You too can in­stall your own nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem

SAIL - - Contents - By Phil Gu­towski

Ihad been sail­ing my Tayana 42, Eclipse, for a few years with­out any in­stalled elec­tron­ics on board. I’d gone pretty far up and down the New Eng­land and Mid-At­lantic coasts with pa­per charts, the Navion­ics app on my An­droid phone, a hand-bear­ing com­pass and the ship’s com­pass. How­ever, last year I de­cided it was time to in­stall a suite of elec­tron­ics gear in or­der to make life un­der­way safer, less stress­ful and more ef­fi­cient.

I’m an ex­pe­ri­enced elec­tron­ics in­staller, and I re­al­ize that the prospect of such a pro­ject can be daunt­ing to a boat owner who has never at­tempted it be­fore. None­the­less, by fol­low­ing a log­i­cal se­quence of steps, a rea­son­ably com­pe­tent DIYer should be able to in­stall his or her own elec­tron­ics. There­fore, what fol­lows is a brief guide on how to go about it. Al­though I chose B&G in­stru­ments, the prin­ci­ples and tech­niques de­scribed here ap­ply to any net­worked NMEA2000 (N2K) sys­tem.


* Make a plan. Be­fore tak­ing a sin­gle con­crete step, I long thought and hard about the de­tails of a foun­da­tional elec­tron­ics sys­tem for Eclipse. As part of this process, I sorted my ideas into needs and wants, and then trimmed the list to fit my budget. For in­stance, radar and AIS didn’t make the list this time around.

From ex­pe­ri­ence, I knew that if I fo­cused on in­stalling a proper net­work back­bone with high-qual­ity com­po­nents, it would be easy to add to the sys­tem in the fu­ture. Build a strong foun­da­tion, think ahead, and it will pay off down the road in the form of huge sav­ings of time and money. * Do your re­search. Talk to your lo­cal marine elec­tron­ics dealer be­fore pur­chas­ing your gear. Hav­ing al­ready set­tled on B&G equip­ment, I also spent a fair bit of time on the phone with tech sup­port at B&G to make sure I wasn’t miss­ing any­thing and that all the com­po­nents were com­pat­i­ble. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing di­rectly with the tech sup­port is part of what you are pay­ing for when you pur­chase new elec­tron­ics. I learn some­thing new every time I call. * Due dili­gence. Un­box your gear and read the man­u­als. Ap­proach the pro­ject slowly and with a solid un­der­stand­ing of how things work. To start out, I laid out the gear on my work­bench and pow­ered up a few of the com­po­nents with a 12-volt power sup­ply. It’s help­ful to see things work­ing to­gether on the same ta­ble be­fore it all gets spread out in the boat. If you’re un­sure of the proper topol­ogy for your equip­ment’s NMEA (N2K) net­work, this is the time to fig­ure it out. There are tons of re­sources on­line to help make sense of this stuff. If you are feel­ing over­whelmed, how­ever, this is a good point to check with a pro. An ex­pe­ri­enced tech will have a much eas­ier time help­ing you from the be­gin­ning, rather than try­ing to trou­bleshoot a prob­lem­atic sys­tem af­ter it has al­ready been in­stalled. * Make a di­a­gram. A white­board is great for this, but pen­cil and pa­per will do. I sketched out all of my ca­ble rout­ing and then took a pic­ture of it. Com­puter flow­chart tools like Mi­crosoft Vi­sio or Lu­cid­chart (lu­cid­chart.com) are also ex­cel­lent tools. Hav­ing a printed di­a­gram of the en­tire sys­tem will make any fu­ture trou­bleshoot­ing much eas­ier. * Make a list. Many man­u­fac­tur­ers in­clude an NMEA 2k starter kit with their prod­uct bun­dles, but it’s of­ten not enough. You’ll need pri­mary wire for DC power, net­work ca­ble, NMEA con­nec­tors, zip ties and mounts. You may also need ter­mi­nal blocks, break­ers, fuses, sealant and ca­ble glands. Use your di­a­gram! Count the num­ber of N2K net­work T’s and es­ti­mate your re­quired ca­ble lengths. I in­vested in build­ing my N2K net­work back­bone from high-qual­ity Maretron ca­bles and con­nec­tors. * Think about the phys­i­cal in­stal­la­tion. I chose to in­stall my chart­plot­ter in a swivel­ing NavPod and upgraded the steer­ing pedestal guard tube to a larger di­am­e­ter to ac­com­mo­date thicker ca­bles. Add ev­ery­thing to your run­ning list and then—and only then—or­der your parts.


