Panbo

Sailing with an Airmar PB200

... written for Panbo by Dan Corcoran and posted on Feb 3, 2009
Thumbnail image for ws_with_fog_touchup (Medium).jpg
PB200 with VHF extension pole for mounting atop a masthead

I am writing to share my excitement about a new product from Airmar, tested aboard my 39 foot sailboat this past October-November. The Airmar PB200 is a compact masthead sensor that includes an ultrasonic (no moving parts) wind sensor, solid state compass, GPS receiver and more, along with a 3-axis accelerometer. It has an NMEA-0183 output that I found compatible with my Raymarine instrument suite. Airmar doesn't market this for use on a sailboat, but when I learned about the new version of this powerboat product, I got excited about the potential to make my autopilot much more useful when sailing short-handed. Thanks in part to Panbo, I got the opportunity to evaluate a beta version on my own sailboat...

The key output I was interested in using from the PB200 was the wind angle measurement, which I believed would be a tremendous improvement over a mechanical wind vane sensor. Ultrasonic wind measurement has no moving parts and eliminates errors induced by the inertia / weight of the mechanical sensors (as they rock on top a mast). Being digital in nature also eliminates the need for calibration.

Any wind measurement, however precise, at the top of a masthead is a measurement of the apparent wind we want to measure plus the pitch and roll motion of the boat (amplified substantially by 50 feet of mast) that we don't want to measure. The PB200 differentiates itself from past versions and competing mast head sensors by incorporating a 3-axis accelerometer and internal motion correction software able to measure and correct for the motion of the boat bouncing underneath it. The resulting wind angle measurement stayed constant as the boat heeled and rolled underneath the sensor, even when amplified by my 50 foot high mast!

For my testing, I used dual Raymarine ST60 wind instrument displays, one for the PB-200 and the other for the mechanical wind and vane sensor. The output of the PB-200 was used to feed my E-Series chartplotter and an S1G autopilot set in follow the wind mode.

When sailing upwind in stable winds under a PB200 enhanced autopilot, I found the autopilot was able to stay "in the groove" in the waves and wakes. During a period of 15 minutes that the AWA was closely observed, the PB200 showed variations of no more than 1 degree from my chosen AWA of 45 degrees as the autopilot aggressively followed the wind. Meanwhile, the mechanical driven display showed AWA variations as much as 12 degrees. Had those variations been fed to the autopilot, the sailboat would have zig-zagged a bit, the sail trim would have spent less time near optimal sheeting and the boat would have covered considerably less distance in the same time.

When sailing downwind with an asymmetric spinnaker, the autopilot also performed extremely well. While the PB200 showed AWA variations of 3 degrees as my boats autopilot responded well to staying 130 degrees off the wind, the mechanically driven display showed variations of as much as 35 degrees, especially as each 1-2 foot following wave caught up to us. Had that mechanical wind angle measurement been fed into my autopilot instead, it would have zig-zagged the boat unmercifully. With the performance enabled by the PB200, I can now fly my spinnaker for hours with the autopilot. In addition, as a result of having an ultrasonic boat speed, I also get an accurate true wind angle and maybe this can help me race against other sailors who can determine the apparent and even true wind direction with their eyes closed. Thumbnail image for pb200_nmea0183converter_pc (Large).jpgPB200 in tested configuration with PC software via USB cable connection, and NMEA-0183 connection to my Raymarine chartplotter. The interface takes as input speed over water, and provides sensor information back to my e-series that distributes apparent wind, true wind, and more over my seatalk network to the autopilot and ST-60  wind display
pb200_nmea2000network (Large).jpgThe Airmar PB200 is NMEA-2000 compatible as well

Comments

Ah, "one small step for mankind" and all that! Panbot Dan Corcoran not only wrote this interesting entry but actually created it using Panbo's new Blog software. First, of course, he had give me an apple ;-)

Regarding the PB200: I spoke with Airmar yesterday and, as pleased as they are with Dan's Beta testing, they're still not ready to claim that the sensor will work well on anyone's tall mast. More testing is happening in Europe, and I believe Dan will be back at it when winter breaks. I'll also be trying one in the Panbo lab, and fleet.

Posted by: Ben at February 3, 2009 12:23 PM | Reply

Tony Bessinger's take on ultrasonic wind sensors in Sailing World:

http://www.sailingworld.com/sailing-gear/electronics/windspeed-with-no-moving-parts-1000068711.html

Posted by: Ben at February 3, 2009 12:57 PM | Reply

I have used the Maretron WSO100 on my boat all last summer. It is pretty much the same unit without the GPS and accelerometer. I opted out of the GPS version as it seems to me that putting the GPS antenna at the top of a 20 meter sailboat mast is not ideal for accurate reading.
The unit worked great except in two occasions where it started showing wind speeds over 100 knots and temperature above 250F. Needless it was not that windy nor hot. The first time was in the south of Sardinia; it lasted 2 days while I was in port. The second time was between Sardinia and Corsica, it lasted a few hours.

