. The fluid within it had long ago leaked out, and its lens was so bleached out by the sun that it would have been impossible to use the compass, even if it still contained its liquid.
The backside of the compass was on the cabin trunk inset, on the port side of the galley. You can just barely see it at the top of the picture below. Beneath this cabin trunk inset was the bulkhead. On this bulkhead were located the original battery switch and the original DC distribution panel.
I would later remove this battery switch and distribution panel. In their place, I would install new ones, and I would install other new components in a new configuration.
Below we see a picture of what this port side of the galley looked like after I had installed the new components. For more on this subject, see my numerous articles organized under the heading "Electrical" in the Index for this website.
As I was saying, before I went on this brief digression concerning the compass and the port side of the galley, the starboard side of the cabin trunk is where the old depth sounder and knotmeter were located at the time I purchased the boat.
The backside of depth sounder and the knotmeter were on the starboard side of the galley. Also on this side, as you can see in the picture below, was the VHF radio.
I would later install a battery charger on this side of the galley, underneath the cabin trunk inset. Below, we see the protective shield made of Spanish cedar and mahogany, which I constructed to cover the battery charger when not in use.
I placed hinges on this shield so that the charger could have as much ventilation as possible when necessary. For more on this project, see my article, "Electrical, Battery Charger."
If you read the first part of the present article on the GPS and VHF, where I discussed my views on traditional navigation, then you'll know that, to me, a traditional compass is paramount on a cruising sailboat, even in this age of high-tech, electronic devices. Knowing that I would definitely install a new compass on this boat, and knowing that I would install, for the first time on this boat, a GPS (one that would be integrated with a new VHF radio with DSC capability), I had to decide where to locate these devices. Would I keep the compass on the port side? Would I put the GPS where the old depth sounder and knotmeter were located? These were the questions I pondered long and hard as I tried to bring as much forethought as possible to this issue.

I briefly considered putting the compass on the bridge deck, i.e., the fiberglass bulkhead of sorts at the foot of the companionway. I had seen other boat owners install their compasses in this area.
One important thing, however, that I had to take into consideration was the air conditioner box that I had built for the companionway. I didn't plan to use this all the time. Nevertheless, there was no way I could use it at all with the compass situated in the bridge deck. Therefore, my choice was either the port or starboard side of cabin trunk.
In the end, I decided upon the port side . . . but not without careful consideration. Why the port side? Well, it was not because of the existing circular hole. I actually had to cut a new hole for this new compass. There was one big reason for locating the compass on this side - I did not want the GPS and the VHF to be directly above the stove.
As you can see from the picture below, the vapors from the pots on the stove surely would not have been good for the GPS and VHF. Some might wonder why these vapors would be of concern to me at all, since I had been foolish enough in the first place to locate so many other electrical devices in this part of the galley. My answer to that supposition is that my placement of these other electrical devices in this area was not made without careful deliberation. For more I my decision making process, see my numerous articles under the heading "Electrical." I will say here in my defense, though, that I would eventually install a removable, snap-in-place, fireproof cloth in the area around the stove as a protective barrier against oils and vapors while cooking. Yes, I could protect the panels and switches that were adjacent to the stove with a cloth such as this one, but I could not protect electronic equipment that was directly above it. For more on my installation of the compass, see my article by that title.
Having decided to install the GPS on the starboard side of the cabin trunk, I now needed to decide whether to flush-mount it on the face of the cabin trunk itself, or to mount it on what is commonly called a "swing-arm," a device, located on the interior, which allows the helmsman to swing the GPS outward when necessary, so that it will be visible to him in the cockpit.
Curious about the swing-arm approach to mounting a GPS, I did a little research on the Internet, and I found a number of examples of different sailboat owners using these on their vessels. Especially helpful were the several pictures that I have included below. I should note first that I did this research some time ago, before I ever started writing articles on this website. Accordingly, I collected these images quickly for my own research purposes. If the sailboat owner who took these images would like for me to cite him, or if he would like me to remove them from this article, I will be happy to do so. I include them here simply for illustrative purposes.
As you can see from the picture above and below, this sailboat owner constructed his own swing-arm. He used a wing-nut at the joint to secure the arm in the desired position.
The benefit of his homemade swing-arm, just like those rather expensive store-bought ones that are made of aluminum, is that it can be swung inward when not in use. This is good for several reasons. First, it allows the GPS to be protected from the elements. Likewise, it allows it to be protected from theft. Additionally, it allows the mariner to consult the GPS will sitting in the main salon, when at anchor.
The store-bought, aluminum ones, also have their benefits, the most important of which is that some of them allow for the mounting not only of the GPS, but also the VHF. An acquaintance of mine in Charleston, South Carolina owns a Catalina 27. He installed the swing arm, that you see pictured below, on his boat. I can say that it sure is handy having both of these electronic devices right next to each other and easily visible in the cockpit. I can also say, however, that this swing-arm can sometimes be a pain. For one thing, it partially obstructs the companionway. This means that every time someone goes below, he either has to work his way around it, or he has to swing it out of the way. The other thing is that the arm does not stay fixed in one position when the boat is in choppy water. Instead, it slowly inches its way back down into the boat.
Taking the above issues into consideration, I decided that the best thing to do for my boat, with my layout, was to forget about the swing-arm and instead mount the GPS on the face of the cabin trunk. For one thing, a swing-arm would have blocked access to a companionway already partially blocked by an air conditioner box. Secondly, there was the issue of weather, specifically bad weather. How do you close off the cabin with washboards (to prevent the ingress of water) and still use the GPS? This would be one of the times when you would want this electronic device to be handy, especially if the visibility was poor.
Having concluded that I would mount the GPS on the face of the cabin trunk, I next needed to figure out how I would cut the hole for it. Would I fill the old instrument holes with fiberglass, or would I disguise them with a panel of wood? These are just two of the questions I considered as I moved forward with this project.
This ends this second posting in my multi-part article on the installation of a new GPS and VHF in Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

No comments:

Post a Comment