With State-Of-The-Art Gear
When OLOH was built and originally delivered new in 2004 her systems were state-of-the-art. All of the very latest equipment available at the time was used from the Sub Zero refrigeration to the Panasonic plasma TV to the suite of top-of-the-line Simrad electronics for navigation and situational awareness. Since then, not much has changed in the way refrigerators and freezers work. But soon after we were the new owners, that Panasonic TV (100+ pounds and actually just a monitor, not technically a TV) was swapped out with a modern-day Smart TV weighing around 1/3 of the TV it replaced and packed with technology that didn’t exist in 2004. Similarly, marine electronics have continued to evolve at an incredibly fast pace and while the 2004 gear on board worked, its functionality was light years behind – by today’s standards and even compared to the gear we had on our last boat which we bought new in 2010. So a refit of the “electronics suite” was a given when we committed to buying this yacht.
As a self-proclaimed electronics… “enthusiast” (I almost said “geek”), this was an exciting part of the boat-buying process. I love technology and as my love of boating evolved, so did my appreciation of quality marine electronics that fulfilled our needs for safe and enjoyable navigation. Having had the experiences we did on previous boats as well as running friends’ big boats for many hours, I developed a keen awareness of our “needs” in addition to a handful of “wants.” The daunting part of the refit was striking a balance between those needs and wants and keeping it from adding up to the cost of, say, a brand new Porsche Turbo (look it up) which is entirely possible to do. Beyond that, finding the right installer was key to this project’s success. While there were a few minor parts of the project we were looking forward to taking on ourselves, we firmly believe that it is crucial to have someone trustworthy with lots of real-world experience advising on and overseeing such an important undertaking.
⌁ Custom Navigation Systems, Inc, Westbrook, Connecticut
When OLOH (under a different name) was for sale, she was resting comfortably in indoor, heated storage at Brewer Pilots Point, an enormous marina (900 slips!) and yard in Westbrook, Connecticut that we used to frequent as transients on our previous boats. Once our offer was accepted I started seeking recommendations for and reaching out to marine electronics installers in the region. My hope was to find someone we liked and get them over to the boat as soon as possible so the design and installation planning could begin while we were in contract. That way we could theoretically get the work going as soon as we owned the boat, hopefully minimizing the amount of time we would have to remain at the marina after we closed on it. I called/emailed several “reputable” outfits and was disappointed but sadly not surprised by the lack of response or terrible follow-up from a few of them. I’ll never understand it. Granted it was the beginning of the northeast boating season when every vendor is busy but it doesn’t take much to politely let a customer know that you can’t make it work this time around. That at least opens the possibility of another opportunity or a recommendation in the future. But, as it is said, some things happen for a reason, because along came Steve Gill.
Steve has owned and operated Custom Navigation for over thirty years and has marine electronics in his DNA. He was recommended enthusiastically by several people I spoke with including the service manager for the marina which uses Steve’s company as their primary installer. I knew this meant he would be particularly busy but I shot him an email to see what was possible. I was encouraged when just a short time later he responded, acknowledging how busy they were but letting me know that they would do their best to make it work. I shot him my wishlist and Steve called me that evening. By the end of the call, I felt like I was on the phone with an old friend. I had found my guy and I’ll say this up front… he never let us down throughout the entire process or after the job was complete. In fact, he went way beyond the call of duty on more than one occasion. How often does that happen anymore? Steve’s the man, plain and simple.
Rather than source the gear ourselves which can often bring a great cost-savings in jobs like this, we purchased everything through Steve. Many installers will tack on a surcharge but Steve’s prices were right in line if not better than what we found elsewhere and there was great value for both of us in his people being able to manage it all.
⌁ Multifunction Displays: Garmin 7616 and 7612
There are a host of brands of marine electronics and while there are differences in some of the technology used by the different companies, at the consumer level, it largely comes down to personal preference when choosing a brand. Broadly put, it’s kind of like an iPhone vs. Android thing and striking a balance between an interface you enjoy using with the technology you want. For me it was a pretty easy decision to go with Garmin. While we were between boats I put in 100+ hours at the helm of a friend’s large motor yacht on a couple of trips between New York and Florida utilizing the suite of Garmin gear he had recently installed. Over those many hours I learned what I liked about the equipment and, of equal importance, what I didn’t like about it. I find Garmin’s interface and overall functionality to be excellent for my needs and while every piece of marine electronics typically does a few things in a way that you wish it did differently, I knew there was nothing with the Garmin gear I couldn’t live with or get comfortable with.
