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Old 16-11-2017, 09:34   #1
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How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Dear Forum,

I am interested to know just what can be done with a laptop on board a boat: weather, radar, AIS, navigation etc. I am not the most techie guy in the world so please excuse my naivety (read: dumbness) in this matter.

Is the do-it-all-on-one-platform approach the ideal way to go about things? I realise one advantage may be that this method could be cost-effective - assuming we all carry a laptop on board as a matter of course. An issue with this method may be that if the laptop was to go tits up then all systems would be lost (windows based laptops seem cheap these days so an identical replacement could be carried too). Naturally, there would be redundancy built into the complete boat package with paper charts, handheld GPS and sextant etc. Also, there would be the systems that are already on board. Just what are the limitations and practical/problematic issues to the laptop route?

Any thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated. If there is a one-stop shop/thread which covers all this in layman's terms then please direct me there too. Some of the posts I have read cover individual systems only, and not a full suite.

Just one on navigation: I have heard of OpenCPN charts but I don't know an awful lot about them. It seems to be limited to US waters, but I am likely to be wrong. Did I mention that I am not too techie? I will be circumnavigating, so that may already make a laptop unworkable for navigation?!

Many thanks in advance.

SN.
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Old 16-11-2017, 10:35   #2
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Computers are great for displaying all kinds of information. We use a complex proprietary system on the research vessel which displays navigational and scientific information on one monitor. Therefore, what you are asking for is certainly possible. The technology certainly exists.

However you do it, make sure you are not completely dependent on your laptop working in order to be safe out on the water. I can't overemphasize how important backups are.

Without our backups it would have been "game over" a number of times, time to return to the dock...with a number of very unhappy scientists.
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Old 16-11-2017, 10:52   #3
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

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Computers are great for displaying all kinds of information. We use a complex proprietary system on the research vessel which displays navigational and scientific information on one monitor. Therefore, what you are asking for is certainly possible. The technology certainly exists.
Hi David,

Thanks for the reply.

I am ex-mil and have seemingly spent a lifetime asking the 'what ifs' and producing back up plans and solutions for the belt and braces options that were already in place!! One can never be too prepared!

A research vessel is possibly larger than my intended sailboat, though I guess the principle remains the same. I am keen to learn what exactly can be done with one and how reliable and practical they are. I am a Mac user, ordinarily, but would have no issue buying a windows laptop for sole use as a boat's techie-info hub for all things safety and boaty - for general cruising and crossing oceans.
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Old 16-11-2017, 11:02   #4
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

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Hi David,

Thanks for the reply.

I am ex-mil and have seemingly spent a lifetime asking the 'what ifs' and producing back up plans and solutions for the belt and braces options that were already in place!! One can never be too prepared!

A research vessel is possibly larger than my intended sailboat, though I guess the principle remains the same. I am keen to learn what exactly can be done with one and how reliable and practical they are. I am a Mac user, ordinarily, but would have no issue buying a windows laptop for sole use as a boat's techie-info hub for all things safety and boaty - for general cruising and crossing oceans.
I wish I could help you beyond this point. I am more of a Windows guy and the software I use is for Windows only and some of it is pretty expensive and requires an expert at it to set it up. I also do not know what would be practical and relatively inexpensive for a sailboat pleasure boat. I know there are others in here who are much more experienced at what you are looking for than I am. Hopefully, they will be along soon.
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Old 16-11-2017, 11:10   #5
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Well a Tablet could be even better with a cradle as second display on the helm or at any place in the boat. I would not set up a single point of failure - don't put too many eggs in a single basket.

I would probably install a low-power board PC wih a decent size display in the nav-station instead of a notebook, that can fly around in heavy seas and get smashed...

Notebooks are great for planning / working out side while anchoring..
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Old 16-11-2017, 11:27   #6
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

CatNewBee - I used a tablet for my first year of sailing in Greece. It was great for weather Grib files and the Navionics app with European charts. However, when outside of 3G/4G signal (it was tethered to my mobile phone), it was not as good. So I guess tablets have their limitations? I am not a techie in any sense of the word!

