‘Lectronics 101

When we bought our boat, we knew that the electronics on board were a combination of old, older and non-functional. It’s a 20 year old boat after all, and electronics usually don’t get replaced on a whim, so it stood to reason that there were some items that would need to be tossed to bring her into the new millennium, electronics-wise.

For instance, like many boats of her vintage, she had two whiz-bang LORAN sets, one each at the upper and lower helm stations. This explanation of LORAN was lifted from the always spot-on Wikipedia:


LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) is a land-based radio navigation system which enables ships and aircraft to determine their position and speed from low frequency radio signals transmitted by fixed land based radio beacons, using a receiver unit. In recent decades LORAN use has been in steep decline, with the satellite based Global Positioning System (GPS) being the primary replacement. There have been attempts to enhance and re-popularize LORAN, mainly to serve as a backup and land-based alternative to GPS and other satellite navigation systems. However,the United States Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard ceased transmitting LORAN signals in 2010.

Sooo, I have two otherwise perfectly reliable position-finding instruments on board that are now as useful as you-know-whats on a boar hog.

Oh well, first thing I did in my electronics make-over was pull them out, along with about fifty feet of wire and an antenna.

The LORAN receivers had a readout that showed two ever-changing numbers. The faster you were moving, the faster they changed. Each set of numbers, when plotted correctly on a nautical chart, would tell you approximately where on that chart you were at that particular moment. It required careful attention to the display, to make sure you read the multi-digit numbers correctly, and careful plotting on a paper chart, which is sometimes tricky in a boat rolling in rough weather. Failure to plot carefully could result in undesirable consequences like, oh, running into something….like land.

Ever since PONG swept the globe, we’ve been increasingly reliant on video screens as sources of both entertainment and information. When the satellite-based GPS system came on the scene, manufacturers quickly realized they could do more with video signals than entertain the slack-jawed, and thus was born the modern GPS chart plotter.

OK, maybe there was a little more to it than that, but the result was the same…boats now could have video screens that provided a real-time view of a nautical chart, complete with a nifty little boat icon showing you where you are on the chart, and letting you know that if you weren’t careful, you were going to run into that land mass up ahead. (Some things never change.)

The previous owner of this boat had installed, in addition to the LORAN displays, two relatively new Northstar chart plotters. I say relatively, because while they are younger than the boat, they’re both out of production and no longer for sale. The one on the lower helm is the newest of the two and has a nice color display.

The GPS unit is on the left, and the LORAN unit is on the right.

The unit on the upper helm was older, had only a (gasp) monochrome display, and was completely and utterly dead.

This GPS unit (top) was D.O.A.

Now to many, this may seem like a bad thing. But to me, it was an opportunity. An opportunity to go SHOPPING!

I really like the stuff that Garmin makes, and I’ve been lusting after one of their 12″ display chart plotters. The retail price was pretty scary though, so I kept lusting. Imagine my delight when I saw a handwritten “For Sale” note on the marina bulletin board offering the very unit I wanted, for about half the retail price.

Garmin 4212 chart plotter shown with a "bail mount".

I called the fellow up, and arranged to meet him to look it over. After he came down even further on his price due to my immensely charming negotiating skills, we did the deal.

Well, actually, he reduced the price further because it needs an antenna that would have been included in a new-in-the-box unit, but I do think I’m immensely charming nonetheless.

This unit is much larger than the old Northstar, and even if it would fit in the hole left when the Northstar was removed, I don’t like that position because it’s hard to see the screen while seated at the helm. The angle is just wrong. I could use the “bail mount” that came with it, but then all the wires are exposed on the back and I don’t want that either.

I need something that will let me mount it in a relatively upright position, yet allow the screen to be rotated up down and sideways for best viewing by the helmsman (or woman).

I’m going to get one of these little jobs that will let me angle the screen for perfect viewing.

This will let me move the screen up, down and side to side for the best viewing angle.

The best part of all came when I got it all back to the boat and realized that he had included a transponder that allows the unit to read the depth of the water and show things in the water below the boat. This is the “fish finder” mode that you hear about. The transponder retails for around $500, so all in all, I think I got a really nice unit, with some great features, for an amazing price.

I hooked it up to 12 volt power, and it powers up fine. The chart view even shows the track of the last trip he took while it was in his old boat!

I’m ordering the mounting pod and the antenna, then will get busy installing this little gem on Magic Carpet.

I have two types of lists on the boat…gotta do’s and wanna do’s…this is definitely on the wanna do list.

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About TwoCaptains

The TwoCaptains are Jim and Janet, both US Coast Guard licensed boat captains home-ported in Daytona Beach. We recently sold our 1990 Ocean Yachts 56' CPMY "Magic Carpet", and now we're in the hunt for a replacement.
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