Posted by: Xavier Dreze at February 3, 2009 1:16 PM | Reply

I believe you would find they are not so similar, even subtracting the GPS component from the comparison.

Although they have the ultrasonic technology in common, the PB200 differentiates itself substantially by incorporating a 3-axis accelerometer and internal motion correction software able to measure and correct for the motion of the boat bouncing underneath it.

B&G’s highly respected product proves this can be done without the ultrasonic element. Used in high end racing boats, B&G eliminates boat motion from the wind measurement while using a mechanical cup & vane sensor.

Without subtracting the mast motion, my autopilot would not perform this well.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 3, 2009 4:18 PM | Reply

I have what may be an unusual question regarding this technology. Would this work with a steel hull sailboat on the mast head to minimize the steel hull influenced deviation on the solid state compass?

Posted by: Paul Gregory at February 3, 2009 4:24 PM | Reply

Hi Dan, Ben,

I've noticed something peculiar in the PB200 tech specs. It claims to use less than 200 mA @ 9-16V, but also 13 NMEA 2000 LENs! As 1 LEN = 50 mA this would put (max) power use at 650 mA, and not 200 mA.

The PB200 sounds very exciting, but 7 Watt is a bit steep for me. This might even be one of the reasons Airmar are not yet advocating use on a sailing boat.

Any real world observations on power usage?

Posted by: Kees at February 3, 2009 6:20 PM | Reply

Dan:

Thanks for the research on the PB200.

Like you I have a Raymarine E display and ST60 wind instrument.

Is it correct that you have the output of the PB200 input the E display via 0183 and not 2000?

Then you input the ST60 from the E via seatalk?

How do you calibrate the compass and wind?

Is ground wind available on the E? How about when the boat has no SOG therefore no usable COG?

Posted by: Bill at February 3, 2009 7:50 PM | Reply

I love this and hope this proves good on my sailboat. With the wind transducer being the weak link in the autopilot (and chartplotter!) system, it would be nice to have more real and consistant data.

It is also a little more bird proof!!

Posted by: Mike at February 3, 2009 9:03 PM | Reply

This is a very interesting piece of technology for multihulls, with rotating masts. The current systems for wind with a rotating mast rely on a compass sensor on the mast, and another compass on the boat. The system compares the two compasses to find the amount of mast rotation and hence the direction the wind sensor is pointing at the top of the mast. The mast compass is usually mounted at the bottom of the mast.

The problem is that my system (Tacktick) does not do a very good job of calculating true wind. No matter how carefully I calibrate it, the true wind changes by about 15 degrees when I tack. I don't have the outrageously expensive wand that lifts the wind sensor a few feet above the masthead, so maybe it is just the distorted airflow at the masthead. But I think twist in the mast section could be an issue too (my mast is aluminum, not carbon). Hence my interest in a masthead mounted compass.

It would be interesting to compare data from a masthead compass to a compass at deck level. I would guess that even non-rotating masts twist a bit.

True wind speed & direction is the holy grail of every high tech racer. If you can take out mast twist as one of the factors affecting calibration, that would have to be a good thing!

Richard
Corsair 28cc "Trevelyan"

Posted by: richardstephens at February 3, 2009 9:27 PM | Reply

Kees, I got the scoop from Airmar about PB200 power draw. It is approximately 200mA, and could safely be declared a 5 LEN N2K device. But it does have a heater in it, and though so far the heater has has not been enabled, that's the reason for the 13 LEN max power draw figure.

I understand that the reason for the unused heater is while ice and snow can supposedly cause ultrasonic wind speed/direction inaccuracy, so far the effect doesn't seem significant. I do see in the specs, though, that Airmar claims less accuracy in any sort of precipitation.

Posted by: Ben at February 4, 2009 10:11 AM | Reply

Bill asked “Like you I have a Raymarine E display and ST60 wind instrument. Is it correct that you have the output of the PB200 input the E display via 0183 and not 2000?”
--> Yes. PB200 output goes to Raymarine E-series via NMEA0183 in the tested configuration.

Bill asked “Then you input the ST60 from the E via seatalk?”
--> Yes. The e-series provides AWA, AWS, TWA, TWS, etc. as input to the ST60.

