Category Archives: Electronics

Bildge float switches

My Hunter 340 came (to me) with a Rule bilge pump, it is the kind that automatically fires every 7 minutes. If there is no resistance on the pump, indicating no water to pump out, it shuts down. So far this season (May – September) the pump has fired 70,000 times according to the counter at the Nav station.

While I appreciate the security of a pump that is always checking, I can’t imagine it is doing anything but slowly, unnecessarily wearing the pump out. It also makes a racket that I’ve gotten used to. Given I’ve got solar panels I don’t worry about the battery drain either, but that could be an issue for some owners.

My bilge is dry, the only moisture coming from the fridge drain or the odd bit of rain water from accidentally left open ports. If there is a bit of water in the bilge, the pump makes a splashing-gurgling noise that echoes in the empty chamber – it is a good indicator that I need to sponge the bilge dry!

A friend stayed on the boat and remarked that my boat sounds like Star Wars, full of strange mechanical noises in the night, startling him awake as he drifted to sleep. The bilge pump whirrs, the fridge breathes like Darth Vader and the old water pump would hammer for half a second every half an hour or so. The pump is gone, the fridge stays so this leaves me wondering about the whirr in the bilge.

Hinged

Quick web research reveals that the floating hinged (ball bearing or a tube of mercury) types (Rule, Seasense, Seaflo ) are generally only good for a couple of years at best. These also tend to foul on debris.  Given my bilge access is beneath the dining table, there is a frequent stream of cheerios, crumbs and craft bits like string, paper and beads falling into the finger holes in floor/hatch, I would like something that can’t be easily fouled.

Current Sense

I looked into the electronic current sensor types, the most popular brand being the Water Witch. The drawback seems to be that the sensors stop reading if the water is contaminated oil or grease. The sensors use the conductivity of bilge water to pass current between two electronic probes, if oily, the sensors don’t receive the current.

Also, Water Witch seems to have hit and miss user reviews despite their claims that they are used on US and Canadian coast guard vessels.

Finally, there are physical switches in enclosures. The leader of this segment appears to be Ultra Saftey Systems,  Aqualarm appears to be a cheaper knock-off of Ultra.
the benefit of these is they should not foul from debris and are less prone to firing from boat motion.
ultra-sr

Navigation Electronics – part 1

As a computer literate sailor, and convert to digital charts, I thought it would be a good idea to get all my systems talking together, ideally using the processing power of a real computer (not a phone, tablet or overpriced doodad from WestRaymin. Systems like autopilot, chart plotter, depth, wind speed, compass, and GPS should all be interconnected.

Here’s what I want to cobble together.

  • MacMini – or other
    • screen, keyboard mouse
  • openCPN and all apps.
  • Pulling data from instruments -seatalk or  NEMA 0183
  • External GPS – USB to computer
  • wifi remote desktop to iPad at helm – VNC over local mac Wifi

Below is my scratch pad for research, in a coming post I will outline exactly what I actually build.  I have some components and as usual, am trying to execute this in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Continue reading at your discretion.
Continue reading Navigation Electronics – part 1

A tale of three pumps

Shurflo_20881. SHURFlo 2088-422

  • 3.5 GPM open flow, 45 PSI Demand Switch
  • Self priming up to 12 feet
  • Can run dry without damage
  • One way check valve prevents reverse flow

The first pump died after 15 seasons. It sounded like a jack-hammer but was a reliable crew member on our boat,  sort of like Relic on The Beachcombers. Part of my bedtime ritual was turning the breaker off so as not to be awoken but sporadic bursts of pump.

This pump was made in the USA in 1999 and judging by the date, I’d say it was the original freshwater pump.  It started weeping at the end of last (2014) season and I ignored it. At the end of this season, shortly after finishing out trip to the 1000 Islands, it quit (almost exactly like the fridge did last year). Upon inspection the inner sealed-bearing failed and flooded the electric motor. Rust-brown water trickled out of the motor case, it was done.

Continue reading A tale of three pumps

Inverter repair – xantrex xpower 1000

cooked mosfet
cooked mosfets

This summer I fried the old Xantrex xpower 1000 inverter. I can’t remember if it was the blender the did it….  This is a 2007 square wave inverter and I think the “digital” speed controller on the blender did a number on the inverter as well as frying the blender. I should upgrade to a pure sign wave to keep my electronics safe. but it will be nice to have a backup inverter to the older Xantrex onboard.

Continue reading Inverter repair – xantrex xpower 1000

Crispy, Hard and Smoking.

IMG_0331We had just left Kingston Marina and were motoring east past the scenic Kingston waterfront to begin the trip back to Toronto.  I headed down into the boat for some reason (stereo? chart? sunglasses?) when I heard a very faint high-pitched whine for a couple of seconds. I dismissed the noise but immediately began to smell something burning.

As every sailor soon learns,  ignore unusual sounds, smells, or vibrations on a boat at your peril. If the noise didn’t trigger a response in me,  the smell certainly got me busy.

