Welcome to the Marine Electronics Forums presented by Panbo and SeaBits.
Ongoing Saga of the Christina B
As a bit of background, I bought the Christina B about 3 years ago (May of 2017) from a private seller in Sarasota Florida.
She's a 1990 "68 foot" Johnson Euro High Tech... which is a somewhat obscure brand to most folks. She was well maintained (had also been repowered with MAN 1200HP diesels) and due to the Dixon styling it is really hard to tell that she is that old. She looks reasonably modern and efforts by the previous owners have kept her "current" from a mechanical and electrical point of view. Not much in the way of deferred maintenance.
I'm an engineer by trade and profession with a background in electrical, mechanical and computer science (I come from the wonderful world of robotics). I love to tinker and upgrade, and am not a *complete* novice when it comes to "things marine". I basically built a rather elaborate pontoon houseboat over the years with more bells and whistles than it probably should have.... NMEA 2K, TV, hot water, downscan and sidescan sonar, head, generator, shower, inverter, refrigerators, range, microwave, SONOS multi-zone stereo, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps not much when compared to what I/we are dealing with now... but a big undertaking for a "small lake, freshwater boat".
I'm doing quite a few things on The Christina B..... lighting upgrades, NMEA 2K integration, new navionics.... one and on. I generally use a unique and "frugal bordering on cheap" approach to doing things... out of the norm. Sometimes with disastrous results, other times providing an economical and functional solution/alternative.
I figured this would be a good place to capture some of the projects for posterity.. and put them up for public scrutiny.
More to come......
I'm looking forward to seeing what you've cooked up so far. Keep the updates coming.
Thanks Ben! I appreciate the fast response!
I don't want this thread to look like a squirrel with ADHD... but sadly that's how my mind typically functions. So I will try to contain and organize myself. 😉
A bit more background on The Christina B is probably in order to understand what I am doing and what I am trying to achieve.
I *STOLE* this boat.... figuratively, not literally. It was part of a business deal that went bad and the owner received it as part of a larger package that included a company. Things went sideways and the owner needed to cash-out in a hurry. Things got desperate and he had a couple of offers fall through because he had deferred some maintenance over the year that he owned it (generator didn't work, one of the engines appeared "sickly"... some other stuff). I "swooped in" with some cash and a couple of very good surveyors. Got the seller on the financial hook to remedy some of the issues and sailed away after paying off a marina lien. Three years later I am still very pleased with the value of my purchase.
I was going to attach some "before" pics to establish a baseline and create a album to "point back to" as I get into the details of the changes and modifications... but it looks like I can only put in one picture per post. So I'll start here.
While we're figuring out methods and mechanisms for putting multiple pictures in a post... I thought I would just interject some random images that remind us all why we so enjoy boat ownership. I apologize for the non-technical non-project tangent. 😉
OK... we now return you to our normally scheduled blathering....
My personal projects on the boat (not to be confused with the normal mechanical/hull stuff) generally fall into four categories:
1) Lighting... both interior and exterior (underwater, accent, bling)
2) Audio and entertainment
With modern electronics, all four of those can and do interact with each other.
I'll try to keep each post focused on one of these elements at a time, but there will certainly be tangents and interactions.
The first and probably obvious portion of the lighting project was the replacement of the bazillion (real number, I counted) incandescent interior bulbs that resided in various ceiling puck and wall fixtures. With 5 total cabins and a fair amount of interior living space I had an interesting mix of 115VAC and 12V bulbs (mostly halogen) to deal with.... and all of them were ENERGY HOGS!! The net result power consumption reduction, especially on the 12V bus, was almost staggering. It gave completely new life to my house batteries and gave my 12V house charger and DC power supply a much needed rest.
I would imagine that everybody has their favorite source for LED bulbs in various formats (Amazon, West Marine, the seedy LED bulb dealer on the corner).. but I personally have had a great experience dealing with SuperBrightLEDs. They have had just about everything at reasonable prices.
And for those of you looking to replace the 20W halogen bulbs living in those common 3" ceiling pucks.... may I suggest you look at "disk" replacement bulbs instead of the units that just look like G4 base units.