My reason for laptop over PC is that it can be recharged from a 12v system via a cigaret lighter socket, and I already own one. In all cases, a laptop would be fixed to a surface so as not to fly around in bad weather. Agree that a laptop/notebook/tablet are essential for communication and entertainment when at anchor, almost on a par with a cold beer!
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Old 16-11-2017, 11:27   #7
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Take a look at the Open plotter project. This will give you an idea of what is possible. There are plenty of options for getting instrument data to the PC (i.e. NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000).

I would think the biggest challenge for the laptop-only approach is the suitability of having access to the computer where it can stay dry and you can see the screen. Most laptop/monitor/tablet displays are worthless when trying to read the screen in direct sunlight.
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Old 16-11-2017, 11:40   #8
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

If you already have an HDMI display you can get a $50 computer that will do all navigation with charts all over the world. Some places charge for charts and some don't. You can make your own charts with Google Earth and other similar services.
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Old 16-11-2017, 12:18   #9
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

There are a number of recent threads on the topic. Today you can easily put the following systems through a PC/laptop with relative ease:

- Charts & navigation (mostly free)
- Sensor display (wind, depth, speed, AIS - you need nmea data)
- Engine data (temp, oil, tach, etc. - either digitized analog or nmea 2000)
- Tank monitors (digitized analog works best)
- Video (IP cameras for situational awareness)
- Radar (Navico/Garmin work best)
- SSB control (digital data modes, weatherfax, weather info)

There are other systems that are not there yet:
- Sonar (not that much interest, plenty of low cost offerings)
- Autopilot (currently under development)

The bigger question is, why would you want that? With the advent of electronic charts most planning is done on a laptop/phone anyway. It is more or less independent of the boat. Then you just need to transfer the routes/waypoints to the autopilot - all of this is mature and well understood. There is not that much utility in integrating the other systems in a single display. One can spend many hours building and calibrating the system with very little actual benefit.

My advice is to build a simple baseline system (autopilot/simple chartplotter/AIS radio) then move everything else to the PC as it is not mission critical. Here are some examples of such systems:

1) ST4000 autopilot / Garmin 44dv chartplotter / AIS radio. Such a system will cost around $1,000 (autopilot is used) and will give you everything except radar. It is nmea 0183 based. It is sunlight readable and night dimmable. Everything else feeds into a Windows tablet.

2) If you want to add radar, then you can get a used HDS-5 gen 2 chartplotter plus the Lowrance 3G radar and with luck it will fit under $2,000.

3) Any new system to match the capabilities above will be nmea 2000 based and when you add the rewiring and the install, not to mention to new sensors, you are looking at $7,000 to $10,000 for a full electronic refit. At that price point the benefit of saving $1,000 by replacing a chartplotter with a tablet is very small and not worthwhile.

SV Pizzazz
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Old 16-11-2017, 12:32   #10
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pizzazz View Post
There are a number of recent threads on the topic. Today you can easily put the following systems through a PC/laptop with relative ease:

- Charts & navigation (mostly free)
- Sensor display (wind, depth, speed, AIS - you need nmea data)
- Engine data (temp, oil, tach, etc. - either digitized analog or nmea 2000)
- Tank monitors (digitized analog works best)
- Video (IP cameras for situational awareness)
- Radar (Navico/Garmin work best)
- SSB control (digital data modes, weatherfax, weather info)

There are other systems that are not there yet:
- Sonar (not that much interest, plenty of low cost offerings)
- Autopilot (currently under development)

The bigger question is, why would you want that? With the advent of electronic charts most planning is done on a laptop/phone anyway. It is more or less independent of the boat. Then you just need to transfer the routes/waypoints to the autopilot - all of this is mature and well understood. There is not that much utility in integrating the other systems in a single display. One can spend many hours building and calibrating the system with very little actual benefit.