My in­stal­la­tion in­volved the phys­i­cal mount­ing of a num­ber of trans­duc­ers, dis­plays and con­trols. Need to cut a hole to mount your plot­ter or your in­stru­ment dis­plays? Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the time it takes to cut out a well-placed rec­tan­gle. In­stalling new through-hull trans­duc­ers? Un­less you have ex­ist­ing hous­ings that are com­pat­i­ble with the new sen­sors, you’re go­ing to need to haul out. Un­less you go wire­less, a new mast­head trans­ducer will also re­quire pulling a se­ri­ous length of ca­ble down the rig. Take it slow. This is no week­end pro­ject. The good news? You’ve al­ready made a plan, so stick with it!

I mounted my mast­head trans­ducer and ran the ca­ble while I had the rig down. You can do this with the rig still up, but it’s more dif­fi­cult. I also used the op­por­tu­nity to re­wire ev­ery­thing in the mast. Run­ning wires is a real pain, and if I’m go­ing to run one, I fig­ure I’ll just pull all of them through at once. When pulling ca­bles, al­ways try to think ahead in or­der to save time later.

I con­sider the elec­tronic com­pass a foun­da­tional com­po­nent in the sys­tem, and it stayed on my must-have list. Man­u­fac­tur­ers rec­om­mend find­ing a mount­ing lo­ca­tion that is down low near the cen­ter of the boat and where mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence is at a min­i­mum. I stuck a hand­held com­pass into var­i­ous parts of my bilge and found the per­fect place to

mount my B&G Per­ci­sion 9 (which pro­vides not just mag­netic head­ing, but also rate of turn, pitch and roll from its nine-axis sen­sor) at the cen­ter­line of the for­ward wall of the fiberglass hold­ing tank. I used Weld-Mount (weld­mountsys­tems.com) ad­he­sive and stain­less studs with ny­lock nuts for a per­ma­nent in­stal­la­tion with­out holes.

Eclipse had been in the wa­ter for three years and was long over­due for a bot­tom job, so we com­bined that pro­ject with the in­stal­la­tion of two new trans­duc­ers: an Air­mar DST 800 that pro­vides depth, sea tem­per­a­ture and hull speed, and a For­wardS­can mounted with a fair­ing block for­ward of the keel and near the cen­ter­line. This amaz­ing de­vice con­nects di­rectly to the Vul­can 9 chart­plot­ter to dis­play a pro­file of the bot­tom in front of the boat.

I thought long and hard about where I wanted to mount my chart­plot­ter, in­stru­ments and au­topi­lot con­trol. The two ob­vi­ous lo­ca­tions were a ded­i­cated space on the aft side of the sea hood and at the helm. Since the Vul­can of­fers built-in au­topi­lot con­trol of B&G au­topi­lots, I made the de­ci­sion to mount the more tac­tile au­topi­lot con­trol panel cen­tered over the com­pan­ion­way. This would al­low easy course ad­just­ments while be­ing in the best po­si­tion to si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­trol my main and genoa sheets. A pair of Tri­ton 2 in­stru­ments were mounted on ei­ther side of the au­topi­lot con­trol on a cus­tom-made ma­hogany panel.