&w=240&zc=2" alt="G4 Boat and RV LED Light Bulb - Bi-Pin LED Disc - 15W Equivalent - 130 Lumens" />
These things are great.... are available in various "color temperatures" and can be positioned so that the disk is right up against the glass in the fixture... which gives an amazing amount of light.
In a future installment I'll get into the approach that I have taken for interior lighting control and integration into other systems. It's probably NOT what you think. I'm a rebel.. a weird rebel.
About a year and a half ago the big girl was way overdue for a haul-out..... bottom paint was showing signs of leprosy, props needed a buffing, bushings and seals were due for replacement and the stabilizers were overdue for their PM. Soooo..... this forced my hand and accelerated my plans regarding the underwater lighting. The B came with UW lights, but they were of dubious lineage and heritage.. and for the most part had expired. Some of the LEDs would occasionally give a twinkle of glimmer and hope, but would quickly self extinguish and sulk in their own darkness.
I did a lot of research into various lighting options. My first hurdle was to decide on a lighting color. After a lot of consternation I decided that the best decision was no decision at all, and I opted for an RGB solution where I could select and tune the color based on my mood and the intended purpose of my cruise. Red is for romance (and Coast Guard violations), green is for money and luck (also Coast Guard violations and bad luck), white is for joy and brightness (and another Coast Guard violation..... are you noticing a theme here??).
I think everyone knows that underwater lighting is generally pricey.... annoyingly so. But I am a frugal (read: cheap) person and am always looking for value. I pondered a lot of options and finally decided on The OceanLED X16's for the transom (three of them) and a couple of X8's for the stern sides.
These are some pretty high-zoots LED lights. Full RGB, with about 5000 fixture lumens. They are basically serial-control DMX units, which means that they can be controlled with standard stage-lighting interfaces... or you can opt for one of OceanLED's packaged offerings. I went with the latter (at least for now).
I wired these bad-boys into an OceanLED X-series OceanDMX controller (with an additional hub since I had a total of 5 fixtures).
So here is what I consider to be the "good, bad, and ugly" of this system and setup:
Good: They're bright and run "cool". The controller hooks up to your local music source so you can make your lights and your pants "dance". The controller can connect to your existing WiFi network (or operate in AP mode) and there is a reasonably good iPhone app for controlling the lights, setting brightness, changing colors, and stuff like that. The controller has a built in shock sensor, so the lights can pulse and strobe with exhilarating boat motion...... which hopefully doesn't ever happen with a 70,000 pound vessel like the Christina B!
Bad: Outside of DMX, they really don't seamlessly interface with much of anything else. Black box voodoo is required if you want them to integrate with something like Alexa/Amazon or twiddle the knobs via NMEA/CZone. But technology is a moving target, and by the time I put the punctuation on this sentence there will probably be a controller or interface that makes all of this easy.. and it will sell for $4. Except the "marine version", that will be $2,356.
Ugly: Like many other cheeseball WiFi implementations (including my hot tub, HP printer, and robotic lawnmower), this unit will drop its connection to your router on a regular basis and not initiate a reconnect sequence. When it's gone, it's gone. You'll only get it back by cycling its power. Feel free to give me suggestions on how to resolve this problem... but I've already tried most of them and will ignore the rest. 😉 🤣
The system has been in service for over a year now and I'm still happy with the performance (with noted exceptions). When I get past some of the other things that I am currently working on I will probably revisit these lights and see if I can get them a bit more integrated with the rest of my control architecture.
PS: I want to add that I am NOT an authority on any of this stuff and I make stupid mistakes all of the time. If you see an omission, or a mistake, or feel that I should have done something differently, feel free to chime-in and leave a comment!
I will probably respond in a sarcastic manner and make a snide comment about your heritage... but that's all in the fun spirit of forums, right?? 🙄 😜 🤣
At this point I'm going to run off on a philosophical aside that might ruffle a feather or two and spark disagreement. I'm "OK" with that, it's through discourse that we often often expand our horizons and understand alternate perspectives.
I know that the general industry trend is to make the MFD/chartplotter the clearing house for all of the control aspects of the vessel. Not only navigation... but lighting and music/entertainment and anything else that can be hung on the bus or the system. And while I "get that" especially for "smaller" vessels (no insult intended.... don't get all agitated) I personally think it falls apart for larger boats like the Christina B. The helms are pretty much dedicated to control and navigation of the boat, and they're not always easy or convenient to get to from other areas on the boat (saloon, cabins, suites, etc..). Sitting on the couch or lounging in a berth, one is not likely to want to run to a helm to diddle with the stereo or adjust lighting. It's just not convenient.
