Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lots of Wires

In addition to our galley upgrades, we have also been hard at work updating our electronics.  Sea Gem's electronics were replaced about ten years ago, and although there have been several advances in the past ten years, our old system should serve our needs (and continue to work) for at least another few years.

However, one significant new technology from the past few years is AIS (automatic identification system), which utilizes VHF radio signals to identify the location, speed, and course of other vessels, and so we decided to partially update our electronics system by incorporating AIS.  The heart of the upgrade is our new VHF radio, which has a built-in AIS receiver.

The VHF is located at our navigation station (desk) in the corner of the salon and has a small screen that shows the location of nearby vessels.

We also wired the VHF to our computer, which permits us to more clearly view other vessels on our chartplotter software, which also warns us if we are on a collision course based on the speed and direction of both Sea Gem and the other boat.

Navigation Station
Because the VHF is located in the salon, we also wired a remote microphone into the cockpit.  The microphone allows us to control all functions of the VHF, has a little AIS screen, and even serves as an intercom between the cockpit and the salon.

Cockpit Connection
In addition to AIS, the new VHF also has a built-in horn and hailer (megaphone), and so we wired it to the speaker we have on the mizzen mast for that purpose.  Now, from either the cockpit or the salon, we can use our horn and loudly hail other boats.

Built-in Megaphone
Another recent technology related to VHF radios is DSC (digital selective calling) technology.  Sea Gem was equipped with this technology initially, but the new VHF makes it easier to use.  DSC permits us to communicate directly with an individual vessel, as opposed to using public channels, and permits boats to share their GPS coordinates with each other.  DSC-equipped boats have an MMSI number, which is the equivalent of a phone number, and you can either call or obtain a boat's GPS coordinates based on its MMSI number.

To further take advantage of this technology, we also bought a new handheld VHF with built-in GPS and DSC.  The handheld VHF has its own MMSI, so if we get lost in the dinghy at night for example, we can use Sea Gem's MMSI to determine its GPS coordinates and navigate right to it using the handheld.  Or, if someone with the handheld (which floats and is waterproof) falls into the water, whoever is on Sea Gem can use the handheld's MMSI to navigate to the person in the water.

Handheld VHF
The nice thing about the handheld is that it required no installation.  I took it out of the box, and it worked.  It has a wall charger for the battery, and that is it.

The other new equipment, on the other hand, involved lots and lots of tiny wires.  Specifically, 16 tiny wires that needed to be connected to the VHF, thread to various parts of the boat, and connected to something else (battery, speaker, computer, GPS, etc.).  But, in the end, everything works, and we've breathed new life into our older electronics system.

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