Bill asked “How do you calibrate the compass and wind?”
--> Compass: Either from the PC software or thru the autocalibrate mode (e.g. turn circles 1 minute after startup)
--> Wind: no wind calibration per-se, as sensor is digital, and corrects for temp. If for some reason you didn’t align PB200 facing forward at the masthead, you can enter a correction. BTW: It was satisfying, and almost seemed unnatural, to get the same AWA angle close hauled on both tacks with my sailboat after installing the PB200.

Bill asked “Is ground wind available on the E? How about when the boat has no SOG therefore no usable COG?”
--> Yes, ground wind is available from the e-series, just add it to your data window.

RichardStephens asked “It would be interesting to compare data from a masthead compass to a compass at deck level. I would guess that even non-rotating masts twist a bit.”
--> The solid state compass is very impressive, the output of which duplicated a Weems and Plath hand baring compass at a clear spot on my bow, in a test I didn’t describe here. There is also a standalone solid state compass available from Airmar I will be evaluating in this Spring.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 4, 2009 11:42 AM | Reply

I was interested in Richard Stevens' comments re using the unit with a rotating mast. I too own a large cat with a rotating airfoil mast and have not yet found a satisfactory solution to the calibration problem when the mast turns. Is there any reason to think that the Airmar will automatically compensate for mast rotation? If it does, I'll be first in line to purchase one.

Posted by: OverboardDavie at February 4, 2009 2:05 PM | Reply

Davie ... can you even have a wired NMEA-2000 instrument of any kind at the masthead of a rotating airfoil mast, or would it also have to be wireless and solar powered?

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 4, 2009 3:21 PM | Reply

b393capt...

In answer to your queston I can have a wired NMEA-2000 instrument. Currently, a cable bundle runs out the base of the mast that includes coax to the VHF antenna, power to the mast head light, and a cable to the current B&G wind transducer. So, hard wiring is not a problem.


Posted by: OverBoardDavie at February 4, 2009 8:39 PM | Reply

Richard & Davie, I see the respective systems you are using (Tacktick + B&G), both have mast rotation sensors as available options that would correct the AWA readings for mast rotation. Would seem that would solve your problem right there with either your existing mechanical wind sensors or the PB200’s ultrasonic wind measurements.

There also appears to be a NMEA-0183 command the PB200 will accept to tell it how many degrees off centerline the PB200 is, that the PC based configuration software uses. I would imagine a Brookhouse NMEA multiplexer can be configured to compare the value of two solid state compasses (masthead and ship mounted) to determine the proper value to send via NMEA-0183 to the PB200 … but a mast rotation sensor sounds like a better approach.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 5, 2009 7:03 AM | Reply

Looking at the Brookhouse NMEA multiplexer more carefully ... I see no need to send a command to the PB200, looks like the multiplexer can apply corrections directly to the PB200 outputs before passing them along to your boats network. Would still think a mast rotation sensor is a better input than comparing two compasses.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 5, 2009 7:26 AM | Reply

Wow; if I ever get around to having some "Panbo Rules" t-shirts made, Kees will be near the top of the giveaway list. As a result of his comment here yesterday, Airmar has already modified its PB200 specs to the true 5 LEN figure. Cool!

Posted by: Ben at February 5, 2009 8:56 AM | Reply

I thought this product - not the PB100 - has been around for some time (like 2007).
Is this an update? Or am I 'fused but yet again?
HN

Posted by: Anonymous at February 5, 2009 11:36 AM | Reply

Yes, Airmar has been talking about the PB200 for a while, and updating/testing it all the while. Heck, they still haven't truly shipped the sailboat version I wrote about in 2005:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2005/04/airmar_weatherstation.html

But then again in the 1980's my joke line about my house was that I'd finish it in the 20th century. I stopped using the line in the late 90's.

Posted by: Ben at February 5, 2009 1:39 PM | Reply

Interesting windex addition in the 2005 picture, but unnecessary.

With or without a windex, pending it's endorsement by Airmar for sailboat use, this is my early favorite for a 2009 most innovative sailing product of the year award ... for the huge difference it makes in measuring apparent and true wind at the top of a sailboat mast.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 5, 2009 5:21 PM | Reply

The 2005 Panbo article mentioned that the Airmar is based on the CV3F from LCJ Capteurs. They also have an improved model for sailboats, the CV7.
http://www.lcjcapteurs.com/fichierpdf_lcj/Brochure%20CV7_GB_161107_200DPI.pdf
(in English)

Posted by: norse at February 5, 2009 7:48 PM | Reply

I wouldn't want a windex sitting on top of a PB200 since I'd want the unit mounted forward facing outward on the masthead (like the CV7 or a BandG wand) to avoid the jib wash. Instead I'd want the windex aft so it would be visible from the cockpit. Also keep the pointy thing away from spinnakers.

Never heard of the CV7 before but I like its mounting.

