NMEA 2000 networks are pretty reliable but when there’s trouble it is often unclear where to start. Digital Yacht and Actisense have both brought out new products to help ensure the health of a network and better understand its operation. But, even if you don’t have any specialized tools onboard, you can still do some basic but effective troubleshooting of the health of your network. Let’s explore Digital Yacht’s NAVDoctor, Actisense’s A2K-TER-U smart NMEA 2000 terminator, and the troubleshooting you can do with an NMEA 2000 breakout cable and a multimeter.
The Victron Remote Management (VRM) portal and their Venus OS monitoring software deliver best-in-class access to information about your boat (, RV, or fixed solar) electrical sytem. But, running one of these systems has typically required Victron hardware which starts around $300. Victron has a long history of embracing the open-source community and they’ve continued that effort by supporting Venus OS on a Raspberry Pi. But, many people hear Raspberry Pi and either think dessert or that it’s over their heads and too complex. This guide walks you through the steps required to get Venus OS up and running on a Pi and sending data about your electrical system to VRM.
Several weeks ago I shared a few pictures of me working in an engine room with Ben Ellison. He used those pictures in his recent entry and in a caption asked, “Wait, is that yellow/black thing an exotic cable label machine or what?” Well, it is indeed a (somewhat) exotic label machine, the Dymo XTL 500 and I think it’s definitely improved the quality of my installs. The XTL series of labelers print on a broad range of labels including several very well suited for work aboard a boat.
My first installment of this series introduced my build of a 280 amp hour LiFePO4 battery using cells purchased from China and a 120-amp battery management system (BMS) from a reputable U.S. supplier — though the BMS is still made in China. I left off in the very early stages of the build while I was giving the cells an initial charge to get them ready to join into a 12-volt battery. Although the process took longer than expected, it’s done and I’ve made a 12-volt battery. But what about the big question of capacity and performance of this homemade battery? I’ve got some early answers…
In the last couple of months I’ve installed two of the three main types of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. In March I installed Mastervolt’s system integrated MLi batteries on Have Another Day and just last week I finished up the installation of Battle Born’s 8D drop-in batteries on another boat. With two out of three types covered I figured it was time to get my hands dirty with the third type, a do-it-yourself build of a 12-volt battery from four cells and a battery management system (BMS).
“Your boat should fit like a glove!” yacht designer Dave Gerr wrote in the 1990’s, and the 2020 refit of Gizmo’s lower helm is the closest I’ve gotten to that excellent advice yet. The ergonomically arranged array of displays and controls above are also a somewhat experimental mix of PC and tablet navigation tools with dedicated marine electronics and oodles of monitoring in the background. I could talk for hours about the gear choices and install details, but the focus of this entry is how well this helm layout works
I’ve just completed an entire electronics refit on a 60-foot boat without ever plugging in a power tool. Besides never having to find a working AC outlet, and never tripping over a power cord, I think that my families of drills, drivers, saws, grinders, vacuums, and heat gun with interchangeable lithium batteries made the job faster and neater. There are many decent cordless tool families to choose from these days, but some detail on my experience may help you make the right choice.
This spring and summer I redid all three of my boat helms — Junior’s above, plus the flybridge and pilothouse stations on Gizmo. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what electronics I need and/or want in those different locations and how to arrange them just so for maximum utility. And I’m eager to share my thoughts and photos in this Part One of a three-part series. But first…
Bob Metcalf doesn’t deserve this entry’s title, but he’s a good sport and I wanted to get your attention. Plus, I did indeed spend a morning helping the Ethernet’s inventor get more comfortable with his extensive new Garmin system, and got reminded of several marine electronics truths in the process: Current systems can be dauntingly complex no matter who you are (or who designed them), Smart guys like this one are usually adept at…
Water in the bilge, even small quantities, is a recipe for bad smells and generally unpleasant results. Every boat I’ve owned accumulated water somewhere that a traditional bilge pump couldn’t entirely remove. I’ve long been aware of commercial kits designed to completely dry bilges, but the problem never got high enough on my list to spend the money. Recently I came across an article on how to build your own dry bilge system and decided to give it a try. The results are impressive and the cost low.