The most conspicuous components in any marine electronics installation are the MFD’s – Multifunction Displays – that reside at the helm stations. In the case of our type of setup, the MFD’s are essentially dash-mounted computers which contain the processors and software that tie much of the system together. These monitors can display and control everything from your charts and navigation data to your radar, autopilot, engine information, closed-circuit cameras, even your audio/video system and more. When we bought OLOH there was a 10″ Simrad DS 44 MFD installed at the helm in the pilot house and an enormous 15″ CR-54 MFD at the helm on the bridge. Fifteen inches isn’t necessarily enormous for a display by today’s standards, but unlike modern MFD’s which take the screens nearly to the edge of the entire unit, notice how much real estate there is on the old Simrad beyond the screen. That was going to leave a BIG hole.
Based on my experience with our last boat and subsequent travels there was initially no doubt that I wanted two displays at each helm, but in an attempt to exercise budgetary restraint, I looked at creative ways of getting past that. One thought was to install one new display at each helm to compliment the existing displays which we would keep to use for the old but still functional Simrad radar that came with the boat and have redundancy for our charts. Smart, right? Eh, not so much. On our sea trial before purchasing OLOH all it took was a few minutes to realize that would be a fool’s errand. Yeah, the radar “worked” but it was a technological trip back in time I didn’t feel good about taking and it’s too important a piece of equipment to not be completely comfortable with. So now the refit included radar — meaning the old Simrad displays and old radar unit were being retired. And bringing the outdated cartography up to date would have required an investment in new electronic charts that was money better spent elsewhere.
I landed on the Garmin 7600 series as it was the latest tech being offered at that moment in time and fell in line with my wants and needs on a “reasonable” budget. One of the many reasons we like Steve Gill – rather than up-sell us or recommend additional gear, he actually talked me out of a few things while having great suggestions which improved on my ideas. He’s got decades of invaluable experience as an installer and boater and knows of what he speaks. Rather than jump right in with two 12″ 7612 displays at the lower helm, Steve encouraged us to consider initially installing just one and seeing how often we operated from that station. Garmin displays can be repeated and controlled from an app and we always have an iPad or two at the helm. That could provide the means for a second display acting off of the bridge helm’s MFD (and vice versa when we operated from the bridge, displaying and operating the pilot house MFD on an iPad). With plenty of available real estate we decided that the helm would be configured so a second 12″ display could be easily added later and look like it was always there. So that’s what we did. Additionally, rather than trying to squeeze two 12″ displays into the more limited space on the upper helm which would require some serious alterations, Steve suggested we go with a single 16″ 7616 display which has plenty of screen to show more information and is even easier to read and operate. So that’s what we did.
What we learned in the course of our first year of cruising aboard OLOH is that we run from the lower helm quite a bit more than we anticipated so while the boat was in Fort Lauderdale we had our favorite Florida electronics guru, Jeff Comer of On Plane Marine Electronics install a second 7612 along with a new Garmin GMI 20 instrument display to replace the old Simrad instrument display that just looked out of place.
Another suggestion made by Steve Gill was to leave some room at the lower helm for a Garmin GRID remote. The 7600 series of displays are touchscreen which have no “hard” keys other than the power button. In a rough sea it can be difficult to use a touchscreen with great precision and we were all for the idea of installing the remote which adds actual keys and a joystick. Unfortunately, despite the great layout of OLOH’s helm there just wasn’t a spot for the remote that made a lot of sense, so we opted for Garmin’s wireless remote control which, while not as versatile as the hard wired remote, has proven to be a terrific tool to have and because of its portability it can be used at either helm.
Admittedly I do feel a bit lazy on a calm day, sitting back in my helm seat making adjustments from the remote rather than leaning over to the display. Not that I’m going to stop doing it.
⌁ Radar: Garmin GMR 624 xHD2 4’/6kw
As mentioned, updating the radar was in order. Steve recommended the 4 foot version of Garmin’s high definition open array. I asked him, “why not the six footer which seemed to me to be more size-appropriate on a 60′ motor yacht?” Rather than go for the up-charge he replied, “do you need to pick out birds flying over fish 70 miles away?” With our answer being an instant “no” Steve insisted that we save our money. We did and he was right. The new array is the same size as the old Simrad unit and its performance has never left us wanting for more.
⌁ AIS: Garmin AIS 600
We wouldn’t be without it. AIS is the Automatic Identification System used on boats and ships. AIS uses GPS, VHF radio and sophisticated digital processing to automatically communicate between vessels and allows users to see other vessels and their essential data on their displays. At a glance you can know another boat’s name, heading, speed and other information including the all-important “CPA” or Closest Point Of Approach, an essential piece of data in avoiding collisions on the water. AIS makes it much easier to hail other AIS-equipped vessels and among other benefits, making passing arrangements is so much more safe and simple. If you frequently travel the intracoastal waterway it’s worth having it for that benefit alone.
