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Old 25-11-2006, 10:21   #1
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Bare Essentials

I am looking for some oppinions on what the minimum essential requirements are for on board electronics are for cruising in the Caribbean.

We will be commencing our long term cruise from within the Caribbean. The boat will have basic electronics : depth, windspeed, autopilot, VHF radio but initially it will have no radar, chartplotter, SSB. At some point we'll need to make decisions on what equipment to put on board. As a bit of a geek I am attracted to a certain degree of integration between helm and on board PC based systems.

However, I have come to the conclusion I don't need to make my mind up before we go for anything that is non-essential within the Caribbean. I am hoping I will learn more by chatting to other cruisers and seeing what they have.

Now I know there is no single answer to this but I am interested in members oppinions on which equipment is worth putting in up front.

For instance, does radar really add a lot of value in the Caribbean?
Would having a SSB on board up front make a difference?

As a bit of background, I am comfortable navigating without GPS and do have a Garmin 276C which could be used in the interimn.

So - what do you guys think? Is there anything I really should seriously put on board as opposed to waiting 6 months when I can make decisions based on what I will learn.

Steve
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Old 25-11-2006, 10:36   #2
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As with any opinionated question, it's dangerous, as many people will consider things essential that others will do happily without. All the way from the extreme end with people like the Pardeys who sail with only a recieving radio, to the other extreme of people that wouldn't leave a dock without a gps, two backups, and a couple of EPIRBs, just in case, plus as much other electronic equipment they can afford/cram onto the boat.
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Old 25-11-2006, 11:08   #3
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I agree, but, I believe that if the technology is out there, and can be afforded, might as well use it. Two important considerations, the more components you have, the more there is to fail. The second, and this is my personal opinion, multi function components are to be avoided. Interconnectivity is fine, but components that perform more than one funtion mean if you have a failure, you lose more than one function. I have a SSB set, and feel that it is a valuable component, but I also have a HAM license, and use it for a hobby. My celestial nav skills are weak, so I rely on GPS. If my GPS and back-ups failed I could find land, but that is about the extent of it, so I consider GPS to be a must. I can not tell you anything specific to the Carrib, as I have not cruised there, but on the West Coast, Radar is a must. We have long periods of heavy fog, so having a good radar is often the only way to keep from running into things that are not on the chart. An important consideration when assessing your electronics needs should be the more you have, the more you need. Electronics use power. No sense putting $20000 in electronics on a boat that has to run the engine every time they are turned on.
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Old 25-11-2006, 12:11   #4
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The question of radar is a case in point. I know I will get radar but do I need it straight away for the Caribbean? If I buy one before/when we move aboard, then am I limitting my future range of navigation solutions? If I defer, I'll have time to make my mind up (no doubt with having to assimilate much advice from other cruisers) but am I running unnecessary safety risks by not having one from the get go?


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Old 25-11-2006, 14:17   #5
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IMHO don't buy anything until you have 12 months cruising behind you. Your boat already has way more the the essential minimum, so just go, after a year you can decide if you want to add more junk.
Essential minimum: compass, sextant, lead line, everything else is a luxury.
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Old 25-11-2006, 15:39   #6
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I agree with the post right above. You are all set. Get out on the water and get the experience. I was a HUGE electronics buff, but the more you live on the water, the less and less you find electronics useful or even fun. I know you can't believe that now, but follow up with this thread in a couple years after cruising in the Caribbean - if you still have a computer. ha ha ha

Kidding - computers are great for keeping in touch.
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Old 25-11-2006, 15:58   #7
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Forget the radar. Navigation in the Caribbean is very simple, most everywhere.

SSB is a plus for safety, communications & email, and fun, especially if you're a ham.

Forget the integrated stuff; as was said, a single point of failure for multiple critical systems is not a good thing on a boat (or an airplane).

Forget AIS...big waste of time and money, and possibly even dangerous, as you can be lulled into the belief that all those targets on the screen are all that's out there....they aren't, by a long shot.

Make sure your basic instruments are working well....fathometer, compass, etc. A wind indicator is helpful, but not mandatory.

Look to your anchoring gear and other onboard systems you'll need in the Caribbean (do you have a dodger? a bimini?).

Go simple, go now. After a year or so, you'll know what you need and what's just fluff.

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Old 25-11-2006, 18:11   #8
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Less is More

Agree with the gang on wait till after you've been cruising around awhile.

Most of the island hops are not that long (daytime sailing) & the "traffic" is not that heavy.

So on the longer hops, ie; BVI to St. Martin, you will have to have adjust the watch "eyes" for the dark & ship lights.........very little distractions ie; land lights.