Posted by: Olsonist at February 5, 2009 8:38 PM | Reply

I think this is really cool and it does all the stuff for less LENs than the Maretron Wind (7) and Compass (5) ... I think in the near future the 50 item, as well as the volage drop, limits will make NMEA2000 networks hard to design, so convergence of many sensors into one is awesome.

(1) As the manual states, a 1 meter (read as more than 3 ft) minimum clearance between the PB200 and a VHF antenna is required. Has anybody tried this atop of a mast with a VHF Whip close by, especailly one that maybe broadcasting AIS Class B every once in a while?

(2) How good is the electronic compass? Has anyone tired it as a flugate compass to give say MARPA ability to an E-Series? I know he said you used the PB200 for an autopilot to steer to wind, but does it work fine as a replacement compass, say to a new SPX autopilt which accepts STNG (read N2K)?

Posted by: Matt Sunderland at February 6, 2009 9:42 AM | Reply

Olsonist, lot’s of good reasons for no Windex, eh ?
- Virtually all sailboats have a Windex already installed in an ideal position hanging off the aft of the mast head
- The PB200 is safe from birds and high winds, keep it that way
- The PB200 is very light weight, keep it that way


Olsonist, in regards to PB200 mounting, I feel confident recommending the choice I made. I was focused on downwind improvements and didn’t want to have the PB200 in the shadow of my aerodynamically challenged masthead (lights, spars, etc.), rather than forward I would have angled the mount aft if I could find one. Instead, I opted to go straight up from the masthead center with a standard VHF mount and light weight extension pole (Shakespeare 1 ft polycarbonate). Given the results I reported, both upwind and downwind are superb, … I think this simple and rigid mounting choice is a good all round choice for most boats.

Matt asked "has anyone tried this atop a mast with a VHF Whip"
--> Yes … not saying this was the right thing to do, but that is how I tested it rather than having a 4 ft high extension pole. No AIS.


Matt asked "electronic compass ... MARPA ability to E-series".
--> Yes, I tested the PB200 heading output, set at 10 hz, as an input to the e-series, and performed some very aggressive steering to determine if MARPA functioned as well with the PB200 as it did with my flux-gate. My radar is a 2kw 18” Raymarine Radome, mounted 30 feet up the mast on a self leveling mount. The PB200 aced the test
...

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 6, 2009 2:36 PM | Reply

I kinda like your argument for going straight up the mast. Leaning forward to avoid the wash might help with upwind but then it suffers the same problem downwind. BandG puts these things out there and people get used to looking at them and figure that it has to be right. How often do they revisit their assumptions?

But now I'm worried about the VHF antenna. I wonder if 3db whip vs unity gain matters. I wonder if it matters at all. The installation doc sez:

• Because the WeatherStation instrument has an electronic compass, it should be at least 1m (3') away from any on-board radar equipment or other strong magnetic fields from equipment such as radio transmitters, boat engines, generators, etc.

• Because the WeatherStation instrument has a GPS, it must be lower than any on-board INMARSAT communications antenna.

• Because the WeatherStation instrument has a GPS, be sure it is as far as possible from high-powered transmitting antennas to avoid mutual interference.

• Because the WeatherStation instrument has a GPS, check for any electromagnetic shading. That is, any obstructions from other vessels or shoreline buildings that will interfere with the GPS signals that the WeatherStation instrument must receive.

Posted by: Olsonist at February 6, 2009 10:28 PM | Reply

Here's another comment from the Owner's Guide:
NOTE: The higher the WeatherStation instrument is mounted, the less accurate
the pitch and roll readings will be.

I'm not convinced that this integration works except for powerboats because of the conflicting demands on placement. The GPS doesn't need to be at the top of the mast and probably shouldn't be there. Same for the compass. There are antennas and lights that do need to be at the top of the mast (I guess I need another mast). The sailboat unit should concentrate on giving good wind readings and leave GPS and compass to separate units.

Posted by: norse at February 7, 2009 2:39 PM | Reply

You may well be right, Norse, but if the accelerometers and compensating software consistently work as well as they seemed to for Dan (b393), then our notion of where to put a compass may get inverted. I.e., if compass motion is not a real issue, then getting it high up and away from magnetic influences would be a good thing.

Posted by: Ben at February 7, 2009 3:02 PM | Reply

I have now a couple years experience with an Airmar PB-100 (the predecessor of your unit) in "Barbara".

The compass appears accurate, and the unit as a whole performs pretty well. It _is_ quite sensitive to precipitation and even cold. I think it was not quite ready for prime time when released.

PS -- compass and GPS take almost no space -- the whole unit is smaller than a baseball.