"Oh, but what about features like ActiveCaptain" you say. That will allow you to use your Garmin system as the centralized hub for system integration, yet allow control from anywhere on the boat from your mobile device. Well yes, I agree that is a beautiful and intelligent intent.... but at least in the case of the Garmin implementation, it is woefully flawed (in my opinion). The Garmin system is implemented as a WiFi Access Point, meaning that you connect your mobile device directly to the chartplotter/MFD.... you cannot attach your Garmin system to an existing WiFi network on your vessel and access it through that network... which, in my opinion, is just plain STUPID, and it severely limits the capability and flexibility of the system. To use ActiveCaptain I have to disconnect from my existing vessel WiFi network and connect to the Garmin AP.... which disconnects me from all of the other wonderful devices that are already living happily on that network... and in the case of a mobile device that doesn't have cellular access (like many of our iPads)... I lose internet access as well. Going back and forth between the WiFi networks to gain access to things like internet weather, EMAIL, world news, and memes of kittens is just a royal pain. And, while the isolated network may be great for insulating the the Garmin system from hacks, cracks, and hijacks.... it makes it impossible to "pop a hole in your firewall" and access the system from beyond the physical proximity of the boat. I would love to be able to use my ActiveCaptain app up here in the wonders of the northern frozen tundra and look in on the happiness of the Christina B. I'd like to monitor the pumps, check temperatures, view the status of my shore power and electrical distribution, change air conditioning settings, and maybe fire up the radar to microwave some local flocking gulls. But nope..... that's not an option with the current implementation.
I can adjust my home thermostats from anywhere that has internet access. I can view my security cameras, I can control my hot tub, I can look at my doorbell, I can control my Alexa enabled lights, I can give Fido another scoop of Puppy Chow.... but I can't monitor or control my (Garmin) top-of-the-line yacht integration system. Weird.
I'm concentrating on and berating the capabilities of the Garmin implementation because... well.... that's what I spent my hard earned money on and that's what I currently own. For all I know, the Raymarine, Simrad, Lowrance, and other implementations don't have these limitations and provide for a more seamless and total system integration. And if that's the case.... then *I* possibly made a poor purchasing decision.. and I just don't want to have to deal with that possible reality. 😲 🙄 🤣
Comments are welcome....
I think your complaint about the way most MFDs handle WiFi connectivity is spot on. Each of the MFDs I've used work in the manner you've described. Even though in many circumstances the MFD also has a connection to a WiFi network that has internet connectivity. For example, my Raymarine MFDs maintain a WiFi connection to my boat network for internet connectivity to download updates and for their apps, including entertainment apps like Netflix. But, I can't use that connection for remote control apps, etc. Or if I can, I haven't figured out how and I think it's a decent bet that if I haven't many others are in the same boat.
With regards to the larger boats and the use of an MFD as the central hub I understand what you're saying but I think I disagree with your final conclusion. The helms aren't the most convenient place to control larger boats, but there's nothing that prevents you from installing additional, smaller MFDs elsewhere in teh boat. THat's the approach I took on Have Another Day when it ran a single manufacturer of MFDs and was setup just for my own use. I had an MFD in the cockpit as well as several at each helm. This gave me the control I wanted where I needed it.
@ben-stein... I partially agree with your conclusion and approach... but in the case of the Christina B, that would be a lot of MFDs (and a lot of $) at a lot of locations to give me the distributed control that I want, especially for lighting, entertainment, and systems control/monitoring. Saloon, Aft deck, galley/dinette, 4 cabins, engine room, bow pad..... Mobile devices without a "flawed" connection mechanism would really be almost ideal. Who wants to get out of bed to turn off their cabin lights?? Isn't that what my "Clapper" is for?? 😆
I know.... I know... "back in my day we had to go uphill in the snow to look at the analog gauge on the helm to see the house bank voltage... and we were thankful to have that analog gauge..." I'm so spoiled.. 😉 🤣
I want to offer a bit more insight into myself and the factors that have driven some of my dubious and debatable decisions.