Most recreational vessels use Class B transceivers or receive-only AIS units. As the name suggests, a receive-only unit does not transmit your ship’s data and only allows you to see vessels with AIS transceivers. Receive-only units are typically only a few hundred dollars less than transceivers so I’ve never understood why some boaters choose this option unless their budget is so incredibly tight. One of the most important aspects of AIS is the ability to be seen. It’s great if you’re in fog to be able to know how fast that freighter is bearing down on you but you better hope they see that little spec on their radar representing your boat. With AIS your visibility is much more greatly ensured. Many AIS transceivers offer the option to go “stealth” and turn the transmitter off if that’s your concern. In other words, if you were considering getting a receive-only setup, reconsider and get a transceiver. You’ll thank us later 😎
⌁ Audio: Fusion UD750
I’m mentioning audio on this page because our audio system is tied in to our Garmin network and the installers took care of a couple of pieces. OLOH, like many motor yachts of its vintage, came equipped with two audio systems. There was the traditional marine stereo head unit for the bridge deck which was the original, factory installed Clarion unit and a Bose system in the salon that served the rest of the boat and provided surround sound for that big, honkin’ plasma monitor I mentioned. The first time we were aboard I was thrilled to see that the living spaces were wired for sound with speaker zones and volume controls throughout. We have music on all the time and I have been creating multi-zone systems in our homes since I was a kid. While I aim to do something aboard OLOH on the level of sophistication of our home systems someday, my initial plan was to get something functional going that tied the whole boat together with an app to provide control.
In my opinion, the Fusion brand is one of the best options for having very good control and source options in a marine grade system. In reality I could have abandoned a marine-specific setup altogether and housed a more advanced residential type setup inside but the way Fusion brings everything together at a reasonable price while playing nicely with the Garmin displays made it an easy decision for getting things going. Since my upgrades to the “whole boat” system were done separately from our initial electronics upgrade I won’t be getting into that here. That system was tied together with the new Fusion head unit and with the invaluable help of our dear friend, Captain Pauly, that was something we were installing ourselves. We would only have Steve’s guys run the cable to interface the Fusion head unit with our Garmin network and install the satellite radio antenna. (Side note – exactly one year later Fusion released an all-new head unit for the first time in years that looks very nice and, of course, does even more. But that’s the way it goes with electronics).
Part of the system design process was determining what existing components were worth saving and integrating with the new gear.
⌁ Autopilot (AP): The boat came with its original Simrad system including the AP-20 control unit at the lower helm station. Much to my surprise there was no control unit at the bridge helm. Hmmm. That’s strange. Is it worth tracking down an additional long-since discontinued control unit and having it installed on the bridge – if – this old system will even play nicely with the new Garmin gear (tracking waypoints and following routes)? I mentioned this to Steve who, again, having an opportunity to make more money off of us said, “it would be a shame to replace that Simrad system if it’s working because it rivals any new system out there – it’s one of the best ever made.” Alrighty then. When I was at the boat for the beginning of our survey I mentioned to the seller’s broker that I found it strange to have no AP control on the bridge. He says that he’s all but certain he ran across a remote control in a drawer somewhere. Hmmm. The broker digs around a bit and voila!!
This baby (which looked like it was never used) plugs in at either the bridge helm or lower helm so you can control the AP from your seat. Perfect! No need to replace the AP at this time. And by the way, it works nicely with the Garmin system, following routes and tracking waypoints perfectly. Granted, switching to Garmin AP would have enabled some additional modern features and accommodated a wireless remote control, but with the good advice and support I was getting I was able to exercise that pesky budgetary restraint that so often eludes me.
⌁ Depth Sounder (sonar): The boat came with a working Simrad depth finder displaying on an IS-15 multi-instrument screen so there was really no reason to replace it. Depthfinder tech has come a long way with sonar that will read the bottom ahead of you as well as to the sides which will be nice to have when we’re ready for a replacement, but that in and of itself didn’t warrant an upgrade just yet and we don’t fish so no need for a sophisticated fishfinder. For the time being, we just need to know how much water is under the boat. Even though we were keeping the old technology there is an adaptor to get the Simrad’s data onto the Garmin network to be displayed on our new MFD’s including the GMI 20 we added later.
⌁ VHF Radios: The boat came with an ICOM M-604 at each helm. They’re not that old and were likely installed at some point not too terribly long ago to replace the Simrad VHF’s that came with the boat. They’re great radios so no need to replace. These units allow for a fully functional remote microphone to be attached which was perfect as I wanted two VHF’s at each helm. Part of our work order was to have Steve’s crew run the appropriate cables between the two helms since they were pulling cables in that space anyway. This would enable the pilot house remote mic to be connected to the bridge helm’s radio and vice versa. We would install the mics ourselves.
