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Discovering NMEA 2000
I just got back to my trusty laptop to start writing articles again. So I figured where to start. There are thousands of topics I want to cover. Then I had my ah-ha moment (yes, you can still have them at 66). Why not write about your recent experience learning about the NMEA 2000 installation.
Simply put, I’m a cruiser at heart. I have been away from my sailboat for the past 2 years building my cruising/retirement cat and last winter I made a few trips on my Gulfstar 44 to make sure she was fine and that I missed him. I’ve also decided it’s time to start installing the new instruments I’ve purchased over the past 2 years on a trip for my “just broke” (JOB).
Two years ago my wife and I took a week off to sail her to St. Augustine from Miami to put her to the test while I was traveling for work. During this trip, I noticed very quickly that there were systems that desperately needed attention. I really mean replacement, but beware, it’s easier to swallow. All cruisers despise the idea of having to smash multiple boat units (if you don’t know…one boat unit costs $1000.00) to install new gear, even if they do the job themselves themselves.
Along with the aversion to the term boat units is the fear of self-installed electronics. Most cruisers are, and by necessity must be, jack-of-all-trades. But installing electronics for the majority is the most daunting task. I consider myself pretty good at fitting almost anything to my boat, but fitting multiple instruments together and trying to get them to talk to each other is a pretty scary thought. When I purchased our Gulfstar, it came with electronics that worked well. It had a 4-inch black and white and grayscale Garmin GPS, Simrad/Robertson autopilot, Furuno radar (my bumper above the dinner table…what was anyone here thinking? ) and Datamarine Corinthian Depth and Wind instruments minus the anemometer that was blown away during Hurricane Wilma.
Shortly after my purchase, I purchased a Garmin GPSMap 4208 chartplotter to replace the small screen I had. When I read the documentation and installation instructions for the 4208 (as well as a few phone calls to Garmin tech support), I discovered that using the NMEA 0183 cable I could get it to talk to my Simrad autopilot. Wow, I could build courses to different locations and my GPS would tell the autopilot where and when to turn. Alright, I said. I have to do that.
So, with the installation instructions in one hand and the tools in the other, I started stripping the GPS lead wire wires, pulling them to the autopilot computer, and adding a second manual to the mixed. “Attach the blue/white from the autopilot cable to the brown wire from the NMEA 0183 GPS cable” and so on until I have this ball of connections. With the sweat of fear running down my brow, it didn’t look very nice until I turned on the GPS and autopilot and played what if. Damn mackerel…it worked. I cleaned up the ball of connections and was a very happy cruiser. I felt like I needed to have a medal pinned to my chest.
Let’s move on to today. The autopilot stopped working properly on our trip to St. Augustine, the wind instrument did not work because the anemometer I bought on eBay was not compatible with the head of the instrument , my erratic depth as I fitted a transducer in the hull instead of a through-hull to the new Garmin GSD 22 sonar, plus I had to deal with the bumper hanging over the dinner table for radar whenever it became necessary (a difficult task from the cockpit of a center cockpit sailboat). Years before, I had installed a Raymarine GPS and radar overlaying the chartplotter and I knew it was still possible. So I will upgrade or replace my electronics.
As the owner of an online boat electronics and parts store, I had heard about this fancy new NMEA 2000 thing for a few years and decided to check it out. I typed Garmin NMEA 2000 into my trusty laptop’s search bar and found instructions for a basic Garmin NMEA 2000 system. I read these instructions several times and decided that NMEA 2000 was the way to go for me. I also checked the compatibility of my Garmin 4208. Surprise, surprise… it was NMEA 2000 compatible.
So I started buying the instruments I was going to replace and started planning my NMEA 2000 backbone. I drew my backbone probably 4 times until I was happy with my plan. I picked up a starboard piece and started screwing those NMEA 2000 tees together like I planned. I routed the drop cables from each of the instruments I purchased and attached them to the spine tees. Added the tee for the power supply and installed the male and female terminations on the lightning protection tee as per the instructions. NO SET OF SICK CONNECTIONS! Just plug and play. The hardest thing to do was to run the wires from the new Garmin GMR18HD radar and masthead wind sensor through the mast to the spine. Connected the few wires to the autopilot computer and installed the new masthead wind transducer and thru-hull. Other than that and replacing existing instruments it was a breeze with a bit of pre-planning. I even decided to add a Garmin GXM 51 antenna so I can add Sirius XM weather while I listen to the 60s on 6 when we start sailing next July.
The only thing I could think of that would be easier would be to have all the instruments wireless! And you can do it with some equipment today. I can’t wait for this update. I said all of this to let you know that upgrading the electronics on your boat shouldn’t give you a rash or hives or make you run the other way. NMEA 2000 has put the installation of new electronic devices comfortably in the hands of all willing novices. If you can hook up your DVD player to your TV at home, you can install NMEA 2000 electronics, so don’t put off any necessary upgrades or new systems you plan to install in your boat. Start shopping for the gear you’re considering, whether it’s in parts of a complete set. Head to your local seafood store and watch, play and ask questions. After deciding what you want, start getting quotes and begin the process of finding all the online marine electronics stores and have fun installing your new electronics. Good navigation, good wind and calm sea.
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