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Old 26-05-2007, 10:39   #1
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Newer is Better, Right?

WARNING - this is a bit of a rant, but I'm gonna try to keep it low key.

I know it's swimming up stream these days to think that, perhaps, "newer" isn't always "better", but nonetheless I'm gonna advance that argument. When I see the posts on this and other boards asking if one should replace 5-year old or 10-year old equipment with the latest electronic wizardry the hair on my neck bristles.

I'm not a young guy, nor am I a novice sailor. I am, however, a lifelong electronics kinda guy. Played with every toy imaginable. Extra Class ham for many years. Etc., etc.

At the moment, I have more than 20 HF transceivers in my home (only two on my boat, though). Lots of VHF gear, fixed and handheld. Multiple everythings that go on boats as well...fathometers, knotlogs, wind indicators, lorans, RDFs, GPSs, sextants, etc., etc.

Folks, I'm here to tell you than only the uninitiated believe that newer is always better. Very often, older is not only a bargain, but is much better built and will outperform and outlast the new stuff several times over.

Consider some of the equipment on my boat. First, understand that affordability has not been a consideration, thanks to an understanding wife and fortunate circumstances. I could have afforded anything out there when the decisions were made.

Instruments. I've never found anything more robust, attractive, and functional than my 30-year old Datamarine instruments: fathometer, wind indicator, knotmeter. I have and carry backups for all of them, found on eBay at bargain prices.

GPS. I carry two identical Furuno GP-31 units, identically programmed with waypoints and routes. One of these interfaces to my laptop charting program (Offshore Navigator) and to my DSC VHF radio (OK, that's my one piece of "latest" gear). The other serves the needs of the helmsman. These models are about 10 years old. I carry two very old Garmin 50s in my grab bag.

Loran. WHAT? Yes, loran. Loran is completely independent of satellites and things which can interfere with them, provides excellent repeatability, and is very affordable these days. The USCG is upgrading loran facilities. I carry a top-of-the line Furuno LC-90 MK II, and a very robust Micrologic Voyager. These units are 20-30 years old (although the Furuno is still a current model).

RDF. WHAT? Yes, RDF. It's served me very well in the past (like navigating up the Adriatic to Dubrovnik in a fog), and is completely independent of satellites and loran. I carry two of them: a Brookes and Gatehouse Homer model with an excellent hand-bearing compass and a Ray Marine digital model. Both found on eBay for pennies, relatively. These RDF units are 40 years old.

Comms. I carry two VHF fixed (marine DSC model and a ham model which can also cover the marine band) and several handhelds, including an aircraft model. For SSB, I carry a Yaesu FT-900AT and a Yaesu System 600, ham and marine respectively, and several antenna systems. These Yaesu's are about 15 years old. I also have WinLink email via a PTC-IIe modem which is about 10 years old.

Radar. I carry a Furuno 1832 radar with a green-screen CRT. It's an older model, but still manufactured and is used by commercial vessels. With it, I can pick out crab pots and lobster pots, literally.

These days, it's all the rage to integrate everything with everything else. Mostly, just because you can. Being an electronics guy, my concept of integration is that it should be minimal and only where necessary to provide real capability. Separate, dedicated instruments are a good thing. Redundancy is a good thing. Single points of failure (like networks) for multiple critical systems is NOT a good thing, especially on a small boat where heavy spray or a boarding sea may find its way below.

Here are some of these instruments aboard my boat: Gallery :: Born Free 9/26/06 :: NavArea1

Sextants. WHAT? Yes, celestial. Used to teach it. Love the concept. Love the equipment. I carry a Carl Plath and a Cassens and Plath sextant aboard. Had 'em for years. Best sextants made, bar none. These sextants are 30-40 years old. NOT available for pennies, even on eBay.

What's the point of all this?
Point is, I challenge ANYONE, ANYWHERE to identify "latest" equipment in any of these categories which is "better", "more robust", "a must have", etc.

Be smart about equipment and electronics. Look for the best you can find and afford. Don't worry that it's maybe not the latest offering from manufacturers and vendors anxious to sell you a new piece of gear.