I lifted the step and peeked into the engine compartment and didn’t see anything amiss – no flames, no billowing smoke. I took a second look and realized that the alternator wasn’t turning but the belt wasn’t broken.  Alt seizure? I immediately shut the engine down to take stock of what was happening. It turns out the belt was toast, literally.  It was crisp,  hard and smoking. It was so worn out that it wouldn’t turn or flex.

I think the noise was the alt spinning down.

I did a quick replacement as we slowly drifted towards the rocky shore,  past a few sailing dinghy’s and stand up paddlers.  I  put on a Genuine Yanmar 25132-003700 (old part no# 128670-77350). We were back up running in 5 min, I think Rufus was impressed.

Continue reading Crispy, Hard and Smoking.

Charts schmarts.

IMG_0123Lets get this out of the way first. I have taken the Canadian Power Sail Squadron’s Seamanship course which has a heavy emphasis on traditional chart plotting,  so I know how to work with paper charts, but as a digital native I prefer the convenience and accuracy of electronic navigation. We can all agree that paper still works when the batteries run out.

On our trip up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa last summer, I used a chart book and my Android Samsung SII cellphone with Navionics for way finding.  There really wasn’t any plotting involved because you just need to follow the trail of red and green bouys, but occasionally you get into open water and need to know which end of the lake to head to. Despite the small screen size, that setup worked except the GPS function and the screen brightness on full, drained the cell phone battery. To keep it alive, I plugged the phone into an AC charger via an extension cord to the AC/DC inverter. It was a messy but functional set up. I resolved that I could do better for the next trip. Continue reading Charts schmarts.

Battery boxes

Now that I’ve got four nice new Costco batteries, I have to get them into the boat. The original setup on the Hunter 340 was to have all the batteries in the starboard lazarette, sitting on top of the holding tanks with a few nylon straps. These batteries are 63 lbs each, four  would be 240 pounds of battery on one side.

I’m told the boot stripe is painted higher on the hull to compensate for all the weight on that side of the boat. My plan is to put two in each lazarette. This works for several reasons:

  • weight balanced between port and starboard
  • batteries can sit closer to the centreline
  • being 6volt in series it makes sense to keep them in pairs.

The starter battery an AGM yellow-top Optima and will go down below behind the aft berth bulkhead. It will sit low low and on the center-line, ignored for the season.

The boxes will have nylon webbing over top to secure the batteries in the boxes and the boxes will have stainless carrage bolts through the lazarette floor to keep them still.
I’ve decided to paint the boxes with epoxy coloured black with 423 Graphite Powder, as I have it left over from the rudder slop repair.

“423 Graphite or powdered tempera can be used up to 10% by weight.” as per West System, I’ll go with 5%.

Solar power

Aquatic Park Sailing Club has a mooring field, not docks, and the Club House itself is solar powered so our situation necessitates some thought into electricity generation and conservation. This is fine, as I love being independent of the plug.

I opted to install two solar panels, big solar panels, on my Hunter 340. They fit perfectly on top of the bimini, and provide as much power as you can squeeze out of a solar panel. The panels are Kyrocera 270w each running at 24v with a MorningStar MMPT charger. I am pleased with the installation as they are pretty inconspicuous, hovering about an inch an a half above the bimini. I have since replaced the old 12v batteries with two sets of 6v batteries.

Performance

IMG_0050_meter_30A
Yes, that is 30 amps of solar power!

In terms of performance, the panels are great. Even on overcast days I have more electricity than I can store. During the day the batteries don’t dip, so the only cycling that happens is from evening usage for the fridge/stereo and lights. I am adding some LED strip lighting from Ikea, which should help reduce the impact from the Halogen bulbs. With something like 14 lights I don’t think it makes financial sense to swap out the bulbs for LED, besides, we never turn them on all at once.

There is some boom shading on the forward panel. I have the panels on separate breakers so I should check to see the performance impact from the shade. Two panels of this wattage is overkill but the panels were not that expensive and I figured if one is good, two would be great!

Installation

The panels were installed for the 2014 season and I spent last year on the old batteries. Spring 2015 I upgraded the batteries to 4 x 6volt, paired in two, with a set in starboard and port lazarettes.

I did the installation myself, anchored one end of the panels to the arch and the other end to a rail that runs parallel to the bimini. This arrangement creates a bit of spring on the rail end but I’m not concerned. Ideally I could run a pole to the rear railing and perhaps tab the front one to the bimini railing. I cut small wedges out of starboard keep the mounting square.

solar-diagram_actual_2

Slight alteration to the wiring configuration, one battery switch vs three.


I’ll keep chipping away at this post, apologies if it is a bit brief.

Battery replacement: 6v, 12v & 24v

When I bought Tortuga it had what appeared to be  the original batteries. They were monsters and I very nearly fell off the ladder carrying the 90lb Surette (far right in the photo).

battery compartment with dirty old batteries
Original Batteries?

After failed attempts to resurrect the old batteries I replaced them with three used Group 27s for the house bank and an isolated automotive starter battery. The house bank are showing their age. With the fridge on overnight they draw down to 12v by early morning. Time for new batteries.

Continue reading Battery replacement: 6v, 12v & 24v