Electronics – 2022

Home RefitRefit 2022 – Electronics 2022

Now that we had moved the boat in the general direction of the 21st century, we were ready to make the electronics on the boat start working for us. Our vision was always to have sufficient automation onboard to provide monitoring of critical functions as well as engine monitoring that would allow us to preemptively do maintenance on the motor before it quit working at inopportune times.

To accomplish those rather lofty goals – remember this boat was built in 2002 and the previous owner never spent a dime he didn’t need to…. we set about the following projects:

  1. Shared common GPS throughout all the electronics devices
  2. Critical system monitoring: Bilge pumps, water pump
  3. Engine monitoring – enhance the dummy light only configuration
    • Oil Pressure sensor
    • Coolant Temp sensor
    • Fuel Vacuum pressure
    • Raw water flow
  4. Unified Alarm Architecture – There were 5 or 6 different things that could sound an alarm and they all sounded similar
  5. A course computer that would actually follow a course or wind angle vs just a compass heading

Part 1

New ICOM VHF for Nav Station – this is related to goal 1 – shared GPS. The old radio wasn’t communicating on the data backbone – this was an inexpensive problem to resolve. Someone bought the old radio as a backup on his center console fishing boat.

Yacht Devices:

  • NMEA 0183 Gateways for each VHF Radio
  • NMEA 2000 Ethernet Gateway
  • Electronic Switch controller
  • 2 Run Indicators
  • Alarm Button

We’re not going to bother with pictures of the yacht device products. They are not real interesting, but the Yacht Device ecosystem is very interesting and we have high hopes for it as we learn to program it and make it sing. For now this architecture will provide the bilge pump and fresh water pump monitoring as well as monitoring for the engine dummy light circuits. The Alarm button should become the unified alarm architecture for the whole boat. The electronic switch controller will allow us to use the chart plotters to turn on and off key circuits – like deck lights – away from the physical switch they are tied to. Finally, the ethernet gateway will allow us to use either the ship’s PC or a laptop to interact with the boat’s electronics to monitor, control and configure the overall settings or even operate some of the devices.

Engine Controls and Gauges upgrade

SV Unladen Swallow has a Volvo-Penta D2-55A diesel motor as its auxiliary propulsion. This motor is a traditional – think pre-electronics -motor. In fact it’s actually a Perkins Diesel motor made in England. This is the same motor that was installed in tractors all over the world – just without the marine cooling loop. To that end, it is a very simple motor. The external monitoring consists of just an Oil Pressure sensor switch – tied to a dummy light; a coolant temperature sensor switch tied to a dummy light (which didn’t work due to corrosion – the previous owner fitted the engine with an after market temp sensor with a separate audible alarm); a warning light letting you know the glow plugs were on, and finally a starter battery voltage warning light. The previous owner had added an after market analog oil pressure gauge and an aftermarket fuel vacuum gauge to help monitor things. These were separate analog gauges visible from inside the boat by the companionway stairs.

There is a solution for the fuel vacuum sensor also, but at almost $300 it’s going to wait a while.

Victron EcoSystem

If you read through the DC System 2022 page, you will see that we settled on the Victron Ecosystem for our electrical power needs. As part of this environment, there is a NMEA 2000 interface available for the Victron Cerbo GX control module. This brings much of the power related sensor data onto the Chart Plotters. We have used this environment to host several temp sensors (Refrigerator, Freezer, Engine compartment). We are excited about the possibilities here, but the temperature data isn’t currently being shared so getting alarms due to higher than normal temps is still a work in progress.


We have installed 2 of the 3 planned cameras for the boat – top of mast looking forward, stern looking back. The 3rd is a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) but it will wait until we have 8 spare BOAT units. Unfortunately we are having integration issues right now and the 2 installed cameras are not cooperating. More to follow when we have more time to troubleshoot. The mast camera is the important one as it will provide an unobstructed forward looking view for the watch stander.

The tachometer and Hobbs meter (engine hours) are also separate, after market gauges.

