Digital Switching gets easier, cheaper, and more compelling

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Publisher of Panbo.com, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, completed the Great Loop in 2017.

16 Responses

  1. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Ben, how do the products compare in power draw when our boats are in use vs unused? What choice are installers making when it comes to the bilge pump and bilge pump alarm? (Do installers connect them to these products, or leave them connected separately to the battery). If connected to the battery, do any of these products measure increase in bilge pump usage to increase awareness to the user there is a problem?

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      Dan,

      I can’t find a spec for Maretron, but CZone says the standby current for the Contact 6 Plus is .3ma. Yacht Devices lists average current for the YDCC at 30ma. But, in all cases for these products to function the NMEA 2000 network needs to be powered up. I’d suspect that on most boats that represents a significantly larger load and concern than the consumption of the individual switching component.

      On my own boat I haven’t run my bilge pumps through any of the digital switch products. My installations aren’t physically anywhere near the pumps and I don’t have enough operational data of my own to make that change yet. CZone and Maretron both offer products that can indicate when a circuit is energizied (frequently called a run-indicator) but I’d rather monitor bilge pumps with a stand-alone boat monitoring product that also has alerting capabilities integrated in.

      -Ben S.

    • Colin A says:

      Some of the early systems I worked on (pre 2010) had the bilge systems tied into the digital switching, most of those switched to conventional bilge pump wiring by the boat builder after issues with battery draw and other system failures affecting the bilge system. I think the best solution maybe having the pump with separate power but monitored by both conventional and digital means.

  2. Im curious how the reliability is. Seems that is always the achilles heel of these systems. I really like the idea of it, but the real world application doesnt seem to jive. Fingers crossed

  3. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    This has come a long way in 10 years since I last looked at it. Back then it was $400-$500 a circuit with 16 circuits and 2 controls pads.

  4. Nick Reynolds says:

    I have been looking for this, and think it is a great idea. But it didn’t turn out like I thought it would. I had assumed there would be a doodad at the load/light that accepted power and the nmea2000 connection. Then you would control the device over the network. This would allow one run of power through the boat, and one run of the network cabling, with drops to the individual items. It seems counterproductive that each of these items still requires a separate power run to the load/light. I don’t see how a guy will save any complexity or runs of wire with this. It seems like the only reason to use this is for the MFD control of your load, which is fun and cool, but not terribly compelling.

    • Colin A says:

      In theory you place the modules near load groups so say one in the forward stateroom that controlled the lights in the stateroom and forward head, and maybe the bow lights and head vent fan. Instead of 5 pairs of wires running back to the main panel you would have a communication cable and a a pair of heavier gauge power cables, and each load would have a shorter run. This can be somewhat problematic finding places for the module that are accessible and make sense. The system has to be well engineered and thought out well in advance to really get good weight and wiring savings.

      It’s possible car makers have to some degree done it. The real savings they found weren’t on the load side but the control side. SO say you have breaker panel feeding a switch panel with 8 switches on it then on to the loads. Wit digital switching you could now have a switch panel with only a communication cable and the loads can be fed directly from the circuit protection.

  5. Colin A says:

    As some one who has spent the last decade and a half working with traditional circuit protection as well as digital switching I do take some exception to the reliability statement (at least in the marine world).
    It may well be true in the future but not now.
    We used to see the A series or world breakers last 20-30 years in typical recreational marine service, we typically started seeing module or digital switch failures in the 7-10 year range. You also had issues with support as the products age. Some systems have gone thru complete redesigns in the last 10 years and the old systems require rather expensive fixes thanks to that.

    I still think it’s the future but I think potential adopters should keep in mind there are still some drawbacks that aren’t fully flushed out.
    As an aside I also have done a little work with home automation systems. Very few home automation technicians have the systems in their house in my experience, The issue is when the systems age and are no longer supported it can get very costly versus buying a 5 buck light switch at home depot. Now current wireless systems have reduced that risk which I think is why you see so much more in that space now but remember the basic concepts have been doable for 40 plus years with little market penetration (x10)

  6. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    It isn’t just weight savings. For some of the extra installation complexity, the owner also gets a boat simpler to operate. Rather than buttons programmed 1-1 to match the function of their circuit breaker counter-parts, the installer can have far fewer buttons. Much like you get in a car and have an on switch built into your ignition, you can have an “on” button for your boat that powers on the majority of breakers (instruments, electronics, vhf, etc.) then add buttons only for those devices out of reach of the user (nav lights)

    • Colin A says:

      This is very true and something the automtive and motorcycle space already does with multiple circuits tied together (mostly to the key switch but some others). Many multi plex systems do have these features, but one must be careful to make it intuitive. A certain boatbuilder tied many functions to 3 main ” macro buttons” that were supposed to relate to the boat being at dock at anchor etc. But it had the habit of confusing owners used to turning on everything individually. Used to get lots of service calls that were really more user error or interface misunderstanding then actual issues.
      Another favorite My water heater won’t turn on! Yep it’s because your tank sensor is bad and it has a default to kill power to the water heater when the tank is empty.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I miss Naviop

    • Colin A says:

      The motorcycle industry has developed some intriguing modules. The Moto brain and PDM 60 are another 2 I have come across.

  8. Darrell Clark says:

    Another option for fun, non-critical digital switching. Wire a $35 Google nest mini direct to your 12v. Add a $13 12v 5amp 2 circuit wifi digital switch : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PGPRZ51/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o08_s02?ie=UTF8&psc=1 in parallel at your switch panel ( I wired to courtesy lights). Configure the apps and then you can switch your lights at the panel, or on your phone, or by voice “Hey Google switch courtesy lights on” . Under $50 and a half hour. Obviously not appropriate for critical loads. But nice for lights, Music, etc.

  9. John Lyman says:

    Very interesting technology. If digital switching modules were the exact size of standard boat circuit breakers it would be a no brainer to upgrade existing boats. Like home based z-wave digital switching you would then have a mechanical backup.

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