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Going Wireless on a Boat

Some newer stuff you may want to take a closer look at.

Anyone who has ever bought an older boat knows well what is meant by ‘legacy wiring’. Sometimes there are arm-thick bundles of black and red wires disappearing into a bulkhead that are almost thicker than the hole they are entering. Where do they all go? Who can tell? Some certainly go to the fuse panel where there are lots of bundles of differing thickness appearing from their own holes. There also seem to always be several unused wires at each end – those not connected to anything. When you test these, however, no two ends ever seem to belong to the same wire.

Getting wireless components to talk to each other can be an interesting test of communications skills.
What to do then when you need to add or replace something? Pulling a new wire pair is not always that easy. The channels seem filled, the holes jammed with wires. Drill a new hole! Not so fast: What is behind? Will you hit something, perhaps some important and actually live wires? We have been able to recycle some of the unused wires by following them from end to end. This too can be a bit hit or miss, as they do not always reappear where you expect, or not where you want them. You can always pull them all out and rewire, like some people we know have done, but you do need a lot of green for that option – not a task you are likely eager to do yourself.

The whole thing gets a lot more complicated when you need to add or replace something at the masthead or on a difficult-to-access bulkhead. When we bought our latest boat, its masthead anemometer had failed several years previously. In frustration, the owner had removed it, pulled out (and tossed) the wiring and sailed on without. All of the associated cockpit instruments subsequently showed nothing but useless information, as they received no input. When we asked him about this he responded that he knew everything he needed to know about the wind. It was either blowing too little, too much, or just enough. “If you see whitecaps, it is blowing about 15 knots,” he explained. We bought the boat and asked the yard to run a new wire before stepping the mast for us – but they “forgot” to even order it.

We later reviewed the work involved with pulling new wires up the mast, hooking up a new anemometer, and then pulling the wires the length of the boat to where the old system’s brain resides. Not a choice task – particularly considering the amount of time needed 67 feet above sea level as the only alternative to pulling the stick, and the thought of getting the wire from ‘a to b’ below-decks, to an outdated system just did not appeal. So we left it for a while, as we could also tell when it was blowing too little… Then we decided to go wireless.

That was just the beginning of what turned out to be a paradigm shift for us, and perhaps for you as well. In so doing, we came across a couple of things that may be cause for reflection, and may change your way of thinking. No, ‘wireless’ devices are not cheap nor are they necessarily foolproof and they will not make your boat sail all by herself, but they certainly do make installation easy, and you are also never bound to a particular layout or configuration.

Going Wireless



 I have often wondered and worried about the implications of all these (wireless) radio waves. Yes, they do pass through almost everything – and that includes me! My body is therefore being constantly bombarded by Bart Simpson, Chucky, Star Wars, Pamela Anderson, as well as countless other movies and TV shows. There are Beethoven, Rap, Techno and hundreds of radio programs constantly passing through my head simultaneously. Add to that the cell phone traffic, commercial and private radio communications and transmissions, and it is a wonder that with all this energy passing through me that my head isn’t even more messed up than it already is – or maybe that is the reason why…

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