Posted by: Michael Porter at February 7, 2009 4:38 PM | Reply

The GPS receiver is in the PB 200 for the same reason that it is in the AIS unit. The realtime computational demands of true wind and heel and ... can't be met by waiting for this information to appear on the N2K bus. GPS doesn't need to be at the top of the mast but it does need to be onboard the PB 200 which needs to be at the top of the mast. Ergo you will have multiple GPS units on your boat which is not necessarily a bad thing.

A slight counter argument can be made with the Maretron. I'll assume that the PB 200 is mo better at true wind.

Posted by: Olsonist at February 7, 2009 4:54 PM | Reply

Thanks for commenting here, Michael!

I highly encourage Panbo readers to check out "Barbara", the "Live Anywhere" boat, which apparently is also the "finish anywhere" boat ;-)

http://www.mp-marine.com/

I got aboard her two years ago at the MBHH Show in Maine, and, though she had no interior to speak of, could see that Michael had designed a seriously cool vessel.

Posted by: Ben at February 7, 2009 5:07 PM | Reply

Olsonist, I think what most sailors, at least racers, call True Wind is computed using the boat's Speed Through the Water and True Heading (though not always the latter). A better expression for it is True Wind Relative to Boat.

Then True Wind computed using GPS SOG and COG is better called True Wind Relative to Ground. Figuring these subtleties with the rotating mast conundrum can cause headaches!

Posted by: Ben at February 7, 2009 5:37 PM | Reply

Keeping in focus the benefit the PB200 uniquely provides to sailboats (astonishing AWA & autopilot performance, and if your into racing the astonishing TWS and TWA measurements(reported in degrees port or starboard off the bow)), the top technological stars of this blog post is clearly the accelerometers and motion compensation software … with the ultrasonic wind measurement (no measurement distorting moving parts, and calibration free digital output) … important but secondary.

Fortunately there is no risk VHF interferes with the above sensors. The additional sensors (digital compass and GPS) do provide some icing on the cake (e.g. accurate true wind relative to magnetic north, automatic substitution of SOW for GPS SOG if the paddle wheel fails, etc.) and can be optionally ignored with other sensors on the boat hull ... if VHF interference is a concern.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 7, 2009 7:23 PM | Reply

HI;

Do you happen to have a photo of your installation? How did you get around the problem of blocking the masthead navigational lights? I have yet to mount a NMEA 2000 compliant wind sensor, leaning towards the Garmin GWS-10, for this and other reasons. But integrating the three items, wind, compass and GPS into once device is appealing!

Chris

Posted by: Chris Witzgall at February 7, 2009 7:27 PM | Reply

Wow! Those AWA results are astonishing. This is a much bigger step forward for sailors than the video game graphics on the new chartplotters.

So how good was the wind speed measurements of the Airmar compared to the Raymarine?

While I understand Airmar doesn't recommend the PB200 for sailboats, the thing currently whirling around at my masthead has never struck me as a particularly precise instrument.

Carl

Posted by: Carl at February 8, 2009 11:08 AM | Reply

Dan, you said "Fortunately there is no risk VHF interferes with the above sensors."

I worry this maybe anecdotal, and not proven scientific fact. Let alone the VHF signal from a few inches away possibly effecting the compass and the GPS, are we sure there is no, or little, chance it could effect the processing (internal electronics) therefore risking/effecting SOW, etc.?

Mr Porter, I am sure I speak for Gram, and I, in saying hi to another naval architect on Panbo!

Posted by: Matt Sunderland at February 8, 2009 11:21 AM | Reply

I will agree that whatever the PB200 uses to correct its raw wind measurements for mast movement needs to be in the same package as the wind sensors -- but that might be the accelerometers, not the GPS. Do we know the update rate of that GPS? I doubt the N2K bus would be the bottleneck.

The Maretron SSC200 also has accelerometers, but they stick with recommending a traditional mounting location:
Near the Center of Gravity (CG) of the Vessel – The compass experiences the least amount of movement when located at the CG, which allows the most accurate readings. This is similar to a traditional card/needle compass, where the farther the compass is from the CG, then the more the fluid sloshes around, making accurate readings more difficult.

There is no fluid in a solid state compass, but it's easier to start with a clean signal than to clean up a dirty one. I'd like to see a real performance comparison test between a mast-top compass and one in a traditional location (both could even be the same brand and model).

Posted by: norse at February 8, 2009 2:26 PM | Reply

Chris asked “do you have a photo”
--> Not one at masthead level, let me see if I can get you a diagram instead.

Carl asked “So how good was the wind speed measurements of the Airmar compared to the Raymarine?”
--> No difference whatsoever in apparent wind speed readings, the mechanical spinning cup sensor did good !