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Old 26-05-2007, 11:28   #2
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In principal, I agree with you. The benefits are, generally, more bells and whistles, easier to use, and, as a ham, I am sure you realize that electronic equipment does wear out, get off frequency, etc. Even the best equipment wears out. That said, the quality and functionality of 10 year old equipment, is, often equal, or greater than that of new equipment. Sure miss my old TS 940, and hope to replace it with another TS940 one day. No use for the TS2000.

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Old 26-05-2007, 11:41   #3
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Kai Nui,

Thanks, and I'm sure you get the picture very well (I've seen your posts).

But, one little point of possible disagreement. You said, "I am sure you realize that electronic equipment does wear out, get off frequency, etc."

Well, actually, I haven't seen that very much. Good equipment from the 50's and 60's is still going strong today. My KWM-2A looks and performs like new. My six military rigs from the 60's and 70's ditto. My old 900ATs (two of them), ditto. In fact, I've never seen an old radio "wear out", though I'm sure there must be some of 'em somewhere. I've seen radios which were abused, immersed in salt spray or saltwater, dropped, hit by lightning, and which have undergone miscellaneous other mishaps, but I've never seen one just "wear out". As for "off frequency", that's just a little tweak for most sets, especially the older ones. It's the newer computer-controlled models which are a bit tricky to get back on frequency, but this is just an annoyance.

Anyway, my purpose in the "rant" was just to plant a little seed of doubt for newbies and others who seem to have bought -- hook, line, and sinker -- the "newer is better" mantra of the marketeers :-)


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Old 26-05-2007, 13:23   #4
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Not to argue against you, but just take a different view of the picture. You are still suggesting using Electronics. So obviously you do not have a negative about using electronics in themselves. So lets look at this differently. Back all those years ago, the only gear available was the best. It was beyond conumer reach price wise and infact size wise as well. It was cutting edge technology at the time. If you take that same principle today and buy equipment of similar price and technology, I bet it will also be around in 30yrs time. The only difference in equipment today is that there are many "consumer affordable" new electronics today. Easy to operate, reliable and a dime a dozen. Easy to operate was not a major draw card to equipment 20-30yrs back. You damn near needed a degree just to turn it on. When I think back to the first consumer chartplotters I used to sell 20yrs back, I cringe as to the cost and what little they did compared what is on offer today. And accuracy is unparrelleld. 20yrs ago (not even that actually) we were amased that the GPS could get us within 10m(30ft) of where we were. Today, we are down to a couple of ft. Special systems can get that to a few inches. Try that with a sextant.
But the big issue with the argument of new vs old is that you never know what you are getting with old. The radar maybe good, it may just as easily be on it's last legs. Can you get parts if it does die. Like a magnatron for instance. Old gear was power hungry. Really old gear like radar of 30yrs ago, still had valves and really knew how to suck juice.
Loran and Deca and systems like that are slowly dieing and being truned off around the world now. So the area of use is fast deminishing.
I have two GPS units. One is an old Furuno and the other is a newer Navamn. I replaced the Furuno because the thing was so slow to redraw a page. I recon I draw it by hand faster than the unit could. When in narrow water ways with poor visibility, waiting for the page to update was agonisingly slow. The new Navman is almost instant. Yet even in the worst conditions, it still feels to slow. I don't want it "almost" instant, I want it instant.
In sum up, nup....I would much rather have the new latest equipment. It has warranties and with the cost these days, after the warranty has gone and if the equipment dies, you have to look seriously it better to buy a new one or try and fix the old out of date one.

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Old 26-05-2007, 13:35   #5
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Wearing out old and new electronic gear

I've repaired radio equipment for 35 years and love the technology, both old as well as the latest. I design various circuits using the latest integrated circuits, etc. and still love some of the old transistor equipment designed and built over 30 years ago.

With proper design, proper choice of high quality components, and proper implementation of layout and construction guarantees the longevity of the gear as long as it is not physically abused beyond the design limits.

Many failures come from long-term exposure to cigarette smoke, dust and dirt and, naturally, salt water. Many others are from abusing connectors, switches and potentiometers by side-loading or hitting them. Microphones get dropped, spit into, and their cords tweaked maliciously and still survive that fairly well (have you noticed how the skippers on the crabbers shown on "World's Deadliest Catch" are constantly using and abusing those SSB,hailer, and VHF mikes?). lightning and high static-discharges cause other various failures. So, if these catagories are justifiably referred to as "wearing out" then O.K. I'll buy that, otherwise I agree with Bill.