The CX5003 was capable of converting these sensors and more, so we set out to replace the dummy light switch sensors with discrete value sensors so we could actually track performance. This is a great goal but the version of the CX5003 we installed is dumber than the engine and matching the inputs up to what it is expecting is proving to be challenging. We are looking at alternatives and think we have one in the ActiSense EMU-1 but the programmable interface isn’t back in stock until after Jan 2023 – not much help right now. For now we are going to make do with what we have and when the ActiSense ecosystem is available again, we will re-evaluate.

Garmin MSC-10 Satellite Compass

This device is the heart of the new course computer and unified GPS for the boat. It should provide the missing data to allow us to set it and forget it. Can’t forget it, there are still plenty of things to run into or be run over by, but you get the point.

Starlink Dish

Starlink is now a thing finally. SpaceX appears to allow the RV version to operate off of private yachts. There is a marine rated version, but it is targeted at the MegaYacht, commercial marine industry based on price. We have it mounted and have a hack that will allow us to retire the Starlink router entirely (it really is just powering the dish) so we don’t need the inverter for it. We haven’t gotten that part to work quite yet, but will shortly and we will post the solution. The Starlink signal is being fed into the WAN port on our ship’s router and then shared with everything else through that common gateway.

Update post USVI passage. This was a total game changer. We had connectivity all the way with occasional interruptions likely due to the dynamic sea state. We were able to conduct real-time VOIP telephone calls and access everything online we wanted. We watched You Tube and Netflix and got weather, sent e-mails and texts. The Iridium subscription is going to be suspended as a result.

Iridium-Go Hotspot

This is our highly reliable (and low bandwidth) offshore communications solution. It will allow us to get weather data for Predict Wind and send and receive short messages. It compliments the previously installed Garmin Montana which provides the InReach based GPS realtime tracking. We can also receive and send text messages and get some weather information there.

Post USVI update – This worked great as expected, but Starlink worked sufficiently well to make this an expensive redundancy. We will leave it installed, but it’s getting turned off.

Part 2 – After leaving Fairhaven Shipyard.

Course Computer

The old RayMarine course computer didn’t have all of the required inputs to allow it to follow a wind angle or a true course. Even with our upgrades, the data was not making it to the computer to be used. Time to retire it. We have a Garmin Reactor 40 that will be integrated before we leave Annapolis that will enable all of this and more and it will be controllable from the Chart Plotter and have a working remote. We are excited about the possibilities there. No more having to disturb whichever cat has nestled down on the watch stander to go adjust the heading on the autopilot head…..

Due to the delay in Moorhead City we were able to take physical custody of the unit earlier than we expected and tried to get it working prior to leaving for the USVI. Unfortunately, it had some pretty specific power requirements that I wasn’t able to account for on initial install, so it’s going to wait til I can relocated the power control box – the new device is actually 3 separate boxes – to a location closer to the Hydraulic ram motor.

Engine Monitoring – integration and tuning — pending CX5003 troubleshooting

Yacht Devices Tuning

The yacht device ecosystem is incredibly flexible, but there is some programming required. Unfortunately the “let’s see if this works easily” trial didn’t produce the results we hoped for. We will be taking a more measured approach over time where we build our knowledge and understanding step by step through experimentation. This is basic software debugging on a new system. Something we can handle, just need some time to work through it. We will publish our final programming rules later along with all the NMEA 2000 addressing etc so others can learn from our work.

New CX5003

I am still not a big fan of these devices. When they work, they are inexpensive and easy to setup – provided you match the inputs exactly with what’s expected. Otherwise there’s not configurability. There is a set of DIP switches that allow you to tune the RPM readout to your specific setup. I.e. pulley size ratio between the crank shaft and where ever you are taking your pulse rate from. Well after apparently damaging 2 of these units, we have discovered that changing the dip switches must be done with the unit unpowered. Otherwise it “breaks” every sensor input not in use as well as renders the RPM input unusable. We are going to wait on the RPM input til I find a better option. Unfortunately, the likely option is 6 times more expensive. more to follow

Final Architecture for 2022

When this is all said and done the architecture should look like the below picture.