My advice is to build a simple baseline system (autopilot/simple chartplotter/AIS radio) then move everything else to the PC as it is not mission critical. Here are some examples of such systems:

1) ST4000 autopilot / Garmin 44dv chartplotter / AIS radio. Such a system will cost around $1,000 (autopilot is used) and will give you everything except radar. It is nmea 0183 based. It is sunlight readable and night dimmable. Everything else feeds into a Windows tablet.

2) If you want to add radar, then you can get a used HDS-5 gen 2 chartplotter plus the Lowrance 3G radar and with luck it will fit under $2,000.

3) Any new system to match the capabilities above will be nmea 2000 based and when you add the rewiring and the install, not to mention to new sensors, you are looking at $7,000 to $10,000 for a full electronic refit. At that price point the benefit of saving $1,000 by replacing a chartplotter with a tablet is very small and not worthwhile.

SV Pizzazz
Firstly...thanks for this. Secondly...wow, a lot of good pointers. I am a little behind the digital times! I wasn't clear in my initial post - I only want the basics: weather, nav, AIS. SSB control is a new one on me, I am only just beginning to read up on the benefits of SSB and pactor modem combination.

I'll digest this info and research all the individual components to see how I'll go about it. I would like to integrate whatever systems are on board, assuming they are all compatible. You have definitely given me food for thought.

I guess I am looking for a balance between a system that can aide the voyage, yet not be overly complicated that I spend hours/days chasing faults and pulling my hair out.
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Old 16-11-2017, 12:49   #11
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

SN-
How many needles can you pass through the eye of a camel? No wait, maybe that's backwards.(G)

Laptops ARE cheap these days, they've pushed desktops out of the market. But still, the "cheap" ones you see advertised are designed for the average home user, who is doing what? Browsing the web or typing a letter?

What you will be doing on a boat with radar, chartplotting, other more intensive tasks all running at once, is more in line with a high-end gaming machine. $1500-2000 is more like the ball park. And even then, the more it does, the more likely it is to find a way to crash. Sadly, even Windows 10 is simply not a stable and reliable platform. If you want to put systems on a laptop, that computer becomes critical, so you really want TWO of them, completely redundant, each perhaps running half the systems at any given time, since they are both there anyway.
It is incredible what any of them can do, but as you ask them to juggle more balls at the same time, and you add apps from smaller third parties into the mix...You also need to be comfortable with a backup plan in case the whole thing goes down.
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Old 16-11-2017, 16:22   #12
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Rather than a laptop, an Intel NUC or other case that bolts to the back of a monitor mount will be more robust.

Unless you specifically want the all-in-on mobility.

Having a second identical unit as a media player for entertainment purposes, and capturing image backups of the important drive, will give some redundancy.
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Old 16-11-2017, 17:07   #13
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

I'm not current on the latest NUCs and similar pocket computers, but last time I looked they were nowhere near the class of a Core i7 or other fast multiple-core machine. They're designed more for one user, one job, and if you told them to multitask (run the background AV/malware program, run a backup, run the radar, run the chartplotter, integrate all the datastreams from the GPS and systems) that's five tasks to be running at once. And that's if you are not doing something else, like calculating weather routing or downloading it at the same time.

Are they really fast enough to do all that, and show your moving radar and chart images, all moving smoothly in real time? That's a lot of CPU and GPU needed.

You really CAN justify a 4-8 core machine very easily if you want things to happen quickly and transparently. My five-years-retired laptop, which was wicked fast when I got it, seems to positively crawl compared to the replacement. My neighbor fell for the cheap i3 system when he bought a new one this year. No need to ask "How'd that work out?"
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Old 16-11-2017, 18:43   #14
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

Yes.

They were never lacking for power compared to normal corporate laptops, in fact more upgradeable.

Not talking about gaming of course.

Wireless kb+mouse well suited.

By pocket, you might be thinking of something else like Kangaroo?

i7 units use extended chassis*


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Old 16-11-2017, 18:48   #15
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Re: How many of the boat's systems can you put through a laptop?

The next step up is STX form factor

Can accept Intel Core i7-7700

Just that and RAM you're pushing a grand though
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