GPS - a handheld Garmin for the cockpit would do nicely.

Weather - In USVI/BVI, you will be able to pickup, US based WX broadcasts on VHF..........however, as you move down the chain getting regular weather forecasts via VHF or AM/FM radio becomes a roulette game and at times testing your French. So internet cafes for NOAA or CaribWX website access or stopping by bigger marinas to get weather printouts will help smooth your course.
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Old 25-11-2006, 18:23   #9
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Anything you add and don't have experience with isn't worth much. If you can't operate an SSB then you are looking at serious money for nothing. If you have never used radar you will be disappointed. It's a great technology in the hands of skilled operators.

You can't become a wizard at any of these technologies because you bought one. They all take time and experience to master. Maybe you already have enough to master just now. Being a geek or non geek has nothing to do with it really. If you can't work it into your normal operations you may miss something important because you were goofing around with a new device you really can't use very well.

A short wave radio receiver you can operate easily and afford. That would be something to have aboard. For emergencies an EPIRB is the cheapest device that will actually work and basically just has just an ON button. A backup GPS is worthwhile. You know how to use one so imagine the one you have died at sea.

Laptop integration with GPS is nice and not technically difficult or really very expensive. I think it is more practical than a chart plotter. A laptop is nice for many things. Internet cafes are common.
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Old 25-11-2006, 19:20   #10
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One More

Here's a link to Chris Doyle's Site....................I like his Guides & have used on all my trips & his site has resources that maybe useful plus comments from others who share updated info.....

http://www.doyleguides.com/index.html

Leave some Rum, Sand & Sun for the rest of us.
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Old 26-11-2006, 01:35   #11
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Bill,

Allow me to defend AIS a little bit here. I wouldn't call it essential, but it can be useful, and it certainly isn't dangerous. What is dangerous is thinking that any piece of equipment will make you invulnerable, or always give you perfect information, but this holds for radar, GPS, EPIRB, depthsounders, anchors, you name it. I use AIS, am mindful of its limitations, and have had occasions where it has been a help.

Regards,
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Old 26-11-2006, 05:03   #12
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Thanks for all the advice. So far you mostly seem to be confirming my current thoughts and that is to go with more or less what I have already. The EPIRB, it seems to me, is a necessity. I do have a very basic hiking GPS which gives me location. Paper charts and basic precautions such as writing down route plans before we set sail will allow that to work as a back up.

I also take your points about the dangers of over confidence with any source of information. I am quite comfortable with this notion in every aspect of life. In my mind, reading a radar is no different to reading a newspaper. All you're getting is a perspective on something, not anything absolute. My cure is a healthy dose of skepticism about everything until I have managed to correlate one source of information with one or more others.

Thanks again.
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Old 26-11-2006, 08:01   #13
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Paul and ess105,

Of course, you're right: AIS isn't, in itself, dangerous. I was using a bit of poetic license :-))

However, my point isn't JUST that no piece of gear should be relied on 100%, but that COMPLEXITY can be a dangerous thing because it can be a distraction from the more reliable and most important tools of all: your eyes, ears, and senses.

Have you ever looked at a cluttered AIS screen? Great isn't it? All those targets moving about. And, look, you can click on each one of them and find out all sorts of interesting information. Let's see, this is the Global Challenger, moving at 16 knots on a course of 234T. It's a ......etc., etc.

Oops, time to check the radar...let's see if I can find the Global Challenger on the radar. OK, I think I've got it. Now, what does the GPS show? Damn, the battery monitor says the batteries are getting low already. Fuel guages look OK. Water tanks about half full. Inverter light is blinking...I wonder why? Kids watching Alice in Wonderland on the LCD.

Darn it, Windows just crashed my laptop again, so my electronic charting is gone. Better check the paper charts. Or, maybe I ought to fire up that little chartplotter in the meantime. But, I really hate it's tiny display and the chart colors are all screwy.

What was that on the VHF? Unintelligible shouting....sounds serious, though.

Meanwhile, on autopilot, you've run through a minefield of lobster traps and have been run down by a fishing boat -- or was it a ferry -- that didn't show up on the AIS screen!

You may not have guessed it from this post, but I'm an electronics freak also. But enough mistakes and enough saltwater passing under my keel has convinced me that all these gadgets can be dangerous to your health UNLESS you are absolutely rigorous and demanding on yourself to not let them distract you.

Cheers,

Bill
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Old 26-11-2006, 08:42   #14
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Hello

I think you have gotten great advice here, I would simply add my own personal experience for whatever it is worth. I have sailed for over 35 yrs and cruised quite a bit, though never full time. I got my boat 4 yrs ago to complete my 5 yr plan and have been living aboard and cruising full time since last march. On a personal note, I love it more and more everyday, the boat, the life.