The process of mount­ing the Vul­can 9 chart­plot­ter at the helm proved a bit more in­volved than I ex­pected. In ad­di­tion to in­stalling a new pedestal guard with a larger in­ter­nal di­am­e­ter for the pas­sage of wires, I also had to drill larger holes in the cock­pit sole to ac­cept the fas­ten­ers and new wires. I mounted the pedestal guard feet with epoxy, but coated the bot­tom of the hard­ware with lip balm to make fu­ture re­moval less of a chore. The pedestal guard was drilled on one side to al­low the wires to exit into the arm of the NavPod. This fully sealed ap­proach of­fers weather pro­tec­tion for the gear while hid­ing all wiring for a more at­trac­tive in­stall.


De­pend­ing on how spread out your gear is, you may find your­self run­ning ca­bles be­hind join­ery, through the bilge (avoid wet ar­eas if you can) and above the head­liner. Ex­pect to open up parts of your boat you didn’t even know ex­isted. No mat­ter how many times I do this, it doesn’t ever get any eas­ier.

Be­fore you start pulling any ca­ble, make sure you are ready to pull all of the ca­bles from every ori­gin to every des­ti­na­tion. The key phrase here is “all of the ca­bles.” This in­cludes net­work ca­bles, power ca­bles, trans­ducer ca­bles and sonar ca­bles. I started for­ward in the boat and worked my way aft, choos­ing to think about one sec­tion at a time. I out­lined my work­flow as fol­lows: 1. In­stall zip tie mounts every 18in where you ex­pect the bun­dle of wires to run. If I’m se­cur­ing them to the hull side, I’ll use the com­pos­ite style with high-strength Weld-Mount ad­he­sive. Other­wise, I se­cure the small ny­lon type with stain­less screws. In­sert zip ties into each mount, but leave them un­fas­tened. 2. Loosely trace a piece of scrap line through each newly es­tab­lished ca­ble path­way. Tie a knot to mark the length of the wire run, then re­move the line. 3. Check your di­a­gram and make a list of every wire that needs to be run through this sec­tion of the boat. Are there any wires you may need for fu­ture things? What about a cabin fan or read­ing light? If it’s con­ve­nient, add it to the list! 4. Use your piece of line to mea­sure and cut each wire from the spool. Cre­ate your bun­dle, even if it’s just two ca­bles. I of­ten use some elec­tri­cal tape to wrap the bun­dle in a few places. The tape doesn’t snag and keeps ev­ery­thing to­gether if you are fish­ing in re­ally tight spa­ces or through con­duit. 5. Pull your bun­dle through and se­cure it with the zip ties. This is of­ten eas­ier said than done. An ex­tra set of hands can re­ally help. Sweat­ing and curs­ing is to be ex­pected. Fi­nally, use your di­ag­o­nal cut­ters to cut your zip tie tails at a right an­gle so you don’t slice your fin­gers on them later! 6. Re­peat this process un­til all of your wire is in place and hang­ing with ex­tra slack at the ter­mi­na­tion points.


Ter­mi­nat­ing just means we’re in­stalling con­nec­tors on the ends of all the ca­bles. Fol­low your man­u­fac­turer’s direc­tions for the DC power con­nec­tions and al­ways use an ap­pro­pri­ately sized fuse on de­vices that call for it. If you used the net­work ca­bles from a kit or bought pre-made ca­bles, you’re in good shape. How­ever, if you find your­self coil­ing up a bunch of un­used ca­ble and jam­ming it in the cab­i­net be­hind your elec­tron­ics, you might want to con­sider trim­ming it to length and in­stalling a field-at­tach­able con­nec­tor.

In my case, I used a mix of op­tions for my N2K net­work con­nec­tions. For the most part I cut bulk Maretron De­vicenet ca­ble from a spool, then at­tached my own con­nec­tors. This method al­lowed for a clean in­stal­la­tion with ex­act ca­ble lengths.

