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Old 18-08-2019, 14:47   #1
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Newb with hardware questions

I am a analog guy living Ina digital world. I love my tangibles. I Have always used paper charts, basic piloting skills, and a handheld GPS for cheating.
A couple years ago I installed a used no-frills chart plotter. Hate to admit I kinda like it. Looking at doing trips further afield and realize shortcomings of my current system.
I dislike computers generally- they have had a profound negative impact on my work life- but am going down the OpenCPN path into the digital abyss. All the references to code and Linux, etc make me queasy. Just looking at the thread titles on this forum makes my head spin.
I picked up a Panasonic Toughbook CF53 laptop with a new installation of Windows 10 and have downloaded the program and some charts. I expect to use this computer solely for navigation. I don't need to integrate it with other systems.
I do a lot of my shopping on eBay.
Which GPS receiver should I use? There is some note on OpenCPN.org that the BU-353 does not work with Windows 10. There is a BS-708 that is listed as a replacement. I also see some little USB gizmos that look like a memory stick that say they work with Windows 10. Will these work belowdecks also? How does one mount the little puck style ones? Does it need to be above deck or will being glued on a port light be OK? That would direct it horizontally rather than skywards.
I may be getting ahead of myself here, but as long as I am at it, I would also like to have an AIS receiver. What hardware do I need for that? I have an extra 3' masthead style sailboat VHF antenna. Can I mount that on the sternrail? Seems like an eye-poker however. Would a little flexible antenna like on a handheld VHF work? Either would give me an extra radio antenna if the rig comes down. What gizmo do I need to connect the antenna to the laptop.
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Old 18-08-2019, 15:31   #2
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Re: Newb with hardware questions

You can use any USB GPS puck that will work with Windows 10. Just make sure the one you plan to buy works with Windows 10.


What are you looking for from AIS? Are you interested in broadcasting your position to other boats or do you just care about seeing AIS equipped vessels on your chart plotter? I installed a receive-only device, a dAISy. It works very well with a VHF antenna which I installed below decks. It's fun to watch other vessels on your chart, but the system has serious limitations.


The most important limitation is there are a lot of vessels which don't report their positions via AIS. For the most part those vessels aren't going to see your boat on their navigation equipment either, although there are a few vessels like mine with receive-only equipment.


Even the vessels whose positions show up on your chart plotter are unlikely to appear timely enough to be useful to you on a small boat. AIS makes a lot of sense for big ships which required a lot of time to turn or adjust speed. They need to know about other ships while they are still some distance away. But a 35-foot sailboat is maneuverable enough that you probably aren't concerned with vessels over a mile away. Your concern is with closer vessels and AIS just doesn't update fast enough.


Two situations where AIS might be useful for small craft are (1) if you are in the open ocean and want information about a ship's course and speed when it is far away so you can avoid it with small course adjustments and (2) if you are cruising on a winding river where it might be helpful to see a vessel approaching a bend that you can't see around.


Don't make the mistake I've seen in many posts on Cruisers Forum where people think of AIS as a "poor man's RADAR". They do not serve the same needs at all.


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Old 18-08-2019, 15:39   #3
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Re: Newb with hardware questions

Any USB puck that is listed as Windows 10 compatible should work fine. If the puck is installed with the correct drivers, it will show up as a serial (COM) port and you simply add this as a connection in OpnCPN. The biggest PITA with Windows and COM ports is the tendency for it to reassign the same device with a different port number each time it is connected, but this isn't a show stopper.


Unless you want to geek out, setting up AIS directly on a PC is not trivial. Your best bet is to have a separate AIS unit and use a USB to serial converter to get the NEMA 0183 data onto the laptop (which will use the same COM port connectivity as the GPS puck). Even then, it will be fun times if you're not up to scratch on these things.
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