On Deck


SAIL - - Contents - By Peter Nielsen

The best place to mount your MFD may not be the most ob­vi­ous one

So you’ve fi­nally de­cided to splash out on new sail­ing in­stru­ments, and all that re­mains is the how and where of in­stalling them. That is not nec­es­sar­ily as sim­ple as it seems. There are num­ber of things to be taken into ac­count.


The best place for speed, depth and wind dis­plays is where the en­tire crew can see them. In many older boats—my own in­cluded—the builders (and, later, own­ers who retro­fit­ted in­stru­ments) saw fit to place the dis­plays where it was most con­ve­nient for them to do so. This was (and is) usu­ally where they could be in­stalled with the min­i­mum of fuss and ex­tra work. Hence the vast num­ber of boats with speed/depth and of­ten wind dis­plays on the cock­pit bulk­head, right where loung­ing crew tend to block them. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to ask some­one to move so I can see the depth dis­play. Since lines are of­ten led aft to winches on ei­ther side of the hatch­way, ma­neu­vers like reef­ing and trim­ming are also of­ten car­ried out in this area. It’s not un­known for a care­less knee to shat­ter a dis­play.

It may seem log­i­cal to mount your new dis­plays right where the pre­vi­ous ones were—af­ter all, you can of­ten make use of ex­ist­ing cut-outs, es­pe­cially if the new in­stru­ments slot right in—but it may be even more log­i­cal to seize the op­por­tu­nity to in­stall them in a bet­ter lo­ca­tion. But where?


As boat de­sign­ers and builders be­gan to take in­stru­ment lo­ca­tion into con­sid­er­a­tion, so the af­ter­mar­ket industry fol­lowed with a num­ber of new op­tions for dis­plays. One of the most pop­u­lar was—and re­mains so—at the helm sta­tion. Steer­ing-gear mak­ers pro­duce good-look­ing and well-fin­ished pedestals that can ac­com­mo­date sev­eral flush-mounted dis­plays, and sev­eral com­pa­nies make at­trac­tive in­stru­ment hous­ings that can be at­tached to pedestal guards.

The binnacle is also the log­i­cal place to mount a chart­plot­ter or mul­ti­func­tion dis­play; these be­long above deck, not down be­low, and the helms­man needs easy ac­cess to its plot­ting func­tions.

With the in­stru­ment read­outs con­cen­trated in one place, the helms­man’s view of them can never be blocked. How­ever, no one else can see the dis­plays, nor can the driver should he or she want to leave the helm while the au­topi­lot steers—which, when you are pas­sage­mak­ing, is most of the time. For this rea­son alone, many sailors do not want in­stru­ments that can’t be seen or ac­cessed ex­cept by some­one stand­ing be­hind the helm. The ex­cep­tion is the au­topi­lot con­trol which needs to be by the wheel.

The same goes for an MFD, though these ad­mit­tedly are harder to find a home for. How many times have you seen a plot­ter perched so high on a pedestal guard that the helmsper­son has to look around or over it? Hav­ing such a large dis­play so close can be dis­tract­ing and an­noy­ing. If you can’t

flush-mount the MFD in the pedestal, the an­swer is to mount it in a swivel­ing pod af­fixed to the pedestal or pedestal guard. On smaller tiller-steered boats or older de­signs where the wheel is well for­ward in the cock­pit, a swing-out mount in­side the com­pan­ion­way may be the way to go.

Most mod­ern pro­duc­tion boats now have twin wheels, which, com­bined with the ef­forts of stylists look­ing for clean, un­bro­ken lines at the ex­pense of func­tion­al­ity, re­sults in some in­ven­tive and of­ten odd in­stru­ment lo­ca­tions. You’ll of­ten see MFDs and com­passes mounted in the aft face of a cock­pit ta­ble, where the helms­man some­times has to crouch to see them. They may also be bolted to the top of a ta­ble, where they are in the way but eas­ier to see or, on big­ger, more ex­pen­sive boats, at each steer­ing pedestal.

Some­times in­stru­ments are dou­bled up with dis­plays at ei­ther wheel or tucked away wher­ever the builder can find a place for them—of­ten re­cessed into the cock­pit coam­ings at the helm sta­tions. On some boats, there are no sail­ing in­stru­ment dis­plays at all—the MFD serves that pur­pose.


The best place for speed, depth and wind dis­plays is where the en­tire crew can see them at al­most any time, and that lo­ca­tion is above

the com­pan­ion­way. The dis­plays are out of the crew’s way and in the helms­man’s line of sight without be­ing in­tru­sive. A great num­ber of boats were built with pro­vi­sion for cab­in­top mount­ing, which makes retrofitting a no-brainer. If not, you can buy in­stru­ment pods that will span the com­pan­ion­way and pro­vide a pro­fes­sional-look­ing in­stal­la­tion. As­sum­ing it is not too dif­fi­cult to run trans­ducer ca­bles to the new lo­ca­tion, this is a good way to go. On my pre­vi­ous project boat, I in­stalled Tack­tick (now owned by Ray­ma­rine) wire­less in­stru­ment dis­plays to get around the cable is­sue.

It is grat­i­fy­ing to see a num­ber of pro­duc­tion builders still plac­ing func­tion ahead of form by in­stalling in­stru­ments above the com­pan­ion­way.


There are so many mount­ing op­tions avail­able for in­stru­ment retrofits, from classy molded pods to ba­sic me­tal brack­ets, that it should be pos­si­ble to find some­thing that suits both your boat and your bud­get. If not, you can draw on your sailor’s in­ven­tive­ness and make some­thing that will ful­fill the re­quired pur­pose. On our Nor­lin 34 project boat, there wasn’t room for pods to hold the small Stan­dard Hori­zon plot­ter and Ves­per AIS dis­play I wanted to mount at the helm so I bought a pair of sim­ple Ed­son pedestal brack­ets, and adapted the mounts so I could swivel the dis­plays to ei­ther side. The pre­vi­ous owner had al­ready made a swivel­ing mount for the au­topi­lot con­trol out of ply­wood, which is still go­ing strong more than 15 years later. Many other sailors have come up with cus­tom mounts to suit their own boats.

It can be a daunt­ing prospect to re­lo­cate in­stru­ments from the cock­pit bulk­head be­cause of the holes left be­hind by the old dis­plays, but per­haps these present an op­por­tu­nity to in­stall cock­pit speak­ers or a small port­light. I haven’t men­tioned mast-mount­ing, which is tra­di­tion­ally the province of rac­ing boats. There is no rea­son why a cruis­ing boat couldn’t have its read­outs lo­cated un­der the boom, as­sum­ing there is no reef­ing winch to get in the way, or a dodger to block the view. I’ve seen this setup on some per­for­mance cruis­ers. It would be eas­ier to use wire­less dis­plays, though, than to run trans­ducer ca­bles all the way up to the mast, un­less it’s keel-stepped. s

An MFD at the helm and sail­ing in­stru­ments over the com­pan­ion­way where the crew can see them; all your eggs in one bas­ket (be­low); a log­i­cal swivel­ing-dis­play setup for an older cruiser (bot­tom)

With twin helms, it’s hard to find a sen­si­ble lo­ca­tion for a chart­plot­ter or MFD

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