Some of you might consider the Christina B to be a "marina queen" that just sits around and looks pretty. That's not really true, and besides, that job is already taken by my girlfriend. 😉
She gets out on a somewhat regular basis, constrained by my travel and work schedule. I live and work in Wisconsin and my daughter goes to school here. Love to move, but that's just not going to happen in the near future. I get down to Florida as often as I can, and the Christina B lives in decadent luxury at Pasadena Yacht and Country Club in the St. Pete general area. I live on an inland lake here in Wisconsin, so when I'm not in Florida, and Wisconsin isn't completely frozen over like the heart of my highschool sweetheart, I at least have the opportunity to get some H2O therapy in my "little" lake puddle hopper. All 42' of her.
I love captaining the Christina B, but in reality that rarely happens. To-date most of our cruises have been "entertainment" in nature and I've had a plethora of non-nautical guests aboard. In those situations I'd rather be socializing and libating with my friends, and not tied to a helm dodging crab pots. So I have a "day captain" that I employ... who also keeps an eye on The B while I am gone and does general maintenance for her and other "yachts" in the marina. One of these days I hope some of this changes... I want to spend more time in Florida and perhaps tackle some extended cruises.. perhaps even the Great Loop.
Cap'n is a crusty old salt.. ex Coast Guard who has survived a major maritime incident with loss of life. He's great with The B and my guests, but is certainly old school and thumbs his nose at some of the bell and whistle "bling" stuff I have done on the boat... and to some extent refuses to learn the nuances of some of the newer technology. He's about the same age as me, but has an "ornery grandpa" vibe going on. 😜 🙄
When it came time to retire the old Raymarine E120's and other hardware on the boat I solicited his opinion on "brand selection" for the new setup... after all, he's the primary user right now and I need him to be completely comfortable and capable with the hardware. And I'm easier to retrain than he is. Many of the other boats under his purview have Garmin systems... and Cap'n is a bit of a fanboy for their hardware. SO despite some minor objections, and the fact that I write the checks, I went with an almost "all Garmin" approach with the upgrades.
I think this information will make some of my future posts and decisions easier to understand, or at least digest.
I'm going to jump sideways for a little bit and delve into another topic and portion of my projects. I will ultimately continue and finish on the lighting aspect of the refit, but I'm not quite done with it yet and I would like to include some pictures of what I have done already to provide clarity. I'm not on the boat right now, and based on my camera roll I took more pictures of "bikini scenery" than I did my actual work. I'll address that when I go back down in a week or so.
Two of the bigger portions of the project are sensors and the instrumentation/navionics. I'm not going to go into my approach for the instrumentation quite yet since the overall plans are still gelling and when I do post them people are going to be throwing rotten vegetables at me and questioning the efficacy of the anti-insanity drugs that my mother fed me as a child. I'm not emotionally prepared for that quite yet.
So I thought I'd discuss my approach and plans on outfitting and updating the sensor cache that is installed on the engines and other systems.
Somewhere in the span of The B's "previous life" an owner did a repower on her, pulling out the sickly Detroit Diesels and replacing them with manly MAN 12 cylinder turbo charged monsters @ 1200 ponies each. I fully support that decision and the mechanical installation was done quite well according to my surveyors. But he electrical/instrumentation/sensor grafting to the old analog gauge clusters was done poorly at best. Cuts, splices, poor markings, unused harness connections, wrong sending units, uncalibrated dials... pretty much a cluster crying out to be remedied. And, there is absolutely no real networking on the boat outside of the Raymarine SeaTalkn installation used to get the e120's and their peripherals to communicate. The whole boat is wired in traditional looms, bundles and harnesses the size of an elephant trunk carrying analog signals inside of every inaccessible vertical surface. I plan on systematically changing that.
The first step was to get a NMEA backbone installed with runs and drops to all of the important locations crying out to be heard. Anybody who has done this on an older, dressed-out boat knows that it can often be a pain in tuchus involving the gnashing of teeth and the gnarfing of knuckles.... But with the proper application of patience, a fish tape, some Captain Morgan and random outbursts of profanity... I got it done.