At any rate. Some of my personal opinion. While it is true that once you are out there, you do have a better idea of what you need and want. However, it is also true that once you are out there and are not working and generating disposable income...you tend to be very conservative on what you spend.

I definately agree with keep it simple! Assume that everything will break or need maintenance, especially anything electronic. I had new waterproof handheld VHF radio's fail in simple rainstorms just in the ICW.

So, think about what ADDS VALUE to your cruising. To me, AIS and integrated computer based nav do not. AIS is not required for many boats capable of striking and sinking you. Better to keep a much more vigilant watch. To me, computer based nav is an expense that is little justified and comes with the added price of still requiring paper charts and a chartplotter anyway. A nice computer system is likely to cost you because it is likely to fail out there. Computers also place a large burden on your electrical needs...look at your computer power supply...how many amps does it use? 6? 9? OK, multiply that by the long hours you will use it, double that number for the extra batt capacity you will need (remember batts can only be drawn down 50%) and add into that the extra solar or wind power generation you need. That costs.

Radar: I see you are in NJ. If you are going coastal down the east coast, radar will be a good idea. If just the ICW, FL and the islands, not so much. If you went that route, just get a cheap, $1000 radar that has good clutter control and perhaps a guard zone. You won't use it much and ...it can always break when you can least get it fixed.

Chartplotters. I used to be a strict traditionalist and not want to bother with them. To me, a hand held GPS was fine. Now that I have one...I LOVE it. It is very nice to be able to see your nav situation and bottom contour in real time, graphically presented. Value: you can now get very good chartplotters for under $500. I now have two and a hand held gps...backups for backups...

SSB. ALways knew it was a great workhorse and source of unlimited info and comms while cruising. I got a decent ICOM M-700 on Ebay for $600. I think you could get one cheaper now. Also just got a decent tuner for $230, not an ICOM but one that works just fine. It was a much simpler matter to set the unit up that I had thought beforehand and it worked great my first try. I tweaked it (with the help of great folks here and elsewhere) and now it works even better. It IS a workhorse for you. You will be able to participate in cruiser nets (both HAM and just marine SSB), get weather info, keep up with friends and let family know where you are and how you are. The more I use it, the more I see a use for it.

So, for $500 you can have a chartplotter (another $100-200 for chips that cover tremendous geography).

For under $850, you can have an SSB, even less if you go HAM.

That, to me, is value.

But...before any of that, the very first thing you need to assess is your energy generation requirements. I don't know anyone out there who would not like more, including me. I took great care to fit out my boat with low draw electronics, lights and pumps. This has worked very well for me. I have solar for power, which also works well. I will, however, be addiing more capacity in the near future.

Auto-pilot ...you need one certainly if you will be sailing solo or shorthanded. However, a well balanced boat, properly trimmed can track for long long periods without slavish attention to the helm, better to have a good boat than a good autopilot.

But, as Bill states above, none of this stuff will keep you safe. Electronic charts have errors, other boats ignore the rules and some even navigate the chart errors with their helms slaved to their integrated electronic charts. Regardless of what you get, you will need to use your experience and sea sense to keep safe. You will need to hand steer for long periods around lots of obsticles and other boats. Add in whatever devices enhance this for you...but not replace it. Nothing can replace your eyes and your depth finder...and believe it, those are your only two truly accurate instruments aboard.

And...most errors are made by crews that are fatigued, wet, cold and/or hungry. The best thing to get before you get any of the above is a boat that is comfortable to liveaboard, has a gentle motion in a seaway, tracks well, is stable, carries plenty of stores and is very very dry. If you have nothing else, that will do.

Sorry for the dissertation, hope this helps.

John
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Old 26-11-2006, 12:10   #15
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John and Bill,

I believe that we are in general agreement. I don't use my computer for navigation, and the AIS monitoring is done on a low-power Pocket PC (and will be done on my next chartplotter). I use AIS like I use radar, in low-visibility conditions, and as a tool to help resolve crossing situations. If I can see the other vessel, I use my hand-compass first to take bearings. AIS also gives me the ship's name, so I can get their attention on the VHF, if needed. I've sailed without AIS, and certainly don't need it, but it is a help.

*** An on-topic suggestion: have a decent hand-bearing compass (and/or binocs w. compass) and know how to use it.

I was sailing with a friend who's depth finder spontaneously switched scale from feet to meters -- it created some confusion for us, but at least it wasn't the other way around (we were anchoring at night)! So nothing is guaranteed.
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