Fire Boat “City of Portland” — wet & wired

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.

9 Responses

  1. George says:

    Nice! I wish we had a few more of these in Seattle.
    The Garmin unit really is much easier to use than anything else I have tried — it is pretty amazing how much complicated work you can do intuitively. When you need to think about boating instead of the electronics, Garmin is the onen to have. (About the only improvement that I can imagine is if the unit booted up into the standard nav screen so that you didn’t have to push ANY buttons to get underway.)
    By the way, Garmin support is fantastic so just give them a call.
    For the communicatoions problem — for the last several releases Garmin haas a great screen for debugging NMEA 0183 (under the configure menu. It is quite helpful.
    I have also learned a trick that helps with wiring 0183 on the garmin greately. The wires from the unit are a very tiny gauge that are difficult for even a pro (or a semi-pro like me) to work with. There are good reasons for th is but it is a pain.
    My solution is based on the fact that they ar the same size as ethernet wires. I simply got a standard 8-pin rj45 connector (x3), a rj45 wall socket (x3) and a crimp tool from Radio shack. I divided the NMEA/GPS cable into three bundles of eight wires, put heat shrink on each bundle, and then connected a rj45 connector to the end.
    I then plugged each cable into a wal socket. I then wired standard twisted pair 18 ga wires to the appropriate place on the “wall” side of the wall socket and went to town on the other units. Everything worked the first time.
    You do need to be sure to keep the twisted pairs on the Garmin cable twisted if you want to use NMEA HS – that defeated the otherwise very neat installatino that my installers had attempted.
    Hope this idea helps. (I can send pics if anybody is really interested.) Before I tried this I spent several days rewiring and soldering and still couldn’t get high speed data without errors. After I tried this I was kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner!
    George Rankin

  2. By all accounts that is a very cool boat — and this story just confirms that. Now, if these guys can only learn to follow buoyed channels . . . (I suspect they were paying too much atention to the plotter and not enuf to their surroundings).

  3. Techlicious says:

    The Furuno SC30 Satellite Compass only has an NMEA2000 interface and is NMEA2000 certified as are the Garmin displays…. Knowing the way they are both engineered, I’d check power first and then check the Garmin.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Techlicious, I should have said that the Furuno sat compass is an SC50, not an SC30. I don’t know why they went that way.
    Michael, Nothing to do with marine electronics, but I’m wondering what you think about the 3.2 million dollar fire boat — 1 mill federal grant included — being built in Canada? It seems to me that you live in Casco Bay and also aboard another sizable aluminum boat that was built well right here Maine.
    George, I’d like to see your RJ45 NMEA 0183 wiring system. Please email me: ben dot ellison at

  5. Hi Ben,
    They didn’t ask me, but, while Theriault is a pretty good builder, we _do_ have quite a few builders in Maine very capable of building that boat.
    See Tim Colton’s blog for a similar opinion
    When you consider that fire fighters are usually in the forefront when it comes to patriotism, it is a little surprising, especially since the advantage from the lower value of the Canadian dollar had largely disappeared by that time!
    But don’t get me started!

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Michael. Tim Colton’s site is interesting, though I wish it was organized blog style. The home page is:
    Forgot to mention that my home town boatyard, Wayfarer Marine, was also involved in repairing the fire boat:

  7. Dave says:

    We do have builders who can build a boat like this in Maine. I wish one of them had bid on the build of this boat. Quality and price made the choice, If someone would have ponied up an extra $2M we probably would have chosen the US yard that was willing to build it as engineered.

  8. Peter Allen says:

    I have to ask. Why two Garmin radar domes when all the Garmin MFDs could be networked and share a single radar dome? Is it for redundancy?

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Right, Peter, redundancy. I think the systems are set up so that the left and right helms in the pilot house are independent, even the steering.
    Thanks for the comment, Dave. I’m sure that there were many factors involved in who got to build the fireboat, and trust that the decision made sense. I did hear a Maine builder complain mildly about it recently, but he added that a local yard is probably going to help rebuild Nova Scotia’s most famous schooner. What comes around goes around. Besides, there are some that argue that the states and provinces bordering the Gulf of Maine are more a natural nation than the borders indicate 😉

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