Updating Independence's Electronics

We’re hauled out and working through our project list. So, instead of excitement on the water, it’s cursing in the woods. For the next few weeks Matt will be posting about our electronics, equipment updates and galley goodness. 


When we bought Independence she was a blank slate. She had been in charter for 10 years and had enough to hop from island to island in the BVI’s, but did not have any advanced electronics. Not really knowing what we were doing, we outfitted her with this and that. Some winning and…well, mostly winning actually!

I wanted a nice GPS and I knew I wanted radar as well. In the meantime I used an iPad app for charts and navigation and mounted my iPad at the helm. I’ve always been partial to Garmin products in boats and aircraft. When I discovered that some of their chart plotters will repeat to your iPad using the Garmin Helm app, the decision was easy! We’ve got the Garmin 741xs touchscreen chart plotter mounted inside at the nav station with the iPad mounted at the helm. It works great and gives me a nice big screen outside for the chart and radar. Cost for the chart plotter and radar, $2200

Lagoon 380 Helm with iPad GPS
Garmin repeating at the helm on an iPad
I’m also a big fan of the Garmin Bluechart app on my iPad and iPhone, which I use navigationally as a backup to the built in system and to access Active Grumpy Captain.  Cost, $40

I also use my MacBook running OpenCPN for my “paper charts”. I download free rastor charts from NOAA. Cost, free!

Along the way we also upgraded the old Icom VHF that came with the boat. We added the Garmin VHF, which has DSC calling and added a second Garmin mic/speaker at the helm. DSC is Digital Selective Calling. If we are sending a distress call, our VHF with DSC will encode our location coordinates and our vessel identification.  It will also connect you directly to other vessels that have DSC, alerting them that Independence is calling. Cost for the VHF and second handset, $400. While underway, Lucy says the second handset is her favorite upgrade about 20 times a day. It’s so nice to hear and respond to radio calls from the helm, instead of trying to listen for whether or not the call is for you, and having to leave the helm to go into the saloon to check it out and respond while trying not to crash into a marker. It’s a must for inland waters!

Lagoon 380 helm with additional VHF
Additional VHF handset ready to go
Knowing we were planning on cruising at night, I also put in a Vesper XB-8000 Class B AIS transponder. This transmits our position to nearby AIS equipped vessels and receives their positions. AIS also tells you exactly close you will get to the other vessel, and what time to expect the crunching of fiberglass. The Vesper unit is nice because it transmits data via NMEA1082, NMEA2000, USB or WiFi. This enables it to act as a NMEA repeater to transmit other data across other devices. This is how I can access GPS and AIS data on the MacBook in the OpenCPN program. Cost for the Vesper AIS unit and the VHF antenna splitter (to allow sharing of the single VHF antenna on the masthead), $850. (NMEA is an electronic language that marine electronics use to communicate with other)

GPS / AIS Screen
I love the "wreck" symbol for head-on collisions!
It was really worried about this pile up. All the triangles are other vessels equipped with AIS.
GPS / AIS / Garmin screen
Imminent crash with Fancy Free. 
All of this is connected together via a NMEA2000 network which was about the simplest thing to use ever. AIS targets show on the Garmin chart plotter and on my Macbook OpenCPN. From the chart plotter (or the mirror display on the iPad) you can click an AIS target and “Call with VHF” to initiate a DSC call directly….pretty cool! Cost for all the NMEA parts, about $150

All in all we were able to get all of the electronics we wanted to add for about $3500…not bad when you look at how much money you could spend on this stuff. We are very happy with the setup and would not change a thing. 

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  1. We've got a RAM mic in our cockpit. It's so handy to use with bridge openings etc rather than having to pop down below. Sounds like you guys are well sorted with electronics now and the price doesn't seem too outrageous.

    1. I've been really surprised at how much we've used the radio. The extra mic is really handy!

  2. I'm a little surprised that more people don't either know about or use the free NOAA charts. They're updated, very accurate and FREE! We use ours through Coastal Explorer which easily incorporates AIS - it's a good setup for $0.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

  3. Great decisions on the electronics! We used OpenCPN as well (Mark even sent some improvement suggestions to the open source team) and, once in the Pacific, Google satellite images to enter and navigate tricky and mostly uncharted atolls and anchorages.


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