Be warned that field-at­tach­able con­nec­tors re­quire a lit­tle prac­tice and some fin­ger ac­ro­bat­ics to as­sem­ble. It typ­i­cally takes me about 15 min­utes to make each one. Re­mem­ber if you have pre-made ca­bles that

are too long that you can snip one end and put a field at­tach­able con­nec­tor on it while leav­ing the other in place, thereby avoid­ing the trou­ble of do­ing both ends.

Alas, the ca­ble for the For­wardS­can sonar was a bit more of a headache. It has a fat multi-pin con­nec­tor on the end, and be­cause it’s not a net­work de­vice, it needs to plug di­rectly into the sonar jack at the back the Vul­can chart­plot­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, even with my larger-di­am­e­ter pedestal guard, the con­necter would not pass through. So in­stead, I ac­quired a man­u­fac­turer-spe­cific sonar ex­ten­sion ca­ble, clipped it in the mid­dle and passed it into the pedestal guard. Then, with a mix of pa­tience and heat shrink tub­ing, I care­fully sol­dered each of the con­duc­tors back to­gether, and cov­ered them in heat shrink while do­ing my best to main­tain con­ti­nu­ity through the foil shield by wrap­ping some scraps of the shiny my­lar around ev­ery­thing. It was a chore, but ev­ery­thing came out OK. This would not have been an easy task for a novice.


Fi­nally, the day of reck­on­ing ar­rived, and I flipped on the break­ers at the main DC panel af­ter which my in­stru­ments and chart­plot­ter fired right up. Nice! Af­ter that, I walked through the menus to set up my data sources, only to find that some of the sources were miss­ing. Specif­i­cally, I had depth, speed and temp from the DST 800, but no wind or com­pass data—a tricky prob­lem, since some sen­sors were work­ing but oth­ers were not. I there­fore be­gan to think about all of those field con­nec­tors I’d put on. Had I make a mis­take?

To solve the prob­lem, late one night I clipped the end off yet an­other new N2K net­work ca­ble, stripped each of the five wires inside down to its bare con­duc­tor, crimped on some fork ter­mi­nals and at­tached each one to a sep­a­rate post of a spare ter­mi­nal block: all in an ef­fort to make an NMEA 2000 net­work “break­out strip.” Us­ing my dig­i­tal mul­ti­me­ter, I then tested for ad­e­quate volt­age across the red and black wires, where in each case I got 12.5 volts. In other words, that wasn’t the prob­lem.

Next I tested the re­sis­tance across the NET-Hi (white) and NET-Lo (blue) wires. It should’ve read 60 ohms, but I saw only 10. I was get­ting warmer. I un­plugged the mast­head trans­ducer from the net­work and watched the re­sis­tance jump from 10 ohms to 120 ohms (the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sis­tance when only one ter­mi­na­tion re­sis­tor is present). Clearly the prob­lem was at the top of the mast, where the trans­ducer in­cluded a ter­mi­na­tion re­sis­tor since it also served as one end of the net­work back­bone.

Armed with this day, some friends hauled me up the rig the fol­low­ing day, I brought down the prob­lem­atic com­po­nent and called B&G. They overnighted me the new part, and I in­stalled it at 0400 just be­fore shov­ing off for a trip to Maine. Ev­ery­thing worked, and life aboard Eclipse has never been bet­ter. s

Boat sys­tems spe­cial­ist Phil Gu­towski lives on his Tayana 42, Eclipse, in Bos­ton and cruises the New Eng­land and mid-At­lantic coasts.

The new in­stru­ment dis­plays are easy to see from the helm

Much boat yoga is in­volved in run­ning ca­bles for elec­tron­ics

From left: plan­ning is key; plan­ning the mount­ing panel for the in­stru­ments; con­nect­ing the net­work ca­bles; a good lo­ca­tion for the com­pass

From left: it’s more log­i­cal than it looks; try for a neat in­stal­la­tion; Weld-Mount ad­he­sive is use­ful for these ap­pli­ca­tions; the plot­ter struts its stuff

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