Matt stated a concern about my statement “"Fortunately there is no risk VHF interferes with the above sensors."
--> Really? By the “above sensors” I was excluding GPS and solid state compass. I think it’s reasonable to discount the small fraction of 25 watt VHF power intersecting the PB200 from affecting the accelerometer or motion compensation software.

Norse wrote “correcting for mast motion … that might be the accelerometers, not the GPS
--> I agree. The GPS would have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 8, 2009 5:17 PM | Reply

I've been away from an internet connection, and leaving again today, but these results are almost too good to be true. Excuse my skepticism, but "what's the catch". Reading carefully it sound like:

- problems with precipitation. How bad in how much precipitation? Does it affect both velocity and direction? Does this include fog?

- power consumption. At the revised 5 LEN, that's 6ahrs / day (12v) versus essentially 0 for a wind wand. Accuracy extracts a toll from the electrical system.

- cost - $1,200 is pretty steep. Accuracy extracts a toll from the bank account. Though on a new installation I guess it would also be the primary GPS.

However, my biggest skepticism is why Airmar is not ready to make any marketing claims. Have they grown conservative since the issues with the ultrasonic speed sensor? What do they know that we don't?

Posted by: Russ at February 10, 2009 10:13 AM | Reply

What are the issues with the ultrasonic speed sensor? Can you give me a link/pointer?

Posted by: Olsonist at February 10, 2009 10:27 AM | Reply

Russ wrote "what's the catch" and "accuracy extracts a toll from the electrical system."
--> If I get where I am going faster due to the accuracy, then I actually have a net savings! 6Ahr/day (or 2Ahr for 8 hours) looks really cheap next to saving 30 minutes or more of run time from my autopilot, chartplotter, VHF, etc.

Russ wrote "Airmar is not ready to make any marketing claims (for sailing)"
-->Ben commented on this up above. It would make sense to wait until it is marketed for use on tall masts !

Olsonist wrote “... Ultrasonic speed sensor”
-- > Great product. I also recall there being rumors about a problem years ago. I tried to dig up information on the rumor before making my purchase in 2007, and couldn’t learn much. The product has performed flawlessly for me … check out the Hull Truth or more recently, Sailing Anarchy / Gear Anarchy for comments (look for b393capt) for my positive comments.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 13, 2009 5:00 PM | Reply

So from the analog CS4500 how did you get the signal into your system? I'm looking at the Actisense DST-2 to convert the signal into NMEA 0183. Anything else? Calibration?

Posted by: Olsonist at February 13, 2009 10:13 PM | Reply

Since the output of the CS4500 junction box, is identical to a paddlewheel ... I simply took the wires from the Raymarine ST60 Tridata to the paddlewheel, and connected them instead to the CS4500 junction box. Follow the Tridata calibration instructions.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 14, 2009 8:39 AM | Reply

So something like the ST70 Speed Transducer would get me an ultrasonic speedo on an N2K network? Still, it would be nice if Airmar had an native N2K version but this works for me now.

Posted by: Olsonist at February 14, 2009 12:31 PM | Reply

Dan: I'm pleased to hear the ultrasonic sensor is working well for you. It was on/off the market and earned a very bad reputation for a long time in the version sold by B&G. I assume you've used it in a variety of water conditions - smooth, rough, foul water and crystal clear? When they make an N2K version I'll give it a look.

I like accuracy and if I could remove some other equipment I'd be interested in the PB200, but as you suggest, I'll wait until Airmar wants to put their name behind it before putting it on top of my mast (80').

Posted by: Russ at February 15, 2009 8:28 PM | Reply

I did as suggested. I have an Airmar CS4500 that originally sent data to a Raymarine tridata. It now sends data to a ST70 speed pod and then to my NMEA 2000 network.

An additional plus that the ST70 pod supports non-linear calibration. (You can calibrate for speeds of 2,4 8, 16 knots...)

Posted by: Jeremy Anwyl at February 17, 2009 11:53 PM | Reply

Thanks for the plug Ben! I am mostly without internet, so could not respond earlier -- I did try once, but your Gizmo address kicked my mail back as spam. And of course I did not find that out for a week or so :(

Anyway, greetings from Boqueron.

Michael Porter

Posted by: Michael Porter at March 6, 2009 12:43 PM | Reply

I have installed Airmar PB200, Garmin 5012, Garmin HD24 Radar on my 30 ton 16 metre steel yacht. Mast height around 20 metres. One metre separation of PB200 from VHF antenna was achieved by design since this is a brand new mast. There is some reflection of nav lights on the PB200 (the sailboat version should be painted matt black!) I also have an old Raymarine autopilot with a fluxgate compass (which interestingly appears to be made by Airmar, since Raymarine forgot to remove the tag from the cable despite rebadging the housing).

