Champagne Electronics on a Beer Budget
With a bit of ingenuity, research, and know-how, a cruising couple builds a state-of-the-art package for less than $2,000. "Electronics" from our March 2012 issue.
When my wife, Jen, and I bought our 44-foot Reliance ketch, Lyra, in 2008, we knew that most of the nearly 30-year-old boat’s systems would need updating. However, Lyra was in our price range and in good sailing condition. With the exception of our radar, the electronics and navigation equipment were large, old, and outdated. Last spring, having addressed other tasks, we could finally focus on our electronics. We had a tight budget to work with, so the latest-and-greatest giant, touch-screen, full-color multifunction displays were out. Our objective was to assemble a functional, modern navigation station that could do everything we needed yet not break the bank.
These are the instruments we feel are the bare minimum for successful cruising: a GPS, a depth sounder, a VHF radio, and an Automatic Identification System receiver. We decided to cover these bases and make provisions to add wind instruments, an SSB radio, a speed log, and an autopilot at a later date. For our purposes, we could choose between two options: an integrated multifunction display, or separate components integrated into a PC.
After doing some research, I discovered that a multifunction system that addressed our needs would cost about $4,000. At this price, we’d have a relatively small 9-inch display that would require between 3 amps and 6 amps of power draw. The upside to this approach would be the ability to integrate everything simply by plugging in components. Most new electronics use the NMEA 2000 communication protocol to share information, which transmits data more quickly than the older NMEA 0813 and allows the instruments to connect anywhere on the data bus, which can be a single cable running the length of the vessel.
The Standard Horizon GX2150 VHF radio (above) picks up A.I.S. signals with our existing antenna.
However, a PC with a 15-inch screen and a separate, component-based system would cost less than half that amount, and the system’s individual parts could be turned on and off as needed to save power. But this option would require a greater time commitment for installation, and it would use NMEA 0813 instead of the new NMEA 2000 communication protocols. The larger screen is nice, and we find that the use of a mouse and keyboard is a great way to maneuver around in the software.