The next step for me was figuring out what analog-to-digital NMEA convertor I wanted to use as the primary interface. Did a lot of research, read a lot of reviews, scrutinized a bunch of specification sheets, and stared into the void of my wallet. In the end I opted for the Chetco Digital SeaGauge G2 "28 function" unit with the Ethernet interface. It had the features and inputs that I was looking for, has a "good reputation" for performance and reliability, and the price was reasonable. And word is on the street that "Joe" over at Chetco is responsive and very helpful regarding the installation, debug and tweaking of these units. I can say that so far, I know that to be true. He's been great to work with.
As wonderful as the SeaGauge unit is, it doesn't supply enough I/O to handle everything that I want to throw at it. I can certainly add more SeaGauge units, but research showed me that there were other devices from other manufacturers that offered a cost-effective incremental approach to the digitization... in more of a "point of use" manner (don't really want to run G2 analog signals all over the boat.... that is in contempt of my networking philosophy). So, as of right now, I have these additional units hanging on the N2K bus and they are all happily cooperating and sending valid data to my human interface units:
Yacht Devices YDRI-04 Run Indicator Module
Yacht Devices YDGS-01 EGT sensor (2)
Yacht Devices YDRA-01 Rudder Indicator
Yacht Devices YDTC-13 Temperature Sensor
Lowrance EP-65 Tank Level Adapter
Garmin GBT-10 Bennett Trim Tab Adapter
I know that I'll be adding AT LEAST another YDRI (run indicator), and probably a couple of YDAB's (alarm interfaces).
I learned that keeping track of the master interface plan and documenting all of the interconnects was invaluable.... especially while I was noodling at work, noodling more at home, and then ultimately doing the installation down on The B.... so I created a "Google Sheet" that I keep up in the cloud to keep me consistent, to keep me sane, and to stop me from killing trees (even if they *are* evil and like to fall on my car in the middle of a rainy night). So here's where I am at as of right now:
Certainly more to come.....
OK... I'm going to go off on a bit of a philosophical bender for a second.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I like to consider myself to be "frugal"..... I'm interested int the value and utility of the money that I spend and I try to give purchases "of magnitude" a lot of thought regarding the practical necessity of the purchase and peripheral accessories. "Is there a better/cheaper way?". "Can I do the same thing, or a reasonable approximation without dropping the really serious coin?". "How much will I have left over for rum?". But don't get me wrong... sometimes I throw all logic aside and just buy bling and fluff with no obvious explanation... and other times I'm just foolishly cheap. I try to rationalize it all, but am often left with just blaming it on the rum.
That being said, I completely understand the rational and capitalistic business practices of the vendors who supply our marine equipment. I "get" chartplotter/MFD manufacturers think your should have two full-blown chartplotters at your flybridge helm... with another two fully blown chartplotters at your lower helm.... and should hang MFD's on the wall or bulkhead anyplace else that you want to have access to navigation, vessel, sonar, switching, and instrumentation network data. Get it. Sell a lot of hardware, put it everywhere, bolster the economy, put kids through school, buy bigger yachts, procure rum.
But lets be realistic and pragmatic about this for a minute. It's about "point of use". When you are on the flybridge captaining your fine vessel you want complete access to your charts and GPS and radar, and depth, and all of those other important pieces of information that allow you to navigate your ship properly and carefully. But, during that time, is there also someone on the lower helm that needs access to *different* screens and the acquisition and presentation of different data... or the same data in a completely different way? Probably not... or no... or never. The captain needs access-to and control-of that information where he is. Having the ability to acquire and present that information at another location at that time is unnecessary and superfluous. Yet we spend a LOT of money (tens of thousands of dollars... easily) to have redundant central processors, NMEA interfaces and decoders, peripheral interfaces, and chartplotting horsepower at multiple locations. And it's not even like these units are doing some kind of "parallel processing"... combining their capabilities to increase the performance of the overall system. Nope.. they "talk to each other", but for the most part they just sit in their own corner of the vessel, doing their own thing, consuming their own resources and being an island of informational automation. I think this is somewhat silly and unnecessarily expensive. But, once again, I understand why the manufacturers like this implementation model. Rum.