The wind readings seem great, and having an accurate barometer is just fantastic, but the heading was quite instable on my sole test motoring in light winds and about 0.2 metre seas: 5-15 degree yaw just doesn't seem right in those conditions (although the fluxgate, mounted only 2 metres up, showed yaw as well)

The Garmin heading rose fluctuated annoyingly, and the radar image showed repeated misalignment. However when I selected a target moving in a narrow navigation channel at a fixed speed and direction for MARPA all hell broke lose. The heading error got magnified so much the bulk carrier half a mile away and running orthogonal to my course repeatedly threatened to ram me in two minutes and then swung 180 degress and ran away... :) Clearly the heading error was massively magnified. The result: MARPA judged utterly useless in this combination.

It is possible the update frequency of the heading was not sufficient to properly synchronise the radar, but this also shows the 5012 doesn't have very good interpolation software: it should be able to figure out that an island cannot move hundreds of metres between radar sweeps.

I wonder if I need to install a separate heading sensor? Even using the GPS COG would probably have given better results.

Posted by: yttrill at November 30, 2009 10:20 AM | Reply

I had similar problems Yttrill, until I connected my boat computer and ran the accompanying software from AIRMAR, which allows me to set buffering on the compass output. Then things calmed down. I'm on the hard now, and won't be able to test until spring, but I beleive that all those problems (now limited to the NMEA 0183 side of things, going to my 3010C) can be resolved by rerouting the data directly to that instrument rather than having it pass through from my 4208 over Garmin's network. Thank goodness I got the data cable for both N2K and NMEA 0183 when I ordered my PB200. I use the U200 usb gateway to get data to the computer

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at November 30, 2009 12:51 PM | Reply

I have turned off the compass heading and GPS outputs on the PB200 and just use the outrageous wind feature in NMEA-0183 mode. In NMEA-2000 I turn on the barometer and air temp. Note in the NMEA-2000 mode at present time you have to turn off the GPS each time you power up the PB200, it dosn't remember the setting to disable those PGN's for some reason. I turn off the GPS because the SOG & COG are not motion corrected or dampened, and give you wild readings.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at November 30, 2009 10:19 PM | Reply

Note, there is a Part II with more information on which all future comments should probably be posted against:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2009/02/sailing_with_an_airmar_pb200_-_part_ii_.html

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at November 30, 2009 10:26 PM | Reply

Been reading about the PB200 as I plan for installation of Simrad nse12 mfd and br24 radar this spring. It appears I could install the pb200 for both gps and heading info in lieu of separate units from simrad or similar. With pb200 n2k output it seems I would be fine going to simnet for eveything - and get the wind speed/direction in addition [which I want anyway]. This is for a PDQ mv34 powercat with pb200 about 18 feet above waterline. Make sense? Thank you for any advice. Brian

Posted by: Brian at February 2, 2010 10:21 PM | Reply

I have offshore experience with a masthead mounted PB200 in the recent Victoria to Maui race. The wind angle performance was as Dan describes it, even in 20 foot seas we encountered in a gale of Northern California.

The GPS SOG, COG and compass heading from the PB200 were unreliable in extreme seas although they seemed OK in the relatively smooth waters of Georgia Strait. I spoke with an Airmar rep at the recent NMEA show and they advised using a lower mounted GPS sensor and compass sensor in place of the masthead units, whose output can be disabled with the Airmar software.

This is an NMEA 2000 setup using a waterproof touch screen in the cockpit, with a home made solid state PC, Windows 7 and Avia Sail software (disclaimer: I'm the developer of Avia Sail). This worked well even in extreme conditions, with the exceptions stated above. The only other sensor was an Airmar DST 800 which provides depth, STW, and water temp.

The Autopilot has a fluxgate which can connect to the 2000 network, and GPS sensors are not very expensive so we will try this setup soon.

Posted by: yacht371 at October 10, 2010 12:32 PM | Reply

There is more on Grahame's offshore setup here:

http://www.panbo.com/archives/2010/08/avia_homebrew_pc_gets_a_work_out.html

Also, during the NMEA Conference an interesting partnership between Avia Sail and Fugawi was announced:

http://www.fugawi.com/web/products/avia.htm

Posted by: Ben at October 10, 2010 1:08 PM | Reply

do you know if they have updated code so that gps stays off? i would rather NOT have to maintain a laptop and nmea2k to usb gateway on my boat......

matt

Posted by: Anonymous in reply to Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at January 20, 2012 7:13 PM | Reply

So where is all the enthusiasm? This has been on the market for 4 years, and there's little information.

Dan -- what can you say now after nearly 4 seasons with the instrument? I'm looking to put it on a 34' sailboat, so it's very close to your application.