⌁ Internet: We self-installed the Mikrotik Groove G-52HPacn wireless bridge to bring wifi signals onboard, including those that are weak or a great distance away (more than a mile sometimes) distributed by our own network. We had the popular Rogue Wave on our last boat but changed it up this time as the Rogue didn’t offer the ability to bring in 5 GHz signals at the time of our installation. More and more marinas are using the 5 GHz band which is often less crowded and faster than the ubiquitous 2.4 GHz band. We purchased our setup from Bob Stewart of Island Time PC who excels at customer service. As I told him, I’m not without savvy when it comes to electronics and computer stuff, but I’m far from a programmer. He spoke my language and quickly responded to any questions I had. We highly recommend him.
Even though we experienced what seemed like endless delays between our initial survey and our closing which constantly upended our electronics installation schedule, Steve kept rolling with it as our closing date kept getting pushed back week after week and had his guys on board to begin their work the day OLOH became ours. We’re still blown away and ever so grateful that he just made it happen. It was a real bright spot in an otherwise largely difficult period leading up to the closing.
⌁Ed & Mike
This was our team and these are the guys you want working on your boat. Friendly, engaging, thoroughly professional and simply experts in their field, Mike and Ed were awesome! Can you tell we liked them? And Jasper liked them too, so that was a plus. Actually there was a point when Jasper was more excited to see them than us in the morning!
You can install the exact same gear on five different boats and no two installations will be exactly the same. They get that and they problem-solved, innovated and rolled with any challenges they were faced with. They were also quite gracious in letting me hover, take pictures and fire away with questions. For me it’s very important to understand how work like this is done for whatever may come up in the future. Thanks Mike and Ed for doing such a terrific job and being such a pleasure to work with.
Here’s how it went…
So… what’s wrong with this next picture? If you can figure it out you are a clearly a proud boat electronics geek. The answer revealed a bit further down the page.
We have had Sirius Satellite Weather on previous boats but have not added it to OLOH yet. Our Bahamas trip taught us that it’s an important tool to have when you’re unable to access the internet. We’ll likely add it this coming season as we anticipate some trips far offshore including the Dry Tortugas and possibly a run to Cuba. Mike tells us how easy it will be to add it to our Garmin network…
Back to our trivia question… Did you figure out what was wrong with the radar picture a bit earlier on this page? Mike explains what’s going on…
Audio upgrades aside, the installation took five and a half days and we can honestly say there’s nothing we would have done differently. The ability to use an iPad to repeat and control the MFD’s is a great feature when it works. As of the time of this posting that feature is still a bit wonky, at times working just fine but not consistently enough to rely on.
Additional future projects include installing color network cameras, viewable on our MFD’s to replace the black and white self-contained system that came with the boat to feed images of the engine rooms and exterior spaces to the helms. We’ll also eventually be beefing up the audio system on the bridge with more power, better speakers and a subwoofer. But for the moment we have all of the electronic tools we need to cruise safely and comfortably.
On a final note, I still have all of that Simrad gear which is all in very good condition as was taken out of service with everything working, just in case you or anyone you know is on the hunt for these units or parts.
Have questions or any thoughts at all on OLOH’s electronics refit? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
⌁New Parts List
- Garmin GPSmap 7616 Multifunction Display
- Garmin GPSmap 7612 Multifunction Display x2
- Garmin 624 xHD2 Open Array Radar & Pedestal
- Garmin AIS 600 Class “B” Transceiver
- Garmin GMI 20 Marine Instrument Display
- Fusion UD-750 Marine Entertainment System
- Garmin Wireless Remote
- Shakespeare SRA-50 Sirius Antenna
- Garmin GPS 19x Receiver/Antenna
- ActSense NGW-1 Isolated, Bi-directional NMEA Converter
- Garmin NMEA 2000 Starter Kit
- Garmin Ethernet Cable 20′
- ICOM Command Mic II second station remotes x2
- ICOM OPC999 Extension Cables (for Command Mics)
I am always reluctant to get too detailed when sharing the cost of a project like this as no two jobs at this scale are ever going to be exactly the same and pricing on gear will change as model-years change on many pieces, particularly the big ticket items. Labor rates obviously differ between installers and the labor involved will always be what is most individual to any boat with cable pulling typically one of the most time consuming parts. As I mentioned, OLOH has generally very good access and wire chases and the runs weren’t huge but it still took up a lot of time and these guys do it right. Then there’s fabrication that may be necessary, particularly when you are removing old displays. Fortunately, in our case, it worked well to use simple bezels to make the two displays fit rather than having to fabricate all new helm panels which can often be necessary. All of that said, for the job outlined above we were billed for forty-six well-documented hours between the two installers. As we were there for the entire process I know this to be accurate and fair. The gear mentioned on the parts list above came in at just under $16,000. I hope that at least provides a bit of help if you are spec’ing out a refit.
Here’s a look at a bit of phase II of the lower helm refit…