Digital Switching: Raymarine, Empirbus, Simrad, Naviops, Offshore, Octoplex, Garmin and CZone

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

10 Responses

  1. Bill Bishop says:

    Hi Ben, great overview of the tech all in one place. I like digital switching, but I also spent a year dealing with one of the more substantial horror stories. So I have some caveats when I talk to customers about it. You touched on documentation, or perhaps the lack of it, but it’s critical that there be excellent documentation, and in my personal opinion a copy of the all of docs, wiring diagrams, and the software should be delivered with the boat.
    It should also be clear who owns the software, and what access an owner has to it. I was involved in a unfortunate struggle with a company over a boat’s software. They claimed they owned it, but no longer had the capability or personnel to support it, and had largely lost control of the many versions. We painfully prevailed and had to hire a third party to help correct problems with the system.
    Redundancy is very important. There needs to be manual and directly switched overrides, ahem, in convenient locations for critical vessel functions.
    Buyers should carefully consider the technical lifespan of this equipment. It’s often very custom and built by smaller companies. If the company that built the gear is no longer for what ever reason able to continue support and supply parts where does that leave the owner?
    Mortiz’s digital switching systems are a early classic example of what happens when a company goes away, and any breaker on a 1973 Hat Yachtfish can still be inexpensively replaced. No I’m not a Luddite. I’ve just been bit, more than once.

  2. Ben, I’m going to offer a hearty “AMEN” to Bill’s comment – the system software in the various devices and controllers needs to be (IMHO) an order of magnitude more robust before I’m going to trust it with load switching on any boat of mine.
    An example of why I’m disenchanted: I put brand new Raymarine on Atsa back in the summer of 2013 – new chartplotter, AIS, radar and autopilot, plus the interface to my older Ray speed/wind/depth system. I have had a number of issues, pretty much linked to two issues: unexpected digital silliness and incompatible firmware versions. My S-H GX1600 DSC radio turned out to be echoing back everything the chartplotter sent to it via NMEA-0183 – which caused the e95 to become essentially disabled. Not really Raymarine’s fault, but I would expect the firmware to be more robust than that (and I still can’t turn on the radio until the e95’s GPS is fully up & running!). Don’t even get me started on the blizzard of sometimes-incompatible firmware versions for the various newer Raymarine pieces of my system. At the time, the helpful folks at the Ray Tech forum helped me resolve the issues – but based on my recent (rather rude) experience with them, I no longer expect much help from that source.
    Sorry, but I don’t want a system that is this touchy & difficult to service being the only way I can turn on & off my lights, pumps and other essential systems!

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Good points, Bill, but I do think that some of the weaker hands have already folded. I’m confused by your reference to Moritz, however.
    Carling Technologies bought Moritz Aerospace and its infant OctoPlex system way back in 2004. They eventually dropped the Moritz branding (and sold off the aviation portion, I think) but OctoPlex is alive and well. So are you mistaken or did I miss something?

  4. Leo Starrenburg says:

    Thanks again for the info Ben !
    A lot of goodies and things to play with, I can’t afford most of them but it’s fun trying to figure out a cheaper way 😉
    Having said that, I agree with the writers above in relation to reliability. I’m retired now but spent my civilian career as proces control- and automation trouble shooter. Old enough to see the first discreet semiconductors appear and long enough to experience full integration. So by nature I wonder what might go wrong with a system or in some cases what WILL go wrong with a system.
    I recommend a common-sense approach with fancy stuff: be sure to have a solid and good working foundation before you add a latest fashion MFD to turn a simple pump on or off. That latest fashion might fail on you and the simple pump might turn out to be a life-saver.
    And yes, I do have my little boat crammed full with electronics, comms, radar etc. etc. Just for the fun of it 😉 But my basic systems are hard-wired controlled with good quality fuses, connections, cables and switches. This investment delayed the installation of the fun bits but it provides the best level of reliabilty I can afford.
    w fr greetings, Leo

  5. Bill Bishop says:

    Ben, your right, between Darwin culling the herd, and lessons learned the quality, and durability of these systems have improved orders of magnitude. The Carling Moritz thing was more complicated and a bit of a cautionary tale. Carling did acquire Moritz (2006ish I think), but more than just rebranding, they redesigned the system, and then discontinued the old product line shortly afterwards. This left the original owners with no support. I bought the very last control box in 2010 from a builder’s inventory after days of searching.
    The problem with these systems is if the manufacturer goes out of business (remember the Eplex scare) without really excellent documentation on the why, how, where, and what it was doing it will be be extremely difficult and expensive to retrofit another extensive system to replace it. It’s not a hardware thing with me as much as the lack of documentation that comes with it, the installation and user access to the software. This is why I harp so much about this shortcoming.

  6. James Bourke says:

    We are a big supporter of CZone and have been since its creation. Fair to say it had its teething problems, but now 8 years on it is a robust and ever evolving solution backed up by great global support.
    We look forward to the COI and other product releases in 2016 that will help us engineer better solutions for our customers

  7. Maldwin M Drummond says:

    Good Afternoon Ben,
    I have ordered a new build Seawind 1190 Sport and am deciding wether to take the CZone option. On one hand, it seems great, but I worry that I may regret it in some remote location when nobody can fix it. It is also $7200, but would be worth it if if works.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Hi Maldwin,

      I think that CZone is a stable and well-supported system at this point, plus it includes a simple blade fuse workaround so you can manually switch any circuit if the “brains” get wacky. But I’ve rarely heard of anyone using them. Two notes, though:

      I’d want to know if Seawind has installed many CZone systems. Sabre, for instance, started out with small systems before going whole hog, and they are carefully designed.

      At METS this week, CZone and Mastervolt are introducing several new products and redesigned current products that apparently make the integration of both even better and likely have other features. I’ll know more soon, but it does seem possible that your build timeline allows for the these?

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        PS Looks like a cool cat. I got to sail up Penobscot Bay at 12+ knots on the somewhat similar Maine Cat 37 last week, and it was great despite snow and rain. (But then had to be towed into Front Street because the electric propulsion system has yet to be completely sorted out, long story.)

  8. Maldwin M Drummond says:

    Thank you very much Ben. I gave serious thought to the MC38, but it didn’t have quite enough elbow room, and I was a little worried about the dependability of the power plant.

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