But what if we looked at it a different way and used a different implementation model? What if we had one centralized main processor that interfaced with the associated peripherals and sensors? That central unit had the processing and software zoots to run chartplotting, display and interpret sonar data, overlay radar and AIS information... and do all of the other things that expect from our chartplotters/MFDs. BUT, all of the helm stations (flybridge, lower helm, wing helms, whatever you got) were just "thin clients"... or "man machine" interface terminals. Mirrors/replications of each other? You're at the flybridge and you get your screen all set up with a window for the chart and another for the sonar, and maybe another for vessel/engine or navigational information. That's what you want and need to captain the ship. You need to run down to the lower helm because the weather is getting inclement and that's where your Ensure is. Same information presented on that screen and you have the same ability to do input and reconfigure the presentation. Isn't that what you really want and deed? And wouldn't this potentially be a helluva lot cheaper and "simpler" than full blown MFD's at both locations?
Now... intentionally or accidentally, chartplotter/MFD manufacturers are starting to give us the capability to do *exactly* what I am talking about. But they don't tout the capabilities very much, because if used in the method that I am describing it would certainly cost them some revenue. Here's a couple of examples as to how this can be done using Garmin as an example (I am confident this is extensible to other manufacturers):
1) Install an 86XX chartplotter at your flybridge helm. I suggest you put it there because it is ruggedized, "waterproof" and built for direct exposure to the elements. Hook it up to your radar and sonar and NMEA networks and all of you other goodies. Now.. on the back of the 86XX you will see an HDMI connector. Use that and run a cable down to your lower helm (yes, you can also do this wirelessly with adapters). There you can install another simple monitor (couple hundred $'s) preferably having the same native display resolution as your 86XX... or a unit with good auto-scaling abilities. Add a GRID 20 or GRID classic to that lower helm and you're up and running. Anything that you can do "up top" you can do down below.... and you saved yourself probably about $5K. Maybe a lot more. Again.. think rum.
Want to get more elegant and seamless??
2) Install a 8700 "Black Box" anywhere you want on your boat. I suggest putting it in a place where it is environmentally protected, in close proximity to any other black boxes or interfaces on the boat (radar, sonar, NMEA, etc..). Run the HDMI video output to a splitter (splitter, not a switch) and then run HDMI cables (or again, go wireless) to any and every place you want a display. At those locations install flat panel capacitive multi-touch monitors (I have found inexpensive sources for some VERY nice units that even have "outdoor viewable" (1000+nit) capabilities). Run the touch screen interface cables (USB) down to the 8700, install a USB hub/switch, and plug that into the "touch input" port of the 8700 (you'll need an OTG cable) and now you have a complete "86XX" style interface and control at all of your locations. You can also pipe it over to your big flat-screen TV in the saloon and navigate through the screens with your GRID. And of course, you can use your iPad/iPhone with ActiveCaptain to wander around the boat and control the boat in a "mobile fashion". All of this with only one "high dollar" centralized main processor and system interface.
Now I know that many of you are fans of having two or more screens running at each station with different information on each. I get that. And it grouses me a little bit that the manufacturers force you to buy two full MFD's or chartplotters to accomplish that.. because I think that we know or suspect that a system like the 86XX or 8700 could probably (easily) drive two screens simultaneously with different pages on each. But nonetheless, my approach still scales and works with your station approach. You just need two 86XX's or two 8700's and cable them to the corresponding monitors or touchscreen monitors at your other station locations. Done.
Anyway... I'll cut this diatribe off here. I've laid out my thoughts on the architecture and the capabilities of some of the hardware that is out there. You'll see how I leveraged and implemented this philosophy when I get into the section regarding station navigation and control on the Christina B.
Consider it good that basic navigation and function of the boat is separate from your Internet. Perhaps an extra tablet for remote monitoring or navigation rather than your Internet connected phone.
Things get hacked or otherwise messed up with Internet. Boaters and car owners don't keep software up to date. Cars are now easily hacked through entertainment systems. People wonder if the passenger jets will get hacked likewise. I do commercial marine electronics and customers like redundant things and not putting all eggs in one basket by too much interconnection. Even making everything connect via a single n2k buss is risky; a tee or terminator comes loose and everything stops working.
Furuno for example talks on a ethernet with a private 172.31.x.x/16 IP network with no gateway or DNS, not conducive to Internet access.
Si-tex MFDs can wifi connect to the Internet if needed for software updates, but I'm not sure what features Internet provides it otherwise.