I think this is WAAAY cool. I have no digital compass, so none of my (not yet purchased) instruments will give magnetic true wind direction -- but this will add it. My GPS is pedestal mounted, and taken off regularly -- but this is permanent GPS and a terrific feed for the DSC VHF. Folks all over have to deal with bird damage, but this is immune. My autopilot will read 0183 wind, and this will speak 0183. It's perfect. And even if it isn't up to snuff with a high end B&G, it's waay better than a Garmin GWS10, which is what I would otherwise get.

But where is the uptake? Why, 4 years later, is there almost no discussion? Why can I not walk into Fawcetts, West, etc and look at one? Why do Garmin/Ray/B&G, all of who use an Airmar depth/speed, not offer this as an optional unit?

It almost seems like the cheapest way to get this is to buy a GMI10 "system," throw out the masthead unit and cable ($500 worth of stuff!), and then buy this (and all it's parts) a-la-carte, for another $1300 -- when a "kit" would only be another $700 or so.

Where is all the enthusiasm?????


Harry

Posted by: sailingharry in reply to Anonymous at September 2, 2012 12:02 PM | Reply

I guess that the PB200 has undisclosed issues as it is now an obsolete item. Whether they are with "deals done" with other manufacturers or some other reason it would be interesting to know. Also, it would be interesting to know the reasoning /changes that have been made to the new WX series. Know one seems to know.
The racing fraternity seem to use mostly mechanical sensors, but using ultrasonic for calibration in very controlled conditions. ie Not at the masthead!
AC video Utube.

Posted by: Roly at November 8, 2013 5:08 PM | Reply

I don't think it's fair to presume that the PB200 "has undisclosed issues" because Airmar replaced it with the 200WX. The newer model has a 10Hz GPS, a field servicable humidity sensor, and an improved power supply, and you find more differences by comparing the detailed brochures:

http://www.airmartechnology.com/uploads/brochures/pb200.pdf

http://www.airmartechnology.com/uploads/Brochures/WX%20Series%206%20page%20Brochure%20FINAL%20printer.pdf

I'm not at all surprised that Airmar dropped the PB, as in Power Boat, from the product name as they are sold to many other markets.

Posted by: Ben at November 10, 2013 9:14 AM | Reply

I usually look forward to new versions of products. Generally, they have new features, improved performance, etc. The old products often lack those features, but i would not call that an undisclosed issue!

As far as the racing fraternity, I'll agree that they haven't taken to the sonic sensor. I suspect it is an issue with sensitivity at very low wind speeds, something that they care about. But then again, they have very large budgets and don't care about bird damage! They've also begun to favor synthetic rigging, but that hasn't taken hold in the cruising fraternity yet....

This device seems to be a no-brainer for the cruising market. A spare GPS, a compass (that field reports say is stable even in seaway), barometer, humidity, etc., all at a cost a fraction of getting just wind and compass and with far less stuff to install!

Harry

Posted by: sailingharry at November 10, 2013 7:50 PM | Reply

sailingharry : There are field reports your aware of? Could you point me to them? Thanks!

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at November 11, 2013 2:22 PM | Reply

Field reports. Umm... er... yeah, I think I've seen them. Maybe here? Maybe Sandy Daugherty? I forget. But I swear I've read it.

I'll retract that statement until I find a reference. Unless someone wants to chime in with glowing commentary? Some naysayers (who don't own the device) say that the top of the mast is a bad place for a compass -- but a zero-inertia compass doesn't (or shouldn't) care how much it moves around, and up there it should be free from deviation.

I don't own one, as I'm doing much less glamorous stuff (complete cabin sole replacement with underlying structure -- ugh), but I really want to talk myself into putting one on my mast before the mast goes back in the boat.

Harry

Posted by: sailingharry at November 11, 2013 5:12 PM | Reply

Sailing Anarchy has had a long running thread on this wind sensor-
http://forums.sailinganarchy.com/index.php?showtopic=106456
Amid the usual junk are some worthwhile comments as to accuracy, etc.

Posted by: Jesse Deupree at November 13, 2013 8:46 AM | Reply

Jesse,

I just read most of those 63 comments. Even found a few I wrote. The challenge that never seems to go away is the lack of personal experience. Almost all comments use the AC programs as anecdotal evidence.

It sure would be nice if we found more commentary from more real users working on real-world budgets.

Harry

Posted by: Sailing Harry at November 13, 2013 12:08 PM | Reply

Cool thread on the PB200 at SA, it points right here to Panbo.

In addition to what was published here and there, what real world performance would you still like to know from people who use the PB200?

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at November 13, 2013 10:37 PM | Reply

Leave a comment