I also concur with Bill regarding the long term survivability of those old Datamarine units. I was hit by lightning in Panama which obliterated my VHF antenna. The Datamarine wind direction still worked (basically consists of a very rugged WW2 design three-phase resolver normally used for radar applications) but the hall-effect transistor used to generate pulses from the rotating magnet on the windspeed rotor had one of its leads fused apart. I was able to resolder the lead to the transistor and that machine still works today. I've had similar good results repairing other of the old depth and speed units etc.

Many older synthesised VHF radios are still viable today. One compelling reason not to seek out only a new unit with bells and whistles is that for decades we cruisers can only legally use a handfull of frequencies out of all of the miriad ones programmed into the new radios so what good are the extra ones to us? If one never uses the commercial telephone (so-called duplex) channels you probably don't need more than 18 channels and, for emergencies, don't need more than one to six maximum. Because DSC is not yet fully implemented around our coastlines buying that feature should not be a high priority.

Some of the newest HAM and commercial SSB gear may not outperform across the board all of the specifications that older gear has demonstrated. I've not seen any of the high stability time bases used to establish frequency accuracy in the commercial SSB (and optionally in HAM gear) be off frequency except in lightning damaged gear even 25 years old. I'm not saying that the new gear is not as good or even better. That comes down to specific features and specifications, models and manufacturers.

Good "rant" Bill!
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Old 26-05-2007, 15:05   #6
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It is possible to sail around with a compass , sextant and a leadline.
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Old 26-05-2007, 15:11   #7
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Could your memory be selective...

Is it possible that the reson that old gear is "better" is because all of the poorly made stuff has been trashed and thrown out.

I would hesitate to buy old stuff as I just don't know what is good.

With my luck and knowledge I would end up with worn out heaps of s#*t.

I do appreciate hearing about those pieces of equipment that are good. I'll keep my eyes open.
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Old 26-05-2007, 16:47   #8
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That's a really good point, i.e., how does one KNOW what's good?

First, let me say that I was not necessarily advocating going out and buying old/used equipment. Rather, I was saying that just because the equipment you have on your boat, or your new-to-you boat, is 5 or 10 or 20 years old doesn't mean that new equipment will necessarily be better.

While it may be relatively easy for Rick and for me and other electronics-types to recognize good older gear...and to know its strengths and're quite right that this isn't true for everyone. What, then, to do?

First, be aware that newer isn't necessarily better. Second, use the resources around you...including this Board and sound out the experience(s) of others with the equipment you have. Third, try to keep up with the rapidly changing world of electronics manufacturing. This isn't easy to do, but it would be good to know, e.g., that while some brands were of high quality and had pretty good service-after-sale in the past, changes in policies and ownership can change that in a hurry. Think Xantrex. Think Ray Marine. Think Autohelm. Even, think Worst Marine.

Things change, and you've gotta be aware of these changes so as not to wander into deep doo doo.

Fourth, don't be seduced by the bells and whistles. Think basics. Think what you really need to navigate your boat. To keep the batteries happy. To chill your drinks. To communicate effectively.

Yes, GPS is wonderful. It's the best thing since sliced bread. It's also the best aid available for "GPS-assisted groundings", which occur with some regularity because someone...even professional mariners...wasn't aware of its limitations or wasn't familiar with even the basics of piloting or wasn't paying attention when he/she dialed in the next waypoint and let the GPS-autopilot link take over, without proper monitoring.

The arguments advanced above re: old equipment are entertaining but irrelevant to anything built in the last decade or so. My 10-year old Furuno GP-31s can acquire and track 12 satellites simultaneously. A position fix is almost instantaneous, and they only very rarely ever drop a fix.

I have two older RDF's "Coastal and Newmar brands" (but same exact radio) in my house which we use to listen to AM stations all day long. Bought 'em on eBay for about $30. Powered by six "D" cells. Run from 7AM to 7PM daily. Replace the battery ever few MONTHS. These radios are about 30 years old, but look and play like new.

Some of the old stuff is still very very good.
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Old 26-05-2007, 17:18   #9
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I challenge ANYONE, ANYWHERE to identify "latest" equipment in any of these categories which is "better", "more robust", "a must have", etc.
Better really isn't about age alone. Many things could be built better but are not and anything built better are no longer affordable. I offer up by original Bell telephone that I bought back when you couldn't own your own phone. Now compare it to the cost that I paid then and the cost I might pay now for a replacement given that the old phone can not be purchased now.

Are the phone today "better"? When you consider the initial purchase price and many people do. Better = cheaper. When you are talking sailors Cheaper = Best!

In phones you can not purchase a more robust phone than the old bell phones. They were built to last a lifetime and my mom still has her bell wall mounted phone from 1960.

Not everything is like phones for sure. In a market where price does matter, just what should be the objective? Should you always be purchasing the highest duty cycle device in all cases? Would you really be willing to pay that much if a cheaper product you wanted to like because it was cheaper was out there?

The general consensus is the basic human being isn't a darn bit smarter than they were 50,000 years ago. They Will go for the cheaper product more often than not - no matter what. No matter what they tell you they want.

As I recall I think when I bought the Bell phone it was $69 and that was I think 30 years ago and it was used about 8 years! What would that phone be in todays dollars brand new and with the price of materials and labor today?

So older may be better but being older won't make it better. At 52 years old I'm not better but I'm not affordable either.

If anyone really wants one I have two old GPS receivers that only need an antenna. One is a Sitex and the other a Furuno ( I thunk they really are the same manufacturer). Send me a PM and the cost of postage and packaging they can be yours. I also have two Garmin 182's and they really are a great GPS. Better than the other two. Those are worth paying for on eBay and reving the firmware to the latest.
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Old 26-05-2007, 18:34   #10
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Old 26-05-2007, 19:12   #11
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My favorite lame-brain excuse for "up-grading" is: "...but the new stuff is digital..."Apparently all some smart marketing guy has to do is insert the word "digital" and he's sure to increase sales.
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Old 26-05-2007, 19:13   #12
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Old stuff may be on it's last legs due to age, abuse, salt, vibration, corrosion, etc.

Have seen plenty old stuff crap out and not about to start a fan club for 30 year old marine electronics...Duh

The new stuff is really cheap on e-bay, under warranty and works great, so why advocate the old?

(I know, I know: Captain Cook did not have a chart plotter and he did just fine..By Gooly, no radar either but his RDF worked fine.)
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Old 26-05-2007, 19:38   #13
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I tend to fall in the newer is generally better camp with Wheels...but there are certainly examples of fine older products that need not be discarded...and I absolutely agree with Bill's "single point of failure " analysis of networked stuff.
I will say that, however fine the GP31's are,...they are not as accurate as today's WAAS enabled stuff...not that I'd discard them...but you can't use them to back into your slip! (G) I'll take a couple of $200 garmins any day.
The sextant remains a nice hobby but should no longer be used as a primary navigation tool given the availability, affordability and 24x7 useability of GPS (notice i did not say chartplotter!!) I admire those who play with them and can work a sight through...but the best way to check how good you are with it is to look at your GPS! (G)
(I have FOUR and lots of fresh batteries in pelican no comments about redundancy are required!)
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Old 26-05-2007, 19:47   #14
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Thanks Bill,
I agree. Although not all the bells and whistles nor the integration there are many old junk stuffs out there that are still working better than the new items that I bought thinking I'd replace them with something new and better.
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Old 26-05-2007, 20:17   #15
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To compair - the handheld raido that I use at work cost $ 1200, I have it on every hour at work, while the hand held VHF that cost $ 100, that I do not have on much. Which will be a better value 5 years from now? The difference in cost is 1 months cruising, which is the better value now?

There is some very good comercial marine grade electronics that I wish that I could afford that would last for a very long time. Until then I will have to go with the NEW pleasure craft stuff and replace when worn out or it gets too damaged due to abuse or incorrect instilation or poor maintance.

It is just hard to compair things like this without getting into the specifics of brands and price. I buy new plesure craft electronics, I really do not need most of the stuff but it IS nice to have.

I should add that I do not intend to go blue water cruising, just harbor hoping. Wanting to spend 3